Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's the Final Four!

Submitted by Andrew Medway.

One of my favorite aspects of vintage collectibles is the aspect of getting to play amateur detective. I particularly love learning about the people who may not be household names but have lived interesting and productive lives. On the eve of the Final Four a basketball story seemed appropriate.

In the 1947 yearbook for Texas Wesleyan College (now Texas Wesleyan University) we found this entry for Clifton McNeely, basketball all-American and the nation's leading scorer that year. McNeely, born in 1919, was no youngster having already served in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. After the 1947 season McNeely was drafted by the Pittsburgh Ironmen with the first overall selection of 1947 Basketball Association of America, the forerunner of the NBA. In a decision that if made today would shock the world, McNeely chose not to play professional basketball opting instead to stay in Texas and coach high school basketball. In thirteen years as the head coach at Pampa High School in Pampa, Texas, McNeely won four state championships. McNeely posted a 320-43 record, winning back-to-back titles in 1953-54 and 1958-59. From 1952-55, the Pampa High School Harvesters won an impressive 72 straight games. The gym at Pampa was named the McNeely Fieldhouse in his honor and he was later inducted into the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame, the Panhandle Sports Hall of Fame and the Texas Wesleyan University Hall of Fame. And what happened to his fiance Peg? They were married on June 14, 1947. They had three children and their son Phil went on to become a successful basketball coach in his own right, winning three Class 5A high school state championships at Duncanville.

In January 2011 McNeely (who passed away in 2003) was honored at a reunion of 20 of his former players at halftime of a Pampa High basketball game. "I think you have to talk about the man he was first of all," said Jim Bond, who played for McNeely's first two state championship teams. "In basketball as in life he was a great role model for all of us."

Here's to Clifton McNeely, athlete, educator and role model. Thanks for letting us have a peek at your inspiring life.

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