Ref Reminisces about the Glory Days
There was a racial divide in college basketball that reached a peak in the 1966 Championship. Texas Western and its five black starters beat Kentucky and its all-white team.
Black and white are also the colors Thornton Jenkins wore during the game, he was one of the referees. Jenkins played basketball for Mizzou in the 1940s, was an assistant coach, and started officiating college hoops in the 1950s.
"Once you start officiating and get a reputation, you can go anywhere you want," he explained.
Reputation took Jenkins all the way to the 1966 Championship between powerhouse Kentucky and a team from Texas Western--the first to start all black players.
"A lot of talk about Texas Western because of there makeup," he said. "Further south, there weren't any black players in those days, some north, but none south."
Kentucky only had white players, and in Maryland's Cole Fieldhouse, just about the entire crowd put its support behind the boys in blue.
"You heard a few slurred remarks in the crowd. You can imagine what they were when everyone in Kentucky is white and all these kids were black," Jenkins said. "They didn't have a chance to make many remarks because Texas Western got out in front and stayed there."
Jenkins says all of the hatred stayed in the stands.
"We never had any trouble with anybody, players, anyone."
Now the movie Glory Road is coming out about the 1966 championship. And Jenkins can't wait to see if it follows history.
"How surprised everybody was. The press, the fans, almost everybody."
Jenkins says it took time for the game to go from black and white, to color.
"They didn't make much of the game at the time. After it was over is when the thing began to snowball, and when we got to saying that was some kinda game. Make a lot of history."
Jenkins went on to referee one more championship game in 1968, and retired three years later. He says he wanted to quit on top. That Texas Western team also beat Kansas in the 1966 NCAA Tournament.
MU's first black basketball player was Al Abram in 1956.