Victory is sweet. For those who go the distance and bring home the ultimate victory – a state championship – victory is forever.
Not every high school athlete earns the privilege of walking away with a state championship trophy, but the members of the 1975 Winona High School Tiger Basketball team, coached by Billy Wells, did. The Tigers won the state championship that year.
Coach John Mack McKinney, Tela Collins and other members of the 1975 basketball squad are planning the 44th State Championship Celebration to be held July 5 and 6 at the Holiday Inn in Winona. There will be a welcome reception and banquet on Friday and a barbecue on Saturday.
McKinney said when they won the championship, he was a sophomore, and it was his first year in high school. The memory is a special one for him.
“Back then, junior high was seventh through ninth,” he said. “Now, it’s (high school) ninth through 12.”
He said in two years, the 1975 team and the 1976 team, which returned to the state finals but finished as runner-ups, lost 13 games combined.
“It’s an honor, and it should be recognized,” Collins, who was the team’s stat-keeper, said.
“It never received so much recognition,” McKinney said.
And to make things sweeter, the championship was won during the earlier years of integration during a time where people were still getting used to the idea of blacks and whites attending school together, let alone winning a state championship in basketball together.
“We went back in 1976 but they didn’t make it as far as they did in 1975,” Collins said. She added that they went to the State Finals but were defeated.
McKinney and Collins said the younger generation don’t know much about the 1975 championship. They said the championship was won after Winona High and the former J.J. Knox High were integrated.
“It’s not really talked about,” McKinney said. “That’s why we wanted to have it; we want people to know about it.”
“Our younger people don’t know, they don’t know our history,” Tela Collins added.
He said originally, they wanted to hold the celebration at J.J. Knox Gymnasium because it’s the gym for the old J.J. Knox High School, where they played with the Winona Tigers in 1975 and where the current Winona High Tigers and Lady Tigers play, but they couldn’t get the building.
“It’s where we played, and it’s still where they play now. It holds memories, and it would’ve been special to have it there,” McKinney said. “But we’re still going to have a great time.”
McKinney said he went on to coach football and basketball at Winona High School for several years. “The school has never won a championship in the two major sports since this one. They’ve won in tennis, I don’t know about baseball, but those aren’t major sports. The two major sports are football and basketball, and this is the only championship we’ve had,” McKinney said. “We’ve had some teams to come close.”
McKinney and Collins said there’s a small fee for those want to attend the festivities. “There is a fee for those who want to attend,” McKinney said. He said for anyone who wants to attend there will be a $10 charge at the door for the banquet.
McKinney and Collins said it’s open to anyone from team members to fans to their former superintendent and teachers to Dr. Teresa Jackson and the current faculty, staff, coaches, fans and students of the Winona-Montgomery Consolidated School District.
They said there will be a memorial for those who they’ve lost throughout the years.
“There’s four of them and a candle will burn throughout and we’ll blow it out at the end,” McKinney said.