By CHAD COFFMAN Staff Writer Weakley County Press
After 55 glorious years steeped with roundball tradition, Gleason High School's Dudley Sanders Memorial Gymnasium will host its final game Friday night.
The contest will culminate generations of blood, sweat and tears -- both of sadness and joy -- beginning with the facility's completion in the spring of 1949. It has served as a venue for a long line of annual commencement ceremonies and backboard battles since then.
While actual hardcourt action began the following fall, the graduated seniors of the class of 1949 will be honored at Friday's special halftime festivities during the Gleason/West Carroll matchup, gracefully adding the final note in the soon-to-be retired gymnasium's swan song.
In addition, members of both the 1949-50 inaugural basketball teams will be allowed to step onto the venerable planks one last time. Others who are expected to receive recognition are past players of teams representing each of the last six decades, including members of county and district tournament champions from both the 1969 girls and boys squads.
Dudley Memorial -- named justly after the reveared coach of the school's 1960s hardcourt heydays -- has seen its fair share of success over the years.
Most notable is the superb play throughout the 1990s when Gleason's Lady Bulldogs, under the tutelage of head coach Randy Frazier, achieved state-wide recognition, appearing in the state tourney eight times in a 10-year span. The 1996 squad captured the Class A championship, led by the granddaughter of Sanders -- Kara Sanders Atkins, who was that season's Class A Miss Basketball recipient.
During a gathering of past players Tuesday, Atkins lovingly reflected on her days in a Lady Bulldog uniform, pausing as she choked back tears while describing just how gratifying it was for her to be able to play on the court bearing her grandfather's namesake.
Sanders, who passed away in 1990, was well respected not only for his performance as a coach, but as a natural-born leader. He still garners praise from many who had the pleasure of making his acquaintance, both on and off the court.
Former Gleason basketball player and daughter of Sanders, Kay Hudson, spoke on her father's behalf, saying, "The highlight for me was being able to see both of my daughters being able to play together for the first time in this gym. I know if my dad were here he would have come to the game early and stayed late."
Past coach Clarence Barham selflessly attributed the success of his team's achievements in his 10-year reign during the 1970s to the perpetuation of standards set previously by Sanders.
"We only had one season where we lost more games then we won," Barham said. "But it was already a winning program thanks to Coach Sanders."
Older players in attendance also chimed-in, offering up humorous anticdotes from the early days of Bulldog basketball.
"One year in a county tournament game, the players from Martin had saved new uniforms in expectation of participating in the tourney's final game, but we beat them," former 1949 Lady Bulldog Bobby Robison said jokingly.
"I think they must have counted their chickens before they hatched," she laughed.
"Back then the rules stated that we couldn't even dribble the ball," added Robison when comparing the obvious evolution of the sport.
"I remember how glad I was to get to play in this gym after having to practice on a dirt court," agreed Joyce Upchurch Watts, another member of Dudley Memorial's first team. "We thought we were in heaven."
While the highly anticipated new facility to be completed by next fall will boast a capacity expected to surpass that of Dudley Sanders Memorial, seating between 1,300 and 1,500 spectators, many faithful to the past agree it will be some time before the new venue will be able to lay claim to its predecessor's level of nostalgia.
It will hopefully, however, give way for younger generations to build lifetime experiences of their own. Source: Weakley County Press
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