If you’re a fan of high school basketball in Arkansas, you’ve likely heard of the West Memphis teams that went 60-0 and won consecutive state championships in 1980 and 1981.
You may also know about Park-dale, a Class B school that won the overall championship in 1979 when winners in separate classifications played each other. But are you familiar with the Rogers High School team that won the state championship in 1957?
Rogers earned the title in Jonesboro, and the players and coaches had to take a ferry across Lake Nor-fork to get there. Yes, the Mounties were definitely mighty in 1957 when they won their only state championship in boys basketball.
The team was led by Steve Roberts, who later played basketball at Oklahoma State under legendary coach Hank Iba. Roberts was selected the Most Valuable Player of the state tournament in 1957, which was held at Indian Field House on the campus of Arkansas State.
“Jonesboro, I think, was picked to win it that year but we beat them in the second round,” said Roberts, who was inducted into the Rogers High School Hall of Fame in 2001. “Back then, they only had a Class A and Class B tournament and we played in the Class A. We were kind of the dark horse but we could shoot and play defense.”
The team featured four seniors and one junior in the starting lineup. Harold Biesel coached the Mounties for one year and turned his success into a better-paying coaching job in Tulsa. Charlie Spoonhour, who later became a college coach at Southwest Missouri State, St. Louis, and Nevada-Las Vegas, and won nearly 400 games in his career, was a manager with the Mounties in 1957.
“Charlie was a little guy back then, we called him ‘shrimp,’” Roberts said. “But he was a really good ‘horse’ player and we shot a lot of basketballs together. We were good buddies.”
Rogers, which made the quarterfinals in 1956, won the district tournament in Harrison then opened the state tournament in 1957 with a win over Waldron. The biggest challenge came in the second round against Jonesboro, which was led by Tommy Rankin, who later played basketball for the Razorbacks in the old Southwest Conference. Jonesboro represented the Big 7 Conference that included schools from Little Rock and Pine Bluff, but Rogers won in a close game.
“That was a big upset,” Roberts said. “We figured if we could beat Jonesboro, we could beat anybody.”
Rogers beat Marianna in the semifinals and Stephens, which was allowed to play up in classification, in the championship game to earn its only state title in basketball, 61 years ago.
“A large crowd from town met us at Avoca with the band and escorted us home,” said Roberts, who also played football and ran track at Rogers. “They had a ceremony for us at city hall but the biggest thing, for the kids, was that we got out of school that Monday. We were all happy about that.”
Seven of the 10 players on that Rogers team are still alive. Roberts went on to a successful career in real estate and he was in his office last week in Rogers, where he is the owner of the Roberts Land Company. He’s seen a lot of changes in basketball, especially with the athletes who play the game.
“The biggest change is the size of the kids and the fact they play year round,” said Roberts, who’ll turn 79 on March 20. “We had some height. Owen Anderson was 6-4 and I was 6-2. That was considered big back then.”
In 1972, the Statler Brothers reached No. 6 on the country charts with their hit song “The Class of ’57’” about high hopes and unfulfilled dreams.
In 1957, the Mounties had a dream, too, and fulfilled by winning the only state basketball championship in school history.
Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@ nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWARick.