RHS basketball team reunites to celebrate 1982 state title

Most high school basketball teams across the state have already started their seasons in hopes of ending the year with a state championship.

Thirty years ago 11 players at Russellville were in a similar situation. The 1981-82 Golden Tigers were not the most talented squad Jack Tucker coached during his tenure at Russellville, but the team had the perfect mix of talent and chemistry.

“We knew the talent that came before us, we were not even close,” said Jerome Hamilton.

The team roster included Luther Tiggs, Leslie Fergerson, Billy Witt, Jeff Masterson, Jeff Madden, Pierre Bean, Chris Groce, Jerome Hamilton, Don Watson, Dexter Hamilton and Chip Maritn.

“Coach Tucker told us we were not the most talented team, but we were the best team,” Witt said. “We played well together.”

That Golden Tiger squad holds two distinctions — it is the only team to earn a state title for Tucker, and is the last team to win a state championship for Russellville in any sport.

It would have been understandable if people had doubted the Golden Tigers ability at the start of the season. Some players had quit and the starting center, Witt, had never played basketball before.

“I never was on a basketball team before that season. Coach Tucker told me to get the ball and give it to somebody who could shoot,” Witt said. “The first game I played, I got three fouls in 30 seconds.”

Eventually Witt began to master the nuances of the game and his teammates began to develop great chemistry and work ethic. Before long, there was quite a bit of confidence among the team members.

“About midway through the season we began thinking it could happen,” said Jerome Hamilton. “Coach had a role for everybody and everybody did their role.”

As the season progressed, the Golden Tigers were determined to keep improving, even during their free time. Fergerson said the team would go to coach Tucker on the weekend to get the keys to the gym so they could practice. Tucker said he none of his other teams after that season came to get the keys on the weekend.

There was one other thing driving Russellville to success — the team’s reputation. A decade earlier Russellville featured a talented team that dominated play in north Alabama. Fans of opposing teams never forgot the beatings the Golden Tigers handed out in those days.

“It seems we were the most hated team in northwest Alabama,” Fergerson said. “There was a lot of adversity dealing with the refs. It made us a stronger team.”

The Golden Tigers won the area, which at that time included Hamilton, Winfield and Fayette then defeated Lauderdale County for the region title.

When the team arrived in Tuscaloosa for the state tournament, they were a little overwhelmed by the environment.

“That floor was a mile long,” said Dexter Hamilton.

“I took my first warm-up shot and it didn’t hit anything,” Fergerson said. “I said ‘uh-oh.’”

Once the game started, the Golden Tigers shook off the intimidating surroundings to beat Guntersville 66-61. In the semifinals, Russellville cruised past Sparkman 75-63 to reach the finals, where the Golden Tigers topped Sylacauga 61-58 to win the state championship.

Fergerson and Witt earned All-Tournament honors while Tiggs was named MVP of the tournament.

Masterson said he is glad the team was able to put together a run through the playoffs and win it all, not only for him and his teammates, but also for the town.

“We gave this area something to concentrate on,” Masterson said. “The economy was in shambles.”

Of course all of the players were also happy to earn a title for Tucker.

“It means more to win it for Tucker than winning for myself,” Fergerson said. “We all grew up watching him coach.”

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