Did you know that in the late 1950s, a Henry farm boy was part of a traveling team that played against the famous Harlem Globetrotters on almost a nightly basis?
Martin “Spud” Hays was part of a basketball playing family that starred at Henry High School. His sisters — Jeannette, Francine and Linda — were all strong players.
Jeannette, also known as Janet, once set the Tennessee state record for girls’ scoring in a game with a 100-point performance against Puryear.
That’s right, she scored 100 points against the Puryear Lady Hornets. She also had an 89-point effort during a contest with the Springville Lady Panthers in her career.
All of that landed her in the Paris-Henry County Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Martin Hays was a high-scorer for the Pirates basketball team. Reports are he was near the top-scorer in the state as a senior at Henry, and he would go on to play for four years at Memphis State University from 1954-57.
Hays down-played his playing ability in a 1988 interview with Post-Intelligencer writer Betty Caldwell.
“I loved the competition. I don’t think I had any real ability, but I have always been very competitive. Going out on the court before all those people was something I never got used to, in fact, I hated it, but I just took a deep breath and went out,” Hays said in that article.
Hays told Caldwell that he was one of three freshmen to see varsity playing time at Memphis State, and he played a great deal at guard as a sophomore.
His junior year, he did a lot of sitting on the bench before having a strong senior campaign playing at forward.
The Tigers battled to the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden in New York. Memphis State dropped an 84-83 decision to Bradley University.
The Tigers had gone into overtime to beat St. Bonaventure 80-78 in the semifinals. Bob Swander hit the game-winning shot in that contest for Memphis State.
Hays told Caldwell that after college, he had returned to teach school at Grove High School when he got a call from Swander, who had been his college roommate and was his best friend.
Swander was playing for the Washington Generals, who provided competition for the world famous Harlem Globetrotters in basketball exhibitions.
Swander had convinced the Globetrotters to bring Hays onto the team. Grove principal Andy Settles encouraged Hays to take the offer and he joined the Generals.
He said the Generals traveled around by car to play the Globetrotters in the United States. He said they were instructed to give the Globetrotters a good game, but they were never allowed to win.
Late in the year, the two squads traveled to Hawaii to play and then onto Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
In Japan, the players were put up in Geisha houses with five players living together. The accommodations included Geisha girls to give the men baths. Hays said he and Swander chickened out and refused their help.
He said the team played in front of crowds of more than 5,000 at several of the locations. In many of the areas, the Generals were cheered on as much as the Globetrotters.
Hays’ tour with the Generals ended at just five months, because he received word that if he wanted to keep his second lieutenant commission in the Air Force, he had to report to Memphis.
So he said goodbye to the Generals.
While serving in the Air Force, he met his wife, Jan, in Colorado Springs, Colo. After they were married and he left the service, they moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Hays worked as a systems analyst.
From there, they moved to St. Louis for Hays to work at McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Center and, later, he worked at the Houston Space Center in the late 1960s.
He would later move back to Henry and finish his life managing the family farm. He served for many years on the Henry County school board.
Hays died in 2010. He and his wife have three sons, Tod, Lee and Wes.
GLOBETROTTERS SHOCKED AT UTM
The Generals played against the Globetrotters from 1952 until 2015. In those thousands of games, the Generals only beat the Globetrotters twice.
The first featured a controversial scorekeeping error in 1958 and isn’t always counted as a Generals’ win even today. Hays had already left the team by that time.
To make it more interesting for fans, the Generals also played games as the New Jersey Reds and the Boston Shamrocks in addition to some other aliases. They changed the uniforms to reflect the new names, but it would be the same players.
So it was the New Jersey Reds that took the court on Jan. 5, 1971, at the University of Tennessee at Martin, expecting to be the on the recipient end of a bunch of Globetrotter gags and routines that would end in another fan-pleasing Globetrotter victory.
For some reason, the Globetrotters didn’t do as many of their routines and seemed content to actually try to play a competitive basketball game with the Reds.
Some speculated after the game that there may have been some internal bickering, but it has never been clear if that was within the Globetrotters locker room or if it was between the competing teams.
Some later said the Globetrotters claimed the clock operater didn’t follow the script to give them time to do their routines, but none of that was ever confirmed.
Others claimed that the Globetrotters chances were diminished in the contest because ball-handling wizard Curly Neal was hurt and didn’t play in the contest.
Either way, the Reds seemed to make every shot and took a big lead into the second half against the Globetrotters. The Globetrotters got serious and mounted a furious rally to grab a 99-98 lead with about 10 seconds remaining.
During a time out, the Generals-Reds owner Red Klotz put himself into the game and told his players that he was going to take the last shot.
Most of them figured he was going to miss on purpose so the fans would be happy that the Globetrotters scored their expected victory.
Klotz did put up the last shot, but it went in. His only comments about the shot was that his team always played to win.
The clock keeper did stop the clock after the shot, although there was no reason to halt the time.
This gave the Globetrotters a chance to get the ball to their star, Meadowlark Lemon, to take the last shot.
Lemon used his famous hook shot that all of us have seen him make countless times, but he missed the shot at Martin and the Globetrotters lost.
Predictably, the fans were both stunned and upset. Klotz said in an interview after the game, “It was like we had just killed Santa Claus.”
If you go looking for the Generals’ records, it will say it was the Generals that played at UTM on that night, but local reports listed it as the Reds.
Since then, most reports also recognize the 1958 game as a Generals’ win. In that game, the point totals on the scoreboard were actually wrong and indicated that the Globetrotters had won.
When the points were totaled up in the scorebook after the game, the Generals had won the contest, but the Globetrotters have never agreed with that result.
TOMMY PRIDDY is a Paris native who has been sports editor at The Post-Intelligencer since 1985. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.