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'63 Towson High state champs were kings of the basketball court

BasketballMaryland TerrapinsAtlantic Coast ConferenceUniversity of Maryland Baltimore CountySpiro AgnewUniversity of Maryland, College Park

More than 50 years later, Edgar Smith still remembers the feeling of elation he and his Towson High teammates felt riding along York Road on their return trip from College Park in March of 1963.

"Just riding down the road yelling and screaming, it was the greatest feeling of all," said the Smith, a retired public school physical education teacher and a reserve guard on the title team. "When we got back to school, the students carried us into the lobby."

The Generals, coached by Randy Walker, were not only the toast of Towson after beating Bladensburg High, 75-60, they were the first team from Baltimore County to win a state basketball championship.

Smith and the other members of the Class of 1963 will most likely be swapping stories of that game and other events when they hold their 50th reunion this weekend, Oct. 25 and 26 at the Embassy Suites in Timonium.

After all, the year before ended in bitter disappointment when Towson, after edging Surrattsville in overtime, fell to Allegany High, of Cumberland, 70-57 in the state final.

Redemption 12 months later was worth the wait for the Generals, who completed their 21-1 season with a dazzling display of savvy and skill in the championship at Cole Field House on the campus of the University of Maryland.

"None of us had ever been in a big arena like that before," said Frank Cincotta, then a junior soccer and baseball player who attended the game with fellow Towson students. "We were used to our little high school gym. It was exciting just playing there."

Although Smith contributed two points — he said it was a jumper that would have been a three-pointer today — off the bench, it was the silky smooth Billy Jones that Cincotta remembers to this day.

The junior leaper was masterful, performing like a champion in the biggest game of the year.

"We were playing a team from (Washington) D.C., an area known for its sports teams, especially basketball," Cincotta said. "Billy Jones was just Mr. Clutch. He was automatic. He was not a showboat, either. He was so cool and so crisp, it's like it was scripted."

"We outhustled them," Smith said. "We outplayed them, too."

Jones, who is black, would go on to play much of his college career on the same floor for the Maryland Terrapins, breaking the color barrier in the then-racially segregated Atlantic Coast Conference. And on that same floor three years later, Texas Western would become the first all-black team to win a men's national basketball championship when it topped the all-white University of Kentucky.

Jones ended up coaching the University of Maryland, Baltimore County men's basketball team from 1974-1986.

The racial makeup of the Towson team, normal by today's standards, marked the formative years of a new era for interscholastic athletics in the area.

Although they followed trailblazers Percy Davis, Skip Dett and Dave Bishop from the 1958 and 1959 teams, the black players on the 1962 and 1963 squads, including Smith, Jones, Ralph Lee and Jimmy Hall, made the Generals a powerhouse.

The latter group complemented their white counterparts — Steve Pfeiffer, Ron Albrecht, Scott Fossler and Dickie Hunt, to name a few — on a squad that beat the defending champions of the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference (City), Baltimore Catholic League (Calvert Hall) and private schools (McDonogh) in a year to remember. They also topped Towson Catholic and Loyola High that season.

Together, the Generals were unbeatable — except for a loss to Catonsville High that was supposed to be a tuneup for the state tournament.

In the end, that setback did not matter after Towson won it all.

Smith still has a certificate given to the team at an assembly signed by Baltimore County Executive Spiro Agnew, the future Vice President of the United States.

He also remembers being feted at the previously segregated Penn Hotel Restaurant, a former Towson landmark where the Charles Village Pub is now located.

"We all got salt shakers," Smith said of the tokens of appreciation given to the players by the Penn Hotel management. "That was the first time we had been allowed in there."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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BasketballMaryland TerrapinsAtlantic Coast ConferenceUniversity of Maryland Baltimore CountySpiro AgnewUniversity of Maryland, College Park
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