Suffice it to say, there are few individuals who have enjoyed the James River High School boys basketball season as much as the nearly 90-year-old Jack Garland.
As the Knights closed in on the state championship, this Buchanan native was right there rooting for what has long been missing in the high school’s sports annals—a boys state championship.
Of course, the 2009-10 team filled that void when it brought home the Group A, Division 2 trophy nearly two weeks ago.
For Jack Garland, it was as welcome as another spring. It also served as a reminder of his own youth when the Buchanan community enjoyed the thrill of its only other state basketball championship.
Garland is one of the few Buchanan residents old enough to recall that title run 80 years ago during the 1929-30 season.
He was 9 years old, the youngest of the Garland clan; but an older brother, Rupert, played on that championship team.
Garland, who says he is blessed with a good memory, recalls seeing the small celebration among the downtown businessmen when the team returned from Blacksburg on Saturday, March 1.
Certainly, the business community didn’t have a lot to cheer about considering it was just a few months after the stock market crash and the beginning of what would become The Great Depression.
Still, Garland remembers it was the first time (and one of the few times) he saw grown men hugging each other.
He said about 40 or so folks gathered on Main Street that day to pat each other on the back and exchange celebrations over what “the Buchanan Five” had done.
The Buchanan Five was the five starters on the Buchanan High School basketball team. Buchanan High School was one of the forerunners of James River High School. It sat off Lowe Street and had one of the biggest gymnasiums in the area. Much of its own history was lost when it was destroyed by fire many years later. That, and time, leave Jack Garland as one of the few who could recount the history of the sport in this part of Botetourt—one of the few who could remember both championships.
The fact is, high school basketball was a big deal in Botetourt County as far back as that 1930 team.
Over the next 30 years, the county’s high school produced two other state champions, a runner-up, plus three other teams that reached the Final Four.
Fincastle High School won the 1939 Class C state championship, then in 1959, Troutville won the state title in the same class.
The year after Buchanan won the state championship, the team lost in the Class B semi-finals. The year before Troutville won its state title, that team was the state runner-up.
Fincastle also was a semi-finalist in the 1938 season, and Buchanan sent a team to the semi-finals in 1940, this time in Class C.
All through the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, The Fincastle Herald reported weekly on how the basketball season was progressing. The coverage wasn’t as detailed as today’s sports pages are, but even readers today could tell the gyms were full and there was considerable pride on the line when the boys took to the hardwood.
There were more than a few altercations reported among spectators, too, especially when the county high schools played each other; as you might expect when even families had different allegiances.
Certainly, The Buchanan Five was a worthy team. It had gone through the season undefeated—in fact Buchanan was on an 18-game win streak when the state tournament started.
Buchanan had little trouble once it reached the Class B semi-finals, but it was no given the team would get there.
Vinton stood in the way, and on a Tuesday night almost two weeks before the title tilt, on the Buchanan gym floor, the Buchaneers defeated Vinton 25-24, their 19th straight.
The Virginia High School Literary and Athletic League held a “bracketed” tournament, and that meant Buchanan got a home game in the semi-finals against Lexington. That was a Saturday game, and Lexington had no chance—the Buchaneers won easily 22-6.
No one knew at the time, but one of the guards on the Buchanan team would become an icon in Lexington once he started his professional career as an educator and coach—his name was Stuart “Pete” Brewbaker and his family lived in Springwood.
Brewbaker started coaching in 1936 at William Fleming High School, then a year later he went to Lexington where he coached football and track (except the four years he was in the Navy during World War II) until 1976. His name graces the old Lexington High School football/baseball field.
Brewbaker was one of the guards on the Buchanan team, along with Bob Snead, and they were credited with being the defensive force that kept opponents off the scoreboard.
After whipping Lexington, the Buchaneers were set to travel to Blacksburg where they’d play Rocky Mount, which was coming out of the other side of the Class B bracket.
Rocky Mount beat Robert E. Lee of Staunton in a close game for the right to travel to Blacksburg, but the Franklin County team, the defending Class B state champions, “proved to be no match for the Buchanan Five,” as The Buchanan News reported right after the championship game.
The championship game was being played at VPI, and Buchanan overwhelmed its opponent.
The first half was close enough. Buchanan was up 16-11 at the break, but that was about it for Rocky Mount. The Buchanan News reported that forwards Rupert Garland and Fuzz Eubank and center “Yellow” DeLong, “the high scoring trio of the Buchanan team, tore through their opponents’ defense with a flashy brand of ball in the final half, while Snead and Brewbaker, stellar guards, turned back their opponents without a goal from the floor.”
While Sonny Thomas is not mentioned in the account of the state championship nor semi-final wins, he certainly must have played a part. Garland called him the sixth man. He came off the bench to spell Brewbaker and Snead at guard.
Buchanan won 38-16, allowing just five points in the second half—all from the foul line.
Jack Garland went on to play basketball for Buchanan High School, too. He remembers that kids learned to play the game on hoops hung up on the sides of buildings. That’s how you could tell if a boy lived at the home.
Rupert Garland held the scoring record at Buchanan High School until Jack Garland, with a shy grin, confesses he broke it.
His love of basketball has never waned, and 80 years between championships—well, he confides he feels blessed he was a witness to both.