UTEP Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Historic 1966 NCAA Championship Win
Fifty years ago, a small school in West Texas quietly climbed the national collegiate basketball rankings. Against all odds, the team achieved the impossible: an NCAA title after starting five African-American players in the championship game. The win has been a point of pride for The University of Texas at El Paso ever since.
It was March 19, 1966, in College Park, Maryland, when UTEP (then called Texas Western College) beat top-ranked Kentucky 72-65 in the title game -- a game that forever changed college athletics. Legendary Coach Don Haskins made history by starting five African-American players, the first time that had been done in an NCAA basketball championship game. After the 1966 championship, college teams throughout the South began aggressively recruiting black athletes, ending years of segregation. The Southeastern Conference admitted its first African-American basketball player in 1967.
Members of the 1966 championship team came to the UTEP campus in early February 2016 to participate in the 50th anniversary celebration. Events included the filming of a CBS Sports Network documentary: "1966 Texas Western: Championship of Change," the recreation of the iconic team photo on the steps of Memorial Gym, and the presentation of lifetime memberships to the UTEP Alumni Association for the team members.
Tributes to the team continued on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 during a UTEP men's basketball game at the Don Haskins Center. In addition to special video messages from President Barack Obama, Nike co-founder Phil Knight, film producer Jerry Bruckheimer and ESPN commentator Dick Vitale, the team was presented with keys to the city by El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser. NCAA President Mark Emmert also came to the Haskins Center to fète the championship team's accomplishment.
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UTEP is the first Division I school in the state of Texas to capture a men's basketball NCAA championship.
The 1966 Texas Western roster included seven African-Americans, four whites and one Hispanic player: Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Orsten Artis, Nevil Shed, Harry Flournoy, Willie Worsley, Willie Cager, Louis Baudoin, Jerry Armstrong, David Palacio, Dick Myers and Togo Railey.
Texas Western was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. They are one of 10 teams that have the honor.
In 1967, Texas Western College changed its name to The University of Texas at El Paso, popularly known as UTEP.
Members of the Texas Western College 1966 NCAA basketball championship team visited the White House on Feb. 22, 2006, joining President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush for dinner and a screening of "Glory Road," the Disney movie about the historic championship.
Haskins went on to produce many more winning teams and NBA stars before retiring from UTEP in 1999. Haskins passed away Sept. 7, 2008, in El Paso.
Many Texas Western players continued their work on the basketball court as coaches, camp directors or educators. One member, Bobby Joe Hill, passed away in 2002 of a heart attack at age 59.
UTEP has always been at the forefront when it comes to access. The University was the first state senior college to desegregate in 1955 when 12 African-American students were admitted, and today, UTEP continues to break barriers as the first national research university with a 21st century student demographic.