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1952 Cuba Cubs the smallest school to win the Kentucky High School Basketball Championship

Publish Date: 10/22/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

The Miracle Cubs of 1952!

Sixty years ago, the Cuba Cubs, a Graves County high school basketball team, shocked the Commonwealth with their unlikely journey to the state championship. A small school beating the big schools, where have we heard that before? Of course, the movie Hoosiers told a fictional story of the Hickory Huskers loosely based on the Indiana State Champions of 1954 the Milan Indians.

Indiana was not the only state that had a one-class basketball championship where everybody had a chance to be the best team in the state. In fact, Kentucky is the only state where this happens nowadays as Indiana ruined their state tournament in the late 90s by going to class basketball.

So, no there was no major motion picture about the Cuba Cubs, but that doesn’t make the story any less amazing, ask almost anybody in the state of Kentucky and they can tell you about the Cuba Cubs.

Cuba High School

Cuba High School was a relatively unassuming place, having recently consolidated with Pilot Oak High School. Enrollment in 1952 was around 100 students even after the consolidation, but as history shows, only a select five great players are needed to have a successful basketball team. In 1947 Jack Story took over both roles as principal and head basketball coach at Cuba High School; he immediately noticed a group of 8th graders about to make their way up the stairs; these players held great promise for success on and off the court. Jack Story is the man responsible for this amazing story.

Howie Crittendon

Howie Crittendon is the reason why this team is still remembered by so many as he was one of the greatest high school basketball players the state of Kentucky has ever seen.

Crittendon is remembered by many as one of the all-time Murray State Racer greats. A member of the Kentucky Basketball Hall of Fame, he played his high school ball in Cuba and was part of that original core that began playing together early on. Crittendon recalled Coach Story sitting them down and showing them a video unlike anything they’d ever seen: It was of the Harlem Globetrotters!

Everyone was stunned. The players begged Story to show the film again and again and Story obliged them! Finally, Story stood up and told the players to get out on that gym floor and see if they can learn to do that!

Coach Story’s group of 8th graders set out to emulate the Globetrotters, and while much of what they did was for show, some of their moves helped them develop fundamental skills that would eventually lead them to Championship success.

The Cubs adopted the Globetrotters’ style of play. They played loose and relaxed. Coach Story really focused on fundamentals like ball handling, which made the team very difficult to bet in later years.

Coach Story had some awkward methods to make this Cubs team good. One of those methods included in practice every day pitting five starters against ten others–bench players, managers and anyone else they could grab–which proved to be quite effective!

These players were tough as every practice seemed to be a blood bath to make them stronger players physically and mentally.

The Cuba Cubs began to come together during their Junior year. Throughout 1950-51, they only lost one game during the regular season. They made it all the way through playoffs to reach the championship game against one of Kentucky’s premier schools, Clark County High. Unfortunately, the Cubs fell by 24 points.

Video: Kentucky Sports Legends

Kentucky Sports Legends “Travels with Howie Crittenden” Episode 5

1952 that championship season

The following year, their team, which had been playing together since middle school, made another strong comeback and once again reached the playoffs. The Cubs semi-final game in 1952 was a hard-fought overtime win that advanced the Cubs to the State Championship game against Nauel High School, which had over three-thousand students.

The Semi-Final overtime game had rules much different than we see today. The rule was the clock was turned off, and the first team to score two points would win the game. A player named Charles Doodle Floyd made the shot that secured victory, and that was it, on to the title game against the Goalith Manuel High School.

When the Cuba Cubs entered the 1952 championship game, everyone in the state knew who they were: the Cinderella team with an iconic Globetrotter style of play. Indeed, when they took to the floor, Sweet Georgia Brown – theme music of their beloved Globetrotters – played over a loudspeaker as if to convey its message: no pool is too small for these ball handling fundamentals taught by Coach Story to flourish.

If the Cubs were ahead of a team, Crittendon would take care of the ball. They would chase after him and try to stop his dribbling skills. Basically the Cubs tried to play keep away from manual as much as they could and with the different rules back then if you could Crittendon it was at that point, you had two options: shoot your free throw or bring it in from the side. So if we got two free throws, then one could be shot and the second brought in from the side and we would keep possession.

The Cubs took control of the game early and never looked back, dominating from there in classic David versus Goliath fashion. Upon their return home, they were met by a motorcade at Eggner’s Ferry Bridge as they rode back to Graves County in convertible top cars, having made history.

 

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