WEST END HIGH SCHOOL AND BASKETBALL
There was a time when if you were asked to describe West End High School with one word, some people might say "Basketball." Obviously, the school had a great many other distinctions, both athletically and academically, but the dominance of the Blue Jays for the three decades the school was a high school was a singular achievement. Only Pearl, playing in the segregated system of the time, has a similar record.
When the first game was played in December 1937 the sport itself was relatively new having been created by Dr. James Naismith in 1891. Needless to say, there have been many changes to the rules over the years and the good doctor might not recognize it today with shot clocks and three-point goals. The initial West gym used for twenty-five years was not a friendly place for visiting teams. It was small with barely enough seats for the student body, and overflow crowds were not unusual. Plus, it was loud with organized cheers and a small band adding to the atmosphere. "School spirit" was a characteristic of West High games that set the school apart from other schools. But, even with those advantages, a team was still required to play half their games away from home and tournaments were usually held at neutral locations. so the small home court advantage was only one of several factors in the winning record. How small was the court? Well, if you went out of bounds there was a good chance you would hit the brick wall surrounding the court, if you did not run over a cheerleader first!
The school had only three basketball coaches and all had winning records. James Farrell's record was 69-32 between 1937 and 1943 (68%). He was followed by Emmett Strickland (1944-1949) who won an astounding 88% (151-20) of games played, including three state championships Joe Shapiro was the longest tenured coach at the school (1950-1968) with a record of 360-156 (70%). What is especiallyy remarkable is that these coaches did not just coach a basketball team, but also football, baseball, and other sports while teaching several classes as well. The winning tradition started with the first season and continued until the last two years of the school. In 1967 and 1968 the team lost more games than they won for the first time after twenty-nine consecutive winning seasons.
In those successful years, the winning did not stop at season's end, but continued when the post season tournaments started. James Farrell's 1940 team was the District champion, but lost in the Regional. Emmett Strickland's teams required a second trophy case in the entrance hallway of the school, as they went to the State Tournament six straight years. They won three times (1944, 1946, and 1948) and finished second once and third twice. Strickland teams alone contributed about twenty-five trophies to the display at the school.
The game increased in popularity after World War II as games were played before larger crowds in bigger gymnasiums. New schools were built and competition got stronger, especially after racial integration in the 1960s. There were a couple of years at the end of the Strickland era when it became obvious that West would no longer breeze through the District and Regional tournaments on their way to the State. But, in 1952, Joe Shapiro added to the trophy case with a victory in the District Tournament and showed that West was not ready to surrender its status as a basketball powerhouse. In 1954, the Blue Jays went "All The Way For Doc" and won the State Tournament for the fourth time, the most of any school in Tennessee at that time. It was the year that the only principal in the history of the school retired. Dr. W. H. Yarbrough was always called "Doc" and having spent his adult life as an educator was forced to retire for health reasons after seventeen years at the school. The games could not have been easy on the man's heart as the Blue Jays had to win FOUR overtime games on their way to the championship.
Joe Shapiro and the West High Blue Jays never won another State title, but they had opportunities winning the District Tournament in 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960, and 1964. In 1959 and 1960 they advanced to the State tournament, but did not come away with another championship trophy. Shapiro did get to see the dedication of the W. H. Yarbrough Gymnasium adjacent to the school in 1964, but Doc Yarbrough died in 1961 and did not see the construction of the building bearing his name. After retiring as principal in 1954 he was elected to the Nashville City Council where he served from 1954 to 1959. West End Middle School teams (boys and girls) use the facility today and continue the winning Blue Jay tradition. Even though the building is more than fifty years old now it is still referred to as the "new" gym.
Our sincere thanks to Whit Stokes for providing this updated article which is included in his book, "If These Walls Could Talk What Would They Say?" available for $15 at whitstok.com. All proceeds will go to the Julie Weiland Waters West High Alumni Scholarship Fund for descendants of West High alumni.