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The Texas Western Miners (1966)

The 1966 championship game for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball tournament came down to a test between a small southwestern institution, El Paso’s Texas Western College Miners, and an accomplished four-time NCAA tournament winner, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. This game, however, proved more than just a challenge by the Miners, a rarity for the time multi-racial team who had joined the NCAA just three years earlier, and an all-white opponent, the Wildcats, widely considered the strongest basketball team in the nation. The surprise winning of this game demonstrated to the rest of the country that African Americans had the skill, could strategize and control the ball as well as a white team, and in this championship game, ultimately were better than the best white team. This game, according to many sports observers, forever changed major college basketball.   

In 1966 the Miners consisted of seven African Americans: Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, Willie Worsley, Willie Cager, Nevil Shed, Harry Flournoy, and David Lattin; four Anglo Americans: Jerry Armstrong, Louis Baudoin, Dick Meyers, and Togo Railey; and one Mexican American, Dave Palacio. The opposing team contained all Anglo Americans, which was not surprising since many African Americans gained access to Southern colleges only in the 1960s. While some southern white campuses desegregated and blacks could attend classes, they were still usually excluded from team sports. No major white institution in the South or Southwest recruited them for their basketball talents.

In contrast to other Texas colleges and universities as well as most universities throughout the South, Texas Western experienced integration more than a decade earlier, and, at that time, the Miners’ coach, Don Haskins, recruited his best players, regardless of their hue. Adolph Rupp, on the other hand, the legendary coach and strategist of the Kentucky Wildcats, admitted he did not seek black players for his team.

The Miners arrived in Kentucky for the