By David Elwell
For the Decatur Daily

Ronald Grantland can still hear his mother's voice calling him and his brothers in at night. "Our dad had built us a basketball goal," Grantland said. "We figured out how to hang some lights so we could play at night. We would stay out there so late that she had to call us in because it was time to go to bed."

The endless hours of basketball paid off for Grantland. He became one of the star players in Morgan County in the mid-1960s. It was a time when winning a state championship was often an easier accomplishment than winning the county tournament. From 1950-1973, there were 15 state championships won by schools in Morgan County. "Oh man, we had some great coaches and players," Grantland said. "Just look at the coaches. You had Joe Jones, Earl Morris, Herman Myers, Wayne Bowling, Gary Blagburn and Jackie Coulter. Those were some of the best coaches we've ever had in Morgan County. When I played, they were competing against each other."

Grantland grew up on a farm in the Cotaco community. When he was not helping with the farm, Grantland was playing basketball and hoping to fulfill his dream of playing for the Cotaco Indians. Today, Cotaco School just goes through the eighth grade. Cotaco students continue on to Brewer for high school. Cotaco was one of five schools – along with Ryan, Union Hill, Eva and Priceville - that combined in the 1970s to form Brewer. "Cotaco was small," Grantland said. "We only had 28 in my senior class in 1965."

Before the consolidation, the communities of south Morgan County treated Tuesday and Friday nights in basketball season like a church night. If you were not present, people feared something bad had happened to you. Basketball was always important at Cotaco, but the level of importance changed in 1963 when Blagburn became the coach.

After starring on Austinville's 1957 state championship team, Blagburn played for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Cotaco was his first job out of college."He changed the whole mindset for basketball at Cotaco," Grantland said. "We always had good teams, but we never had the ability to win the big games."

For Blagburn, changing the mindset meant changing almost everything from the floor up. The gym got a new floor and scoreboard. The team got new uniforms and even new basketballs. "We had a small gym at Cotaco," Grantland said. "Years later when the three-point line became part of the game, we saw how small that gym really was. The line came almost to the sideline and nearly to the half court circle."

Blagburn's coaching quickly made a difference, but showed big time in his second season. Early in the 1964-65season, Cotaco shocked Decatur 61-49 in the Red Raiders' season opener. Grantland led the Indians (5-1) with 20 points. Former Austin coach Bob Harpe scored 19 for the Red Raiders.

Priceville had a powerhouse team that season that would go on to win the Class 1A state championship. The Bulldogs beat Cotaco at home in the first matchup. By the time of the rematch at Cotaco, Priceville was 12-0 and ranked No. 2 in the state. The rematch was so highly anticipated that Blagburn got the game moved to Hartselle to accommodate the crowd. The Indians knocked off the Bulldogs 64-60 that night. "I never will forget that game," Grantland said. "I scored 16 points and 14 came on free throws. I scored one field goal." Cotaco scored 32 points in free throws that night while Priceville hit just 16. "I always was a good free throw shooter," Grantland said. "I think it was because when my dad built our basketball goal he made it eight feet high to start with. We learned the proper shooting technique from the start because we didn't have to work so hard to get the ball up to the goal."

Another Cotaco rival was Danville. The Hawks won state championships in 1962 and 1963. One of Danville's star players was Gilmer Ellis. "In those days there were a lot of great shooters and Ronald Grantland was outstanding," Ellis said. "If you wanted to beat Cotaco, you had to be on top of your game. You had better guard Ronald Grantland."

In 1966, the season after Grantland graduated, Cotaco would win its only Morgan County Tournament. "That was probably the most exciting thing to ever happen to Cotaco," Grantland said.

After high school, Grantland ended up at Calhoun Community College and played on the school's first team. "Bob Shuttleworth was the coach and he was a great coach," Grantland said. "We went 20-6, finished first in the North Division and got beat in the state finals." That would be Grantland's last season. He got his degree and worked 33 years for the state health department. He also served 12 years in the state legislature.

One of the things that keeps Grantland busy in retirement is going to basketball games. "I still love basketball," Grantland said. "I can't get it out of my system."

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