Program Report: The Dixie Classic

The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big Time Basketball to the South—Bethany Bradsher

Prior to the frenzied atmosphere of ACC basketball tournaments and “March Madness,” the Dixie Classic was one of college’s premier hoops events.  The brainchild of legendary NC State basketball coach Everett Case, the Dixie Classic was launched in 1949 and ran until 1961 when a point-shaving scandal organized byNew Yorkarea mobsters led to its demise.  Tipping off just after Christmas in Reynolds Coliseum on the NC State Campus, the tournament was played over three days.  The holiday event opened with each of the Big Four—NC State, UNC, Duke and Wake Forest—playing non-conference opponents selected from some of the most competitive programs in the country including Penn State, Minnesota, Cincinnati (remember Oscar Robertson) and Johnny Green at  Michigan State.  During the Everett Case era, NC State dominated league play and practically owned the Dixie Classic.  In its twelve year history, the Wolfpack won the tournament seven times; UNC captured three titles; and Duke andWakeForesteked out one apiece.  No outside team ever won, but a few came close.

Bethany Bradsher gave a riveting account of the Dixie Classic.  Bethanyis the author of The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big Time Basketball to the South.  A sports nut since childhood in Houston, she became interested in ACC athletics when she came to college in North Carolina and since the mid-1990s has been covering ACC sports as a journalist.  Casting around for an interesting sports story after having written Coaching Third, a baseball biography, a friend suggested the Dixie Classic.  She realized she was on to a great story when she saw “grown men’s eyes light up at the mention of the Dixie Classic.”  Interviews with fans—some of whom had been boys whose Christmases were made by Santa who left tickets to the Classic in their stockings—and former players brought passion and detail to the book.  One of those interviewees was club member Bucky Waters who played on an Everett Case team in the Dixie Classic era.

Among the three or four principal characters in the story is Reynolds Coliseum on the NC State campus.  Begun before World War II, the Coliseum wasn’t completed until after Coach Case arrived in 1946.  He urged the expansion of the arena from 9,000 to 12,400 making it the largest basketball arena south of Atlantic City. Bethany showed wonderful pictures from that era with the smoke-choked coliseum peopled by men in suits and ladies in hats.  A Hammond organ selected by Coach Case himself provided music during intermission and other lulls in the action.    An ostensibly neutral “applause meter” was, shall we say, manipulated by its Wolfpack operator at appropriate critical moments in ballgames when State needed a boost.  A famous Eastern Carolina food purveyor,Griffin’s BBQ in Goldsboro, operated the concession.  Another lead character was, of course, Everett Case, the “Old Grey Fox” who came from basketball-nuttyIndiana.  A bachelor, Case’s family was his players.  Other notable characters include two Wake Forest head coaches Murray Greason and legendary “Bones”McKinney.  As Bethany recounted, Bones once smashed a chair during a Dixie Classic game, breaking it into forty-some odd pieces.  Sent a bill by NC State for the chair, he “repaired” the chair and returned it.  Afterwards, the trophy chair passed back and forth between the two schools.  Frank McGuire, UNC’s head coach from1952-61, whose 1957 team led by Lenny Rosenbluth went undefeated and beat the Kansas Jayhawks and Wilt Chamberlain in triple-overtime for the NCAA championship, also figures prominently.

Having taught at an SEC university for some years, I have one small quibble with the title of Bethany’s book.   Adolph Rupp at Kentucky played a not so small role in elevating basketball in a football crazed South.  That said, no other conference in the South has achieved such consistency of excellence in basketball as Everett Case’s ACC.  Incidentally, I had the honor of sitting beside Bethany’s charming and delightful daughter, Holly, a rising 8th grade student—and volleyball player—who accompanied her mother.

Submitted by Allen Cronenberg

If you missed the program, the book can be bought on the Dixie Classic Website.

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