National Invitational Interscholastic Basketball Tournament

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National Invitational Interscholastic Basketball Tournament, 1941-1967

The National Invitational Interscholastic Basketball Tournament (NIIBT) was established in 1941, when the Tuskegee Institute transformed its Southern Interscholastic Basketball Tournament into a national meet. In the inaugural meet, a total of eighteen boys and sixteen girls teams competed for the national championship. Only deep south and southwest states sent teams to the meet, and the boys final was between two Oklahoma schools, when Sand Springs Booker T. Washington (OK) (led by future Hall of Famer Marques Haynes) beat Seminole Booker T. Washington (OK) 38-24 for the title (virtually all the black schools in Oklahoma were called Booker T. Washington at that time). The results of the girls competition are unknown.

The following year fourteen states sent teams, including the tournament’s first northern state, Indiana, which sent three teams. Another Oklahoma team won the boys competition, when Tulsa Booker T. Washington (OK) bested Scotlandville Southern (LA) for the title. In the girls competition, Wiergate (TX) beat Hermondale (MO). Because of gasoline and tire rationing during World War II, the tournament was canceled for the next two years, 1943 and 1944.

Resumed in Nashville 1945

In 1945, the NIIBT resumed, but under the sponsorship of Tennessee A&I State College (later called Tennessee State University) in Nashville. The gymnasium at Tennessee A&I was deemed inadequate, so the gymnasium at one of the local black high schools, Pearl High, was also used for tournament games, particularly the finals. The revised NIIBT dropped the girls part of the tournament, making it an all-boys affair. Officials at Tennessee A&I thought that supporting both a girls and boys tournament would be financially infeasible. Thirteen teams from five states participated in the meet. Oklahoma City Douglass (OK) defeated Elkhorn (WV) for the title. With the establishment of the tournament in Nashville, the schools formed a permanent national association, called the National High School Athletic Association (NHSSA).

The following year, the organizers increased the tournament’s appeal by adding a consolation bracket to allow first-round losers at least another game before heading home. Sixteen teams participated, among them twelve state title holders. Oklahoma continued its string of champions, when Cushing Booker T. Washington (OK) defeated Tampa Middleton (FL), 44-40 for the 1946 title. Oklahoma continued its string in 1947, when Tulsa Booker T. Washington (OK) defeated Tampa Middleton (FL), 51-42.

Chicago St. Elizabeth (IL) Dominates

The 1948 tournament saw the entry of a new basketball power, St. Elizabeth, from Chicago, Illinois. The school belonged to the Chicago Catholic League and was not a member of the state association, and found competition not only with other Catholic League members, but by barnstorming the Southern states. St. Elizabeth was eliminated in the first round, but the tournament had not seen the last of the school. Tulsa Washington (OK) repeated as the tournament champ, defeating Tampa Don Thompson (FL) 52-29.

The next three years of the tournament were won by Chicago St. Elizabeth. In 1949, seventeen teams, fifteen of them state champions, participated. The next year a more logical sixteen teams participated, and thereafter the tournament settled on that sized field. Also, an age eligibility rule limited players to under 21 years of age was imposed.

St. Elizabeth 1951 team that won the NIIBT for the third time in a row, only to forfeit its trophy for using an ineligible player.
St. Elizabeth 1951 team that won the NIIBT for the third time in a row, only to forfeit its trophy for using an ineligible player.

Working up to the 1951 tournament, over the Christmas holidays in December 1956, St. Elizabeth made a tour of the Southern states, meeting eight teams and beating them all--two from Tennessee, two from Louisiana, two from Georgia, one from Mississippi, and one from Alabama. In the 1951 tournament, St. Elizabeth easily waltzed through the tournament to win for the third consecutive time. However, afterwards the school was forced to forfeit its title for using an ineligible player. The St. Elizabeth player had already completed eight semesters of high school prior to participation in the tournament. Runner-up Washington Cushing (OK) was awarded the first place trophy. St. Elizabeth was put on probation for the 1952 tournament, which was won by Louisville Central (KY).

The NIIBT had always been handicapped by inadequate facilities, and patrons of the tournament had to be turned away for lack of seating room in both the college and high school gyms. Finally, in 1953, Tennessee A&I opened a 4,000 seat arena, and every tournament game was now played in the new facility. Paris Western (KY) beat Montgomery Booker T. Washington (AL) for the 1953 championship, 70-41. In 1955, Louisville Central (KY) beat Clarksdale Burt (TN) for the championship.

Brown v. Board of Education Impacts Tournament 1954

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in a historic decision (Brown v. Board of Education), outlawed public school segregation across the land. Up to 1954, only the Indiana (1942), Illinois (1943), Kansas (1947), and Missouri (1953) had integrated their state high school tournaments. After Brown, as integration gradually crept across the land, Black schools closed their doors as black students enrolled in integrated schools and Black state high school associations disbanded to join the heretofore-segregated state associations. The NIIBT felt this impact by 1956. The tournament featured an all-Kentucky final, when Louisville Central (KY) beat Lexington Douglass (KY) for the title, 81 to 61.

Fay Young of the Chicago Defender presents the NIIBT 1956 championship trophy to the Louisville Central team.
Fay Young of the Chicago Defender presents the NIIBT 1956 championship trophy to the Louisville Central team.

Prior to the 1956 tournament, the Oklahoma schools merged their state high school association with the White state association, which prevented them from sending any teams to the NIIBT. The loss of the Oklahoma teams was a blow to the prestige of the tournament as many of the best teams hailed from Oklahoma. In the 1957 tournament, Chicago St. Elizabeth, with the great Arthur Hicks, won their third championship (their 1951 stripped title not included). They beat Baton Rouge McKinley (LA) for the title, 61 to 53.

