By J.R. VANHOOSE
For The Independent
PAINTSVILLE — The Big Sandy Conference was a confederation of schools in the Big Sandy Region on Eastern Kentucky that played football and basketball against each other.
Formed in the 1920s its purpose was to provide equal competition between the schools and to promote its student-athletes.
In January 1946 Belfry High School, a charter member of the Big Sandy Conference, was not permitted to play in the conference basketball tournament at Betsy Layne because of “unpaid dues.”
This caused a bit of an uproar at the Pike County school, and what transpired did not settle the conference crown until a week after the tournament was over.
The matter started a few days before the tournament got under way in mid-January 1946. Belfry was informed by the tournament directors that it would not be a participant in the tournament because of a failure by the school to pay its conference dues. The tournament got under way and Belfry High School issued a formal protest to the schools and even issued a local challenge to the tournament winner in the press. The protest, issued by Belfry principal L. Clyde Farley, read it part, “Belfry instigated and created the combination [Big Sandy Conference] some two decades ago and having duly tendered her dues as required by the by-laws insists upon her original rights as the leader of the league. It is contended that no winner can be duly rightfully declared without proper disposal of Belfry’s claim.”
This protest letter appeared in the Williamson (WV) Daily News on January 26, 1946 while the conference tournament was underway, a copy of the letter was also sent to Delmon Howard, the secretary of the Big Sandy Conference.
In addition to the formal protest, Belfry issued a challenge to the then unknown conference tournament champion. This challenge also appeared in the January 26 edition of the Williamson Daily News, “Belfry offers their own floor and let the invitee write their own terms, or play it on the so-called winners floor and let Belfry write their own terms if they prefer, or play on a mutually agreed neutral floor. If some weasel brained coaches are not afraid of healthy competition, they will at least be sports enough to defend themselves publicly either in words or performance of a real show, and we make no boast, mere statement of facts.” As it turned out, Paintsville High School won the Big Sandy Conference tournament by defeating Martin (42-35), Wheelwright (46-33), Prestonsburg (41-37), and Pikeville (49-31). What is ironic about Paintsville’s title, is that the Tigers were scheduled to play at Belfry the following week. As it stood, the Pirates would be getting their chance to play the conference champions, and they would get to do it on their home floor.
Belfry got its wish, a chance to prove that they should be the Big Sandy Conference champions against rival Paintsville High School. The teams had first played in the 1934/35 season, and the Tigers won the first seven games against the Pirates. It was a good rivalry for the two schools and it usually consisted of many close basketball games. But the Big Sandy Conference “championship game” didn’t turn out as the Belfry Pirates had hoped as they lost their game against the Paintsville Tigers, 45-40.
The Williamson Daily News didn’t provide much coverage for the anticipated match-up and only recorded the following, “Belfry High School’s argument over the right to compete for the Big Sandy Conference championship is apparently settled. Paintsville High School, which won the Big Sandy tournament at Betsy Layne last week, downed Belfry by a score of 45-40 on the Pirates’ home court Thursday night.
Paintsville had a 10-point lead on the Pirates in the second half… [Corkey] Kirtley of Paintsville, who later played football and basketball at Morehead State) was high scorer with 20 points, while Harrell of Belfry tallied 16.” Aiding Kirtley in the win for Paintsville was Jim Butler who had 14 and Bob Gunning who had 6.