A special UC basketball historian
“Some people call it junk, but I call it treasures.”
I had a feeling I would get sidetracked while researching the history of the Union County basketball tournament, but in a good way.
I stopped in the office on Sunday afternoon and noticed I had a voicemail waiting on me. Now, my phone hardly ever rings, so my immediate thought was that I had a complaint of some sort, but rather the message was from Charles Owen of Myrtle.
Owen worked for the county school district for 53 years, 33 years as a teacher, but what he’s known most for are the 27 years he ran the clock at Myrtle basketball games.
Wednesday morning, I had the privilege of speaking with Owen, who arrived at my office with a notebook filled with old papers. In Owen’s message on my phone, he proclaimed that he could tell me anything I wanted to know about the county tournament from the 1960s, since that’s where my research started. Wanting to avoid another long afternoon at the chancery clerk’s office going through old papers, I took him up on his offer and was blown away at his knowledge of Union County basketball, as well as that folder he carried with him.
Off the top of his head, Owen told me the boys’ tournament champions for the 60s, beginning with East Union in 1962 (see, I knew I was right!). After that, championships were won by Myrtle, Ingomar, New Albany, back-to-back titles for West Union in ‘66 and ‘67, Myrtle and West Union to close out the decade in 1969 (also an interesting note, in the 1968 boys’ tournament, all of the games were won by one point or in overtime).
The only downfall to this meeting is that Owen did not know the girls’ champions for those years, but that’s okay, I have a date with the books at chancery clerk, so I’ll piece that together. What Owen did provide, champions on both sides for the years 1970-1987. Awesome.
Besides information on the county tournament, Owen also talked about his time coaching junior high at Myrtle, as well the schools before consolidation, the Tallahatchie Conference that the school’s played in, Myrtle’s Christmas tournament (which still goes on today) and more on that 1968 Myrtle squad that went 41-3, losing to Lloyd Star in the State Tournament in Starkville.
In talking about that ‘68 squad, Owen pulled out a piece of paper that had the scores for every game that year. The players, who he referred to as “his kids,” added the scores after each game that year.
“My wife is amazed at me, but some things just stick with me, and I was at all 44 games that year,” he said of that ‘68 season.
Owen also coached several notable alums in Elvis Thomas and Ken Basil, and told stories of the kids he would meet while driving a bus route for the school; Armintie Price one of them.
“She was one of my pride and joys,” he said of the now WNBA star. “She rode my school bus, and I used to, my wife and I, make Christmas ornaments, and I gave all of my kids on my bus one for the last 10 years that I drove. When Price graduated, she told me she had every one I gave her.”
Stories like this highlighted our talk, and when asked why he did all of this, keeping the records and the stats from decades ago, he responded:
“It’s a hobby of mine and something I love to do, mostly because I care for the kids. They’ve made my life, and they’re still my life. I call every one of them mine.”
People like this are what makes Union County basketball so special. Next week, I’ll start my research on the 1970s.
About Chris Elkins
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