Four Chicago St. Elizabeth (IL) players proudly show off their  1957 hardware, for the NIIBT championship and for the Chicago Catholic Christmas tourney championship.
Four Chicago St. Elizabeth (IL) players proudly show off their 1957 hardware, for the NIIBT championship and for the Chicago Catholic Christmas tourney championship.

The 1958 tournament was a grand one for the long-time co-host, Nashville Pearl (TN), which won the NIIBT title with a win over Washington Carver (Dotson, AL), 69-58. Pearl repeated as champion the next year, but the tournament was diminishing, as only nine state champions were represented. In 1960, Pearl made it three in a row, beating Roosevelt (West Palm Beach, FL), 74-50, before the largest crowd ever to see the title game. The school won its fourth title in 1963, making it the sixth consecutive time a Tennessee high school won the championship. That year, membership in the NHSAA had dwindled to eight states. The year 1964 saw the first Alabama school take the title, when Birmingham Parker (AL) nipped Richmond Armstrong (VA), 81-79.

End of the Tournament in 1967

In September, 1964, the Tennessee black schools were put on a one-year probation for eventual merger into the White high school association, making Nashville no longer a viable site. A new site for the NIIBT was found at Alabama State College (Montgomery, AL). The NHSAA membership was down to seven states in 1965, and in the following year, when the Arkansas Black schools merged with the White schools, the NHSAA lost another member. The 1966 championship saw only eight schools representing six states competing for the NIIBT title. When South Carolina withdrew in 1967, membership was down to five states. The 1967 tournament proved to be the last, but it was a memorable one for the hometown team, as Montgomery Booker T. Washington (AL) beat Vicksburg Temple (MS) for the championship, 71-56.

When Florida, Alabama, and Georgia subsequently merged their Black state associations with the White associations, membership by 1968 was down to two, Mississippi and Virginia, and the NHSAA reluctantly canceled the 1968 tournament. While integration was a matter of progress in the country, the downside was that many Black institutions, such as the national Black high school basketball tournaments, born of segregation, were forced out of existence.

Tournament Champions--Boys

Year Champions Runners-Up Score Location
1941 Booker T. Washington (Sand Springs, OK} Booker T. Washington (Seminole, OK} 38-24 Tuskegee
1942 Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, OK) Southern (Scotlandville, LA) 42-19 Tuskegee
1943 No tournament No tournament -- --
1944 No tournament No tournament -- --
1945 Douglas (Oklahoma City, OK) Elkhorn (WV) 36-33 Nashville
1946 Booker T. Washington (Cushing, OK) Middleton (Tampa, FL) 44-40 Nashville
1947 Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, OK) Middleton (Tampa, FL) 51-42 Nashville
1948 Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, OK) Don Thompson (Tampa, FL) 52-29 Nashville
1949 St. Elizabeth (Chicago, IL) Booker T. Washington (Tulsa, OK) 57-36 Nashville
1950 St. Elizabeth (Chicago, IL) Ballard-Hudson (Macon, GA) 56-49 Nashville
1951 Booker T. Washington (Cushing, OK)* -- -- Nashville
1952 Central (Louisville, KY) Phyllis Wheatley (Houston, TX) 41-38 Nashville
1953 Western (Paris, KY) Booker T. Washington (Montgomery, AL) 70-41 Nashville
1954 Laurinburg Institute (NC) Dunbar (Summerset, KY) 70-58 Nashville
1955 Central (Louisville, KY) Burt (Clarksville, TN) 85-61 Nashville
1956 Central (Louisville, KY) Douglass (Lexington, KY) 81-61 Nashville
1957 St. Elizabeth (Chicago, IL) McKinley (Baton Rouge, LA) 61-53 Nashville
1958 Pearl (Nashville, TN) Carver (Dotham, AL) 69-58 Nashville
1959 Pearl (Nashville, TN) Scipio Jones (North Little Rock, AK) 76-72 Nashville
1960 Pearl (Nashville, TN) Roosevelt (West Palm Beach, FL) 74-50 Nashville
1961 Burt (Clarksville, TN) Webster (Minden, LA) 73-70 Nashville
1962 Booker T. Washington (Memphis, TN) Carter-Parramore (Quincy, FL) 66-61 Nashville
1963 Pearl (Nashville, TN) Jim Hill (Jackson, MS) 64-55 Nashville
1964 Parker (Birmngham, AL) Armstrong (Richmond, VA) 81-79 Nashville
1965 Lanier (Jackson, MS) Booker T. Washington (Suffolk, VA) 58-55 Montgomery
1966 Coleman (Greenville, MS) Dunbar (Lynchburg, VA) 81-54 Montgomery
1967 Booker T. Washington (Montgomery, AL) Temple (Vicksburg, MS) 71-56 Montgomery

*Washington Cushing (OK) was the second place team which was awarded the title after the champion St. Elizabeth (Chicago, IL) was forced to forfeit.

Tournament Champions--Girls

Year Champions Runners-Up Score Location
1941 unknown unknown -- Tuskegee
1942 Weirgate (TX) Hermondale (MO) unknown Tuskegee

Author’s note: Much of this narrative was based on the work of Charles Herbert Thompson’s History of the National Basketball Tournaments for Black High Schools, his 1980 doctoral dissertation submitted to the Louisiana State University.

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