2017 INDUCTEE - BEN ALLEN
By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily
Charles Maples said Ben Allen had some of the quickest hands he ever saw on the basketball court. How quick was he? In one game Allen had 14 steals, at halftime. "He was just super quick," Maples said. "You mix that with his knowledge of the game and his leadership skills and you had one of the best players I ever coached."
Allen said his mother constantly preached to her children that despite the hard times they had growing up, they could be successful in life. Allen found success on the basketball court at Cotaco under coaching legend Gary Blagburn and later with Maples. "Growing up, we were constantly on the move," Allen said. "We lived in Hartselle, Decatur and out in the county before finally settling down in Cotaco. We all had to work to make money for us just to survive."
When a person is constantly struggling to survive, a little spark of success can go a long way. Basketball gave Allen that spark. When Allen was in the fourth grade at Cotaco, he learned about basketball on the playground at recess. A teacher named Marvin Bowling used a pick ax to cut lines in the dirt to mark off the court. "He taught us the fundamentals of the game," Allen said. "I didn't realize what a lasting effect his teachings would have on my life."
The year Allen entered the seventh grade, Gary Blagburn was the new basketball coach at Cotaco. It was the first job for the Austinville native, who played at Alabama.
"We walked into that gym class on the first day and we were all star struck," Allen said. "We started practicing that day and it never slowed down. He taught us how to be basketball players. We couldn't wait to get to the gym each day. He was a teacher, coach, mentor, father figure and much, much more."
It was Blagburn's decision to make Allen a point guard. The position is much like the quarterback on a football team where leadership is key. "We practiced and played hard," Allen said. "We never wanted to make a mistake or let Coach Blagburn down."
The hard work paid off in 1966 when Cotaco beat Decatur 64-60 to win the Morgan County Tournament. It was the only time Cotaco won the county tournament. Allen was a sophomore reserve on that team.
"It was unbelievable," Allen said. "Something like that wasn't supposed to happen. It was a great Decatur team and they weren't supposed to lose to a small school like Cotaco. Everybody in Cotaco was excited. I'll never forget it." Blagburn left Cotaco in 1966. Maples became head coach and added his own touch to the program. He went with a fast break style offense similar to what he ran as a player at Saint Bernard. "We were the fastest team in Morgan County and one of the highest scoring teams," Allen said.
In Allen's senior season in 1968, Cotaco averaged 76 points a game and scored 90 or more six times. Allen topped the team with a 20.4 average. The Indians raced all the way to the state tournament. "We had two of the best rebounders in school history in Gary Couey and Rodger McClure," Allen said. "Ray Scott was a good rebounder and Tommy Willis was the best hustler on the team."
The state tournament was played in Tuscaloosa at what is now called Coleman Coliseum. The opponent was Kinston, which had won a state championship two years earlier. "We were used to the small court at Cotaco," Maples said. "Now we were playing on a regulation 94-foot court. The depth perception for shooting was something we weren't ready for."Kinston won 90-61. Cotaco finished 23-8. It would be the school's only trip to the state tournament. Cotaco was one of the schools that merged in 1972 to form Brewer. ¬†Allen had a chance to continue to play in college, but family obligations didn't allow it. He had worked at McDonald's in Decatur through junior high and high school. The franchise owners offered him part ownership of some future franchises if he stayed. When Allen was 23 he became the youngest franchise partner in company history. He stayed in the restaurant business for 32 years "Playing point guard made me have to be a leader," Allen said. "Being a leader is something you never forget. It helped me every day of my life in the restaurant business."