2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Texas Western Miners historic NCAA championship victory over Kentucky, and El Pasoans will have a chance to be a part of its commemoration.
CBS Sports Network will celebrate the milestone with a documentary entitled, “1966 Texas Western: Champions of Change,” which will air later this winter.
A live panel discussion, which will be part of a segment incorporated into the special, will be open to the public and will take place on Friday, Feb. 5 from 4-6 p.m. at Memorial Gym. The event is in conjunction with the 50th anniversary celebration that will feature the Feb. 6 UTEP game against Western Kentucky in the Don Haskins Center at 7 p.m.
The panel discussion will feature members of the 1966 Texas Western championship team, along with special guests, and will be moderated by respected journalist and author Jack Ford. Ford has contributed to such shows over the years as 20/20, Good Morning America and Court TV. He has received two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award and an American Radio and Television Award.
Willie Cager, who scored eight points and pulled down six rebounds in the title game, said he intends to give honest insight during the panel discussion.
“I’m going to answer questions with nothing but the truth … no Hollywood,” he said with a laugh, referring to many of the scenes in the movie “Glory Road” that he said never happened.
Aside from winning it all, the 1966 Texas Western team is more widely known for having five African-Americans players for the first time in an NCAA Championship game. Kentucky was made up of all white players, which was the norm in the South at the time. The game is credited for expanding integration in Southern athletics.
“When the game was played, all we thought about was winning the game,” then-assistant coach Moe Iba said. “As years went on, we realized it was a historical game in that regard. It gave so many black players a chance to get scholarships and go to college.”
The 1966 Texas Western Miners are the only college team to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. As a result, the Disney film “Glory Road” was made.
Of course, the architect of the 1966 Miners is the legendary Don Haskins, who coached at UTEP from 1961 to 1999. “The Bear,” who passed away in 2008, won 719 games in his 38-year coaching career. He also served as an assistant coach for the 1972 USA Olympic basketball team. Haskins was enshrined into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Though events like this give the players a chance to catch up, it isn’t their only opportunity.
“I get to talk to the guys once in a while. I just spoke to David Lattin and Willie Worsley just recently,” Cager said. “I get in touch with Nevil Shed every once in a while. Of course Harry Flournoy and Orsten Artis are having physical problems, but they’re hanging in there.”
Bobby Joe Hill, the team’s point guard who led the Miners with 20 points in the championship game, passed away in 2002 at the age of 59.
“Whenever we have a chance to get back together, it’s a beautiful experience,” Cager said. “We talk about everything that happened then and that’s happening now, the good, the bad and the ugly.”
As for the upcoming panel discussion, the special reunion is a reminder of how time has flown.
“These last 50 years have gone by very fast, but it still seems as if it happened only yesterday,” Cager said. “I’m looking forward to the event.”