Punch marred 1963 Flagstaff-Prescott basketball game
PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- On a Friday night 50 years ago, the Prescott High School gymnasium was the place to be and those who were there saw a basketball game that nobody expected.
The final seconds remain murky after five decades.
Flagstaff High and its all-state senior James Dugan faced Prescott in a boys' varsity game on Dec. 20, 1963. A night earlier, Dugan scored 54 points against Winslow High.
But in this game against the underdog Badgers in front of an over-capacity crowd, the winner wasn't decided until the final seconds. And that is what still is in debate.
With his team holding a three-point lead, Dugan was called for an offensive foul. It was his fifth foul of the game and his night was over.
Prescott's first-year head coach Jim Smith recalled that one of his players told Dugan something along the lines of "Ha ha! You're out!" or "Ha ha! You fouled!"
At that point Dugan still had the ball in his hands and threw it at the Badgers' Don Thayer.
After the ball bounced off Thayer's chest, Smith said Dugan turned around and punched Prescott's Randy Emmett in the face.
"He just threw a classic jab -- straight from the shoulder -- and laid him out," Smith told the Courier in Prescott. "I remember that like it was yesterday. (Emmett) bounced off the floor."
Emmett lay on the court out cold when Smith ran to him. Emmett's scalp was cut and he was bleeding "almost from the eye sockets," Smith said.
Players and spectators from both sides swarmed the floor. Officials stopped the game and escorted the crowd out of gym under the direction of Prescott school district superintendent Abia Judd.
Then-Prescott High football coach and athletic director Ollie Cline sprinted onto the court, picked up Dugan and carried him straight to a locker room to help avert what could have been a serious incident.
Once the officials had cleared all spectators, the two teams played the last several seconds of the game in an empty gym. Flagstaff won 62-59.
Outside, Prescott fans surrounded Flagstaff's team bus. The angry crowd threw projectiles at the bus and knocked out most of the windows as the Eagles tried to drive off.
Prescott's city police escorted the bus north to Ash Fork to avoid further incident.
Meanwhile, paramedics rushed Emmett to Prescott Community Hospital. He suffered a broken nose, a concussion, and facial and head lacerations that required 16 stitches.
Emmett was unconscious for several minutes after the punch.
Dugan traveled to Prescott three days after the game and visited Emmett in his hospital room to apologize.
The Flagstaff school board later offered formal apologies to the Prescott board of education.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the regulatory body for high school athletics in the state, suspended Dugan for the remainder of the basketball season on Jan. 23, 1964.
Prescott was scheduled to play in a rematch at Flagstaff, but forfeited that game rather than face the Eagles a second time.
Dugan claimed Badger players called him names and used racial slurs against him throughout the game, which precipitated the punch on Emmett.
Prescott players on the court that night to this day deny that any racial slurs were used. They say the tough defense that bottled up the high-scoring Dugan that evening caused frustration to spill over.
"We had a pretty good group of kids there, and I talked to all of them as did Joe Russo who was the assistant principal, and Ollie Cline who was the athletic director," Smith said. "They swore up and down that there was nobody on the team calling them any names. We were looking at it as a completely unprovoked incident."
Prescott finished the 1963-64 season with a 6-11 record while Flagstaff took the top seed into the state tournament, where it lost in the first round.
Information from: The Daily Courier, http://www.dcourier.com