The Junction City School District’s old gym hosted its first game in 1954 and after a 62-year run, the Grand Old Lady has been demolished to make room for a new facility.
Wayne Pumphrey is the go-to guy for all things Junction City athletic history. He’s part of the Dragon Sports Network team and an advisory committee member for the Dragon Wall of Honor. He makes documentaries in his spare time.
To put in perspective how old the Grand Old Lady truly is, Pumphrey said, “Think about this. When it opened, there was segregation. Brown v. the Board of Education, the Supreme Court had just ruled. We didn’t even have 50 states in the Union yet. The Korean War had just ended. Nobody knew anything about a place called Vietnam.”
Because of ongoing safety concerns, the former brick-lined “bandbox style” gym will be replaced by a 9,000-square foot steel building that will house high school physical education, health, art and music classes. The project will cost over $1.5 million and is scheduled to open by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.
There were procedures in place to salvage trophies dating back to 1919 and the vintage 16-square foot Dragon logo in center court from the building, according to previous News-Times reports. Much of those trophies are Dual State Tournament trophies, Pumphrey said.
“There’s a right way to do things. I’ll say that. Even if we can’t house them all, I’d love to see them at the Union County Sports Hall of Fame,” he said. “It was hard to see them tear it down, but it was all for progress. Like I said in the video, notice the shape of it … They don’t build them like that no more and there’s not many of them left. She served her purpose well (for) 62 years. They got their money’s worth.”
The border town celebrated when the new gym opened last year, giving a new home to Dual State, what could be the country’s oldest annual boys and girls high school basketball tournament.
“That one week in January, that’s what that gym is known for because it used to be played right at the end of January before power rankings and consolidation ruined everything,” Pumphrey said. “I’ve known people that set aside that week and said, ‘I’m going to Dual State.’ They were trying to make every session … It was like a holiday.”
Despite enjoying a new, air-conditioned facility, Dragons young and old reflect on their time seeing and participating in athletic events at the old gym.
Classes used to be dismissed early so students could watch upwards to over 50 teams play in Dual State. That small thing “was special because … it helped promote school pride,” Pumphrey said.
“My first memory of the old Junction City Gym was in 1969, I was nine years old and the school would let out early so the students could attend the Dual State Tournament,” El Dorado resident Betty Davis Andrews said. “When I was old enough, I tried out for basketball in that gym and played there for about six years and the rest is history.”
For over 80 years, the tournament has showcased the talents of athletes from both states like James Anderson, Bobby Joe Douglas, Erica Smith-Taylor, Sytia Messer and Karl Malone in a gym that could only hold about 2,500 people, Pumphrey said.
He said that one of his fondest memories was seeing two Louisiana basketball legends Bobby Joe Douglas of Marion and Karl Malone of Summerfield go head-to-head in the tournament.
“About three minutes left, Marion’s getting beat by 12, 13 points. The game was over and Bobby Joe, he got hot. He started letting it fly. He got across half court, he started hitting it,” he said. “Marion got the ball with a little under 10 seconds left, come hurrying down the court, down by one (point) … Heading north, (Douglas) went to the corner to take the shot. He was having to hurry and of course they’re trying to block it. He let it go and the ball rimmed out.”
Pumphrey recalled seeing in a TV special later that year where they interviewed Douglas. He said that he heard Douglas say that if he could have one shot back, it would be that one.
According to the Monroe News-Star, Douglas once scored 93 points in a game and went on the play for University of Louisiana-Monroe before a 10-year stint as an assistant coach for Sterlington High School. Malone, best known for his tenure with the Utah Jazz, is now enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Pumphrey said that former Dragon James Anderson was a “once in every 35, 40 years player.” He also described Anderson’s mother, Ira Williams, as a great all-around player.
“(My sons and I) all played in the old gym and for me to watch my boys (Anderson and Rodney Larry) play and dunk was so exciting. They both won Dual State in the old gym,” Williams said.
Roderick Harrington of Springdale said that he remembers seeing Anderson “light up the scoreboard, also the likes of Keo Noble throwing down a slam dunk or the shooting of Gerad Henderson from Haynesville (Louisiana).”
“Halfway through his sophomore year, college coaches were sitting in the stands. He was that good,” Pumphrey said.
He went to be a McDonald’s All-American player who played at Oklahoma State University before being drafted in the first round to the San Antonio Spurs. He now plays for the EuroLeague Khimki team.
“I have many fun memories of the old Junction City gym … I’m sad to see it go,” Andrews said.
Brittany Williams may be reached at 870-862-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook @BWilliamsEDNT for updates on Union County school news.