By David Elwell
For the Decatur Daily

Marvin Sales remembers the year that changed his life forever. It was 1970. Schools across Alabama were ordered to integrate. After two years at Lakeside School, Sales would be starting his ninth grade year at Austin High School. "It was a big thing for everybody," Sales said. "Nobody really knew what to expect." Sales didn't expect to find at Austin the man who would become "like a father to me." That man was Austin basketball coach Joe Jones. "Coach Jones saw me in P.E. class," Sales said. "I was 6-1, 130 pounds. He saw how quick I was and how high I could jump.

"There was a lot of social stuff going on at the time and he liked the way I carried myself. I didn't have a father growing up. Coach Jones became like a father to me. He steered me in the right direction." Besides giving Sales guidance, Jones also gave him a nickname. "I always liked to talk a lot," Sales said. "One day I was talking and Coach Jones told me to be quiet. He said 'It's always yakety, yakety, yak with you.' He started calling me 'Yak' and some
of my friends still call me that to this day."

Jones turned Sales into a key part of what became Austin's 1973 state championship team. The five starters were seniors Billy "Dog" Sandifer, Rickie Stukes, Butch Watterson, Donald Booker and Mark McClanahan. They had played together for two seasons. Sales, a junior, was the first player off the bench. The team had four losses by a total of six points.

The Black Bears beat the Decatur Red Raiders 45-32 to win the Class 4A, Region 8 championship and advance to the state tournament in Tuscaloosa. Class 4A was the largest classification in 1973. Eight teams advanced to Tuscaloosa.

It was Jones' seventh trip to the state tournament in 20 years of coaching. He had won a state championship at Austinville in 1953 and at Austin in 1969. "I can remember our first day there. They fed us at the cafeteria on the University of Alabama campus," Sales said. "We walked in and there was Carver, the tournament favorite and our first opponent. They looked at us, saw
how short we were and laughed." Austin was the one laughing after the Black Bears won 68-67 on a Stukes' field goal in the final seconds.

Austin faced Talladega in the semifinals. Sandifer had one of the all-time great games in state tournament history with 43 points and 22 rebounds. "We played Wenonah in the finals," Sales said. "They were up seven with four minutes to go and I was on the bench in foul trouble. Coach Jones looked at me and said 'Yak are you ready to go?' "He put me in and right away Stukes fed me with a pass and I scored. Then I stole the ball and broke loose for a layup. We were down three just like that." Wenonah was up 63-61 with 1:13 to play. Sales drove in along
the baseline to tie the game at 63-63 with 36 seconds left to play. Booker's long shot at the buzzer rimmed out and the teams headed to overtime.

Sales got the first basket of overtime. Stukes hit four free throws to extend the lead and Austin held on for a 69-66 victory. Sales scored eight points, but they were some of the biggest points of the game. "That's the way it was with Marvin," Sandifer said. "I might get 30 or 40 points and Marvin would have eight or 10, but his would be big points. He always came up big in the pressure situations.

"Marvin was always a good player when we were growing up playing at Carrie Matthews (Recreation Center). I think he saw how good he could really be in the 10th grade. In the 11th grade he was outstanding. Without him we would not have won the state championship." Austin celebrated its second state championship when the team returned to Decatur the next day. "That was one of the greatest moments in my life," Sales said. "I will never forget the state trooper escort we got from just outside Decatur to the school. We got to the school and there were people everywhere. It was amazing."

In 2 1/2 years, Austin had gone from being a new place where "nobody knew what to expect" to a place where Sales was part of a state championship team. "It was one of the most close-knit teams I've ever played on," Sales said. "We owe Coach Jones so much. He got us to understand the reward for hard work. "Coach Jones could have gone to coach at the college level and won national championships with his coaching philosophy, but he wanted to stay in Decatur and help kids like me. I'm glad he did."

Austin failed to make it back to the state tournament in 1974,but Sales had a banner senior season with All-State honors and most valuable player honors in the Tennessee Valley Conference and the Morgan County Tournament.

Sales continued his great career at what was then Troy State University. He was the Gulf South Conference's most valuable freshman in 1975. In 1978, he was the Gulf South MVP when he led the league in scoring, field goal percentage, rebounding and steals. He left Troy as the school's all-time rebounder with 1,318. He was just 43 points short of being the all-time scorer.

After graduation from Troy, Sales returned to Decatur and worked at the General Motors Delphi plant. In 2003 he transferred to the company's plant in Shreveport, Louisiana. He retired in 2009 and still lives in Louisiana.

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