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Middleton's journey back to '64 team builds bridge to present

Members of the 1964 state basketball championship team Robert Blount Sr., 67, left, and Charles Hill, 67, and Middleton principal Kim Moore hold new trophies made after the original was destroyed by fire in 1967.
Members of the 1964 state basketball championship team Robert Blount Sr., 67, left, and Charles Hill, 67, and Middleton principal Kim Moore hold new trophies made after the original was destroyed by fire in 1967.
Published Dec. 18, 2014

TAMPA — The celebration overwhelmed the old players who spent all evening reminiscing about their glory days.

The son of the legendary coach who guided this group to a championship also swelled with pride.

The current players, however, proved to be the most important participants in last week's recognition of Middleton High's 1964 boys state basketball championship because it connected them to the school's rich history.

"Principal Kim Moore and athletic director Travian Smith wanted to make sure the kids who are now playing were exposed to this history," said Fred Hearns, a Middleton High alumnus who organized the salute to the team.

"We passed it on to the kids of today. They had no clue. Most of their parents weren't aware of the state championship."

Hearns, a local African-American historian, wanted to celebrate the team and reward the players because the state championship trophy they won was destroyed in a 1967 fire at the old Middleton High, which is now Farrell Middle School. The fire occurred during the final years of a segregated public school system and officials suspected arson, but no arrest was ever made.

Three years before the fire, Coach William Bethel led the Tigers to a state championship during a time when the all-black schools competed only against each other. Middleton traveled to Pompano Beach Ely High and won three consecutive games to capture the title.

Hearns commissioned to have a new trophy made and individual trophies were given to each player. Six members of the team returned to Middleton Dec. 12 for the celebration: Jimmy "Captain" Smith, Jimmy "Red" Smith, Robert Blount Sr., Walter Tate, James Copeland and Charles Hill.

William Bethel Jr. attended and accepted a trophy in honor of his late father.

"They averaged 101 points a game in the three-game tournament, and this was before the three-point shot," Hearns said. "There are no records to verify this, but if that's not a state record I don't know what is. That's pretty impressive."

Times staff

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