Flashback: Slidell Tigers win first and only state boys basketball title in 1959

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1959 Slidell basketball reunion

Winning a state championship in any sport is a tremendous challenge and feat on the high school level in Louisiana.

For Slidell High, their biggest accomplishment in boys basketball occurred 61 years ago.

The Tigers had won consecutive Class B state football championships in 1944 and 1945.

In the 1957-1958 season, the Slidell High boys basketball team was competing in the LHSAA state tournament in Class 1A. The Tigers were a good team with a great deal of talent.

Slidell made a nice playoff run, reaching the quarterfinals where the Tigers lost to Kaplan in a competitive contest. Kaplan eventually reached the state championship game, falling in the title game to Franklin.

The Tigers were led by senior Karl Halvorsen and junior L.V. McGinty Jr.  Halvorsen was a very good player who went on to play in college.  McGinty Jr. had bigger fish to fry the following year.

As in often the case with a high school team, when a star player is lost to graduation, many people did not expect the following season to be as good.  Clearly, that was not how the returning players felt.

They were certain that they had a team of championship caliber.

With nine seniors on the squad the following season, The Tigers felt a state title was within reach.

Head coach Ed McDermott and his Tigers got off to a fast start in the 1958-59 season, winning their first 12 games before falling 67-65 to Harrison Central High (MS).

The Tigers rebounded and defeated Buras by nine points before falling by two points to Chalmette.

Then in early February came news that put the Tigers hopes for a championship in serious doubt.

McDermott announced abruptly that he was leaving the school and team, moving to California to accept another position.

For any team to lose their head coach in the middle of the season could be demoralizing, with a crushing impact.  McDermott has coached all of the Slidell players throughout their high school careers. It was a big blow to sustain.

Principal L.V. McGinty Sr., who previously coached both Slidell football state championship teams, had a plan.

McGinty Sr. promoted junior varsity coach Richard McNabb to coach the varsity team.

McNabb was well known and respected by the varsity players, and he came with his own championship pedigree.  McNabb was an outstanding player in both high school and college at McNeese State. He would prove to be an outstanding coach as well.

At McNesse State, McNabb played four years and was the starting point guard on the Cowboys NAIA National Championship team in the 1955-56 season.  He was a very good shooter and one of the top defensive players in the Gulf States Conference.

What McNabb brought to the Tigers was the new and revolutionary Four Corners offense, an offense which Dean Smith would popularize at North Carolina over a decade later, an offense which John McClendon is widely credited with creating to basically hold the ball and shorten the game. It was first developed in the mid 1950’s as a stall offense, but McNabb had put his own twist on the new offense.

Slidell had been a run-and-gun team When McNabb installed the offense, his Tigers were able to learn it well and perfected it. The Tigers were able to slow down the pace when they wanted to, run set plays off screens and get clear shots and layups.  The offense clearly frustrated opponents.

With McNabb at the helm, his Tigers ripped off seven straight victories which included wins over Newman, Behrman, St. Paul’s, Franklinton, Amite, Port Sulphur and Ponchatoula.

The Tigers suffered a 64-46 loss to Covington, their third loss of the season.

The Tigers next game was against University High in the semifinals of the District 8-A championship.  The Tigers grabbed a small lead and maintained it, taking a 24-22 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, the Tigers extended the lead and held off the Cubs 54-47 behind 15 points from McGinty Jr. and 13 points by Johnny Hebert. The Tigers made 14-of-16 free throw attempts.

The Tigers then faced Denham Springs for the district championship. Another setback occurred when starting guard Billy Gayle broke his arm when he crashed into the end wall.

Once again, Slidell overcame adversity with Coach McNabb utilizing his bench smartly and effectively, going with four different players subbing in and out at key intervals.

The Tigers went on to a thrilling 70-69 win over the Yellow Jackets.

McGinty Jr. put the team on his back and scored 38 points on the strength of 15 field goals and sinking 8-of-9 free throws.  Senior Jake Polk had 10 points, followed Donnie McGinty, the brother of McGinty Jr.. Johnny Hebert added eight points each while Billy Gayle scored six points.

In the bi-district playoffs, Slidell met Lutcher.

The Tigers took a 17-14 lead after one quarter but trailed 27-25 at halftime. It was tied 37-37 going to the final quarter. Slidell outscored the Bulldogs 11-9 in the fourth quarter for another close win, taking a 48-46 victory to advance behind 27 points by McGinty Jr.

In the quarterfinals, Slidell faced LaRose-Cut Off and fell behind 10-9 after one quarter and trailed the Bulldogs 26-23 at halftime. The Tigers turned it around in the third quarter, taking a 35-32 lead into the final quarter and went on to win 49-41, highlighted by McGinty Jr. making 15 straight free throws.

In the semifinals, Slidell faced LaSalle. Once again, Slidell fell behind 12-9 after one quarter and the deficit grew to 26-19 at halftime. Once again, the Tigers turned it around in the third quarter, outscoring LaSalle 21-13 to take a 40-39 lead going to the final quarter. Slidell went on to win 57-53 behind 31 points by McGinty while Donnie McGinty and Polk each had 11 points.

In the other semifinal, Coushatta vanquished Kaplan, giving Slidell home court advantage in the state championship game.

Coushatta made the trip from north Louisiana and there was a standing-room-only crowd on hand. Those who recollected the game stated that there were kids who climbed trees outside the gym to watch through the windows.

This time, inspired by the home crowd, Slidell got off to a very fast start, taking a 24-17 lead after one quarter and never looked back.

The Tigers went on to defeat the Choctaws 78-64 to capture their first-ever state championship in basketball. McGinty Jr. scored 32 points while Donnie McGinty scored 18, Polk had 12 points and Hebert scored 11 points. George Barnes chipped in with three points and Jerry Hall scored two points for the Tigers as Slidell shot the ball incredibly well.

It was the first-ever state championship in basketball for Slidell, which had reached the Class B final in 1946, falling to Doyle in the title game.

Slidell ended its championship season 26-3. McGinty Jr. was a unanimous all-state selection, his second straight all-state honor, and he would go on to play at Tulane. In his four years at Slidell, McGinty Jr. scored 2,145 points. Polk scored 1,000 points and he was named second team all-state in 1959.

L to R: L.V. McGinty Jr., Richard McNabb and Donnie McGinty

The McGinty name remains a staple at Slidell High today, with the football stadium named after McGinty Sr., who served the school as a teacher, coach and principal from 1931-1976.

McNabb went on to have a standout career as a high school coach, winning over 700 games and three state titles. In 2008, he was inducted into the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  He is retired and lives in Fenton, LA.

Slidell played for the Class 5A state title in 1993, losing to South Lafourche.

In late February, 2020, current Slidell High coach Krisner Green invited the 1959 Championship team back to Slidell High on Senior night to be honored for their remarkable accomplishment.

Slidell Mayor Greg Cromer was on hand to honor the team.

It was a special night, recognizing a special team which achieved a special accomplishment.

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