By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Basketball official Gary Spivey remembers walking into the Lawrence County Coliseum on a January night several years ago.

“I was with Don Stanford and Stewart Stephenson and we were working the finals of the Lawrence County Tournament,” Spivey said. “Jack Steele was coaching the Hazlewood boys in the finals. He saw us coming in and said ‘Looks like we got the A-team tonight.’

“That was one of the best compliments I ever received in my 33 years of officiating. He didn’t have to say that, but he did and it meant a lot to the three of us. We always took pride in giving every game we worked our best.”

Spivey is being inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 6.

Competition has always been a big part of Spivey’s life. It really started before he was born. Spivey is an identical twin with an older brother Larry.

“I followed him by 10 minutes,” Spivey said. “I came out with a broken nose. I always said he kicked me so he could get out first.”

While the brothers looked alike there is one big difference. Larry is left-handed. Gary is right-handed. It was lefty Larry and righty Gary.

“We never could pull a prank like swapping identities,” Spivey said. “I can’t do anything left-handed and Larry can’t do anything right-handed. That was a dead giveaway.”

In the 1960s, basketball was king on the southwest side of Decatur, especially with the birth of the new Austin High. Basketball competition for the Spivey brothers started at their home on Fifth Avenue,  moved to the Boys & Girls Club and then eventually to the Aquadome Gym.

“The basketball games at our home turned into wars,” Spivey said. “The pickup games at the Aquadome were where you learned the skills you needed to be able to play with the best.”

The skills eventually earned Spivey and his brother a spot on the varsity at Austin playing for the legendary Joe Jones.

“Playing for Coach Jones was really a treat,” Spivey said. “He forgot more about basketball than most coaches ever knew.”

Spivey was a junior on the 1969 Austin team that won the school’s first ever state championship. After surviving a tough regional championship showdown vs. Hartselle, Austin won two games at the Class 3A state tournament to advance to the finals vs. undefeated Cherokee County.

“They had some 6-8 and 6-9 players and we were like 6-2 and 6-3,” Spivey said. “Not too many people gave us a chance.”

The Black Bears led by point guard Charles Lee Martin’s 26 points beat Cherokee County, 69-59.

“Coach Jones turned Charles Lee loose that night and we won a state championship,” Spivey said.

The Black Bears looked primed to be a candidate for a back-to-back state championship run in 1970. The Spivey brothers returned along with eventual All-State selection Pat Stanley.

The twin Black Bears caught media attention. There was even a photo of the Spivey brothers posing with twin Ford Mustangs.

“I don’t remember what that was all about,” Spivey said. “I do know neither one of us got to take home a Mustang.”

Austin’s season fell short of a return to state. Sparkman edged the Black Bears, 51-50, in the region championship game.

“We ended up playing four games in five days,” Spivey said. “We were just worn out by the finals.”

Spivey was not finished with his basketball career.  He and his brother both signed with Alabama Christian College in Montgomery. It was a junior college in those days. Now it’s Faulkner University, a four-year college. After two years in Montgomery, Spivey headed to Texas and played at Lubbock Christian.

“I just wanted to keep on playing basketball as long as I could and that was my best option,” Spivey said. “I enjoyed Texas. I met a lot of great people. After two years there I was ready to come home and get into coaching.”

Unfortunately for Spivey, basketball coaching jobs were slim and none that year. After a brief career in the construction business, Spivey joined Alfa and made a career out of being a claims adjuster. He retired from Alfa at age 58.

All through his business career, Spivey’s desire to be on the basketball court was always there.  Being a basketball official was his way to contribute to the game. He quickly earned a reputation as being one of the best.

“I liked Gary working our games,” former Danville coach Wayne Bowling said. “He always did a great job of covering the floor.

“I like an official who makes a call and is confident that he made the correct call without having to ask another official. If an official is confident in what he calls, then it’s difficult for a coach to complain. Gary could always do that.”

Spivey and his “A-team” member Stewart Stephenson became a well-known team that worked hundreds of games together over the years. Their friendship started as basketball rivals. Stephenson played on Decatur’s 1970 state championship team. The Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame inducted Stephenson in 2006. He passed away in 2018.

“I miss my friend a lot every day. He was a special person,” Spivey said. “We spent a lot of time together officiating and playing golf.”

The two worked many state tournament games. Spivey did so many he can’t remember how many.

“I think it was 12 or 14. It was always an honor to be invited,” Spivey said. “Working the finals is what it’s all about, but there’s a lot of pressure on officials. All the best officials in the state are there. You don’t want to make a mistake. You want your best game.

“I think every official dreams of every game they work being a one-point game with 20 seconds left to play. The pressure’s on and you want to be able to walk out of the gym and head home knowing you did everything possible for the players to decide that game.”

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