ASHE COUNTY — A Jefferson Post headline for Dec. 26, 1995 exclaimed: “Undefeated 1940 Riverview team won the world’s largest basketball tourney.”
The 1940 Journal-Sentinal Northwest Basketball Tournament was billed as the largest basketball tournament held under one roof. 63 boys and over 60 girls high school teams showed up in Winston-Salem to play.
The Riverview Wildcat boys’ team earned the right to enter the tournament. They sported a 32-0 record and had already won three tournaments.
The Wildcat team members were guards Frank Roland and Wayne Hartsog, center Fred Stewart and forwards Bill Graybeal and Wade (Junior) Eller. Reserves were Bruce Eller, Kenneth Roland and Joseph Daugherty. They were coached by Bruce Graybeal. Stewart was the tallest man on the team at 6’4”.
The tournament was played at the old Hanes Gymnasium in Winston-Salem. “129 teams came from all over the state,” stated Frank Roland in the 1995 article. “We played seven games to win the championship. We defeated Leeksville in an exciting final that went into overtime.”
According to Roland, basketball was a different game in 1940 than it is today. All shots were two-handed set shots or layups. One hand or jump shots had not come into the game. “It was more of a run and shoot style of basketball. You didn’t take time to set up plays. Defenses were mostly man-to-man. Wayne Hartsog and Fred Stewart usually led us in scoring. I usually got a lot of assists,” stated Roland.
“We were a group of boys that grew up together and loved to play basketball,” stated Wayne Hartsog. “We practiced all the time. Most of the time we had nine boys on the squad. Five of us played together all the time and everyone on the team was real interested in playing the game.
Hartsog continued, “Frank Roland and I lived over on Mill Creek. Just about every day we would walk seven or eight miles to Riverview School in our spare time just to play basketball.
“Bruce Graybeal, our coach, loved to work with the kids. He really didn’t know much about basketball but he knew how to help us work as a team and cared about us very much.
“The first three or four games of the tournament we drove back and forth to Winston-Salem. It was a treat for us because some of the boys had never been that far away from home.
“After we won the fourth game they put us up in the Robert E. Lee Hotel. That was a real treat; playing in the world’s largest basketball tournament and staying in a hotel.”
Frank Roland was considered the playmaker for the team. His quickness, assists and shooting accuracy was well known far beyond 1940. He played industrial league basketball and softball well into his 60s and took up golf at age 72. Frank Roland was inducted into the Ashe County Sports Hall of Fame April 27, 2013.
Remember the year 1940. The United States had yet to declare war on Japan or Germany. That was the year eight determined young men and their coach decided to show the rest of the state that mountain boys could play basketball. It left a lot of people asking, “Where in the world is Fig, North Carolina?”