1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



David Shields

Fifty years ago last January I sucker punched Eddie Dolan outside the Alderson High School gymnasium