By Ralphine Major
He got lots of “twos” during the 1964-65 basketball season. His coach wishes there had been a three-point shot back then. Leslie Spitzer, a Gibbs High senior who wore the No. 30 jersey, was one of the starting Eagles on the boys basketball team. Former Head Coach Bob Dagley can only wonder how many “threes” would have been beside Spitzer’s name on the stat sheet. In my mind’s eye, I can still see Spitzer in mid-air making a “two” shot in the old Gibbs High gym. I never met him, though. Our fifth grade class was a long way from the halls of the high school even though all twelve grades were under one roof.
I thought, perhaps, I might see the former player at Bill and Georgia Wright’s 70th Anniversary at Clapps Chapel United Methodist Church last summer. Spitzer is a name well known in the community, and Georgia and Leslie’s mother were sisters. I walked in and looked for the tall, dark headed, outstanding basketball player. I did not see him. Jane Wright, his sister-in-law, pointed me toward a gentleman I did not recognize. But, indeed, it was him! He was tall, his hair was much lighter, and he was surrounded by several children—his grandchildren!
When Coach Bob Dagley came to Gibbs High School in 1963, it was his first head coaching job. The following ‘64-65 school year was when the talented team emerged from the small, rural school. Spitzer led the Knoxville Interscholastic League (KIL) in scoring the previous year as a junior. He was fourth in the KIL his senior year, passing many shots unselfishly to his teammates. Dagley compares Spitzer to a football option quarterback. “He could make quick decisions on the spur of the moment,” Dagley said. “When he got a screen (one of his teammates getting in the way of a defensive player), Spitzer could: (1) shoot the ball over the top of the screen, (2) drive off (go around) the screen, or
(3) “hit” an open teammate with the ball. I never fully realized all the talent in those “twos.” According to the coach, Spitzer was the best jump shot shooter he had seen. “He had a picture-perfect jump shot,” Dagley said. “When he went up for a jump shot, he paused and then extended on up. I never saw his jump shot get blocked,” the coach added. Even comments from area coaches referred to him as a smooth player, a natural, and a rare treat to watch. I had no idea so much technique was involved on the court. Of course, I have never talked to a coach in depth, either. Dagley detailed the action for me. “Spitzer could come down the court full speed, stop on a dime, go up for his jump shot, and come down in the same spot,” the coach explained. “Not many can do that,” he added.
Leslie Spitzer was the team captain and one of the players who made the magic happen that year. He remembers a great deal about the Eagles’ beloved head coach. “He took what we had, worked with us, improving our skill level in all aspects of the game. With his knowledge of the game, he took us to a higher level. Everyone contributed. It was a team effort,” Spitzer said. That “team effort” was a key ingredient to the Eagles’ success in winning 31 games and losing only 2 and going on to win the 6th District Trophy! Spitzer recognized that their coach went the extra mile to help his players. “Coach Dagley is to be complimented for starting track with the basketball players and others for additional strength and conditioning skills,” he said.
The senior guard’s praise of his former coach continued: “He was wonderful! But, he cut us no slack. We worked hard. Coach Dagley knew basketball and he knew people. He had an open mind and he listened to our suggestions. We would try multiple defenses and offenses.” I keyed in on the words: “he listened.” No wonder those players worked so hard for Dagley.
While looking through his scrapbook from that year, Coach Dagley came across a clipping from the Knoxville News Sentinel after Alcoa beat Gibbs. In the article, Murfreesboro Coach Lee Pate praised No. 30, saying: “There is not a better guard in the state than that Spitzer boy.” (To be continued next week.) (This is the sixth in a series on the 1964-65 Gibbs Eagles’ amazing year.)