2015 INDUCTEE - JIMMY WALLACE
By David Elwell
For the Decatur Daily
Jimmy Wallace said when he got the first sniff of the paper mill near Tuscaloosa, he knew his basketball team was headed in the right direction. In the late 1950s, Austinville basketball was headed in the right direction just about every year. The Hornets won the Class A state tournament held at the University of Alabama from 1957-1959. Wallace played on all three teams. He was an All-State selection as a starter on the 1959 team. "We were like Kentucky basketball and Alabama football," Wallace said. "Winning the state championship was expected of us. As soon as the basketball schedule was announced, people were making their reservations in Tuscaloosa. "The state championship run of the Hornets ended after 1959 when Austinville was incorporated into the city of Decatur. Austinville's high school students transferred to Decatur High. "They had a big sign at the state tournament that was the state of Alabama," Wallace said. "It had a light marking every school in the tournament. When a school got eliminated they would turn off their light. It was fun seeing the light for Austinville being the only one still shining."
The state championship run came close to being four in a row. The state tournament format in those days had each district's winner and runner-up advancing to Tuscaloosa. In1956, Austinville won the District Eight championship with a 57-50 win over West Limestone. Austinville lost in the state semifinals to Hackneyville 57-54. West Limestone beat Hackneyville 69-62 in the state championship game. "That 1956 team might have been the best one of all four of those teams," Wallace said.
Austinville basketball was amazing in the 1950s with four state championships in seven years. The legendary Joe Jones coached the Hornets to the 1953 state championship. A young coach by the name of Earl Morris took over the program in the fall of 1956 after Jones moved into administration. "Austinville was a basketball coach's paradise for support and talent," Morris said.
It's been nearly 60 years since the last game, but Wallace's mind can travel down the few¬†streets in that tight-knit community and point out the houses where players who played on state championship teams grew up. From anywhere in that community the players weren't more than a long 3-point field goal attempt from a teammate. "It was like the movie 'Hoosiers,'" Wallace said. "The whole community followed our basketball teams. Our gym was so small that we played a lot of our big games at Decatur. When we went on the road we would have a long¬†line of cars following the bus. "Wallace played some on the 1957 team. He played even more in 1958 before becoming a starter his senior year.
"Jimmy was our sixth man in 1958," Morris said. "He played a lot of minutes. When he came¬†off the bench he made us better." Wallace stepped into a starting role on the 1959 team. He and Hamil Martin teamed up to give the Hornets a strong guard combination that could score and distribute the ball. "I never coached a better two-guard combination in my 30 years of coaching," Morris said. "They could handle the press, get the offense started and pull up and shoot. Players like that make you a good coach."
The 1959 Hornets won the Morgan County Tournament, the District Eight Tournament and the Class A State Tournament almost without being challenged. The 62-51 win over Corner for the state championship trophy would be the closest of 12 games in the three tournaments.
Jimmy Moebes was the state tournament's Most Valuable Player. Wallace and Martin joined him on the All-State Tournament team. "People have asked me why we were so good," Wallace
said. "We just loved to compete. We didn't have a football program. Basketball was how we competed. "We also had two of the best basketball coaches ever in Joe Jones and Earl Morris. Not only were they great coaches, they were great men."
After Austinville, Wallace took his basketball and baseball talent to Saint Bernard College in Cullman. He was an Alabama Collegiate Conference selection in 1961-62 and helped Saint Bernard advance to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City. "We got beat in Kansas City and took the train back to Cullman," Wallace said. "The next morning we were on a bus to Florida for baseball."
After 10 years in education, Wallace got into the furniture building business. He's now retired. One of his favorite things to do is travel to Tuscaloosa for Alabama football. "Every time I go to Tuscaloosa I can't help but think about those basketball memories," Wallace said. "Sometimes I even do a little sniff for that paper mill smell. I know it (the paper mill) has been gone a long time, but the memories of winning state championships down there last forever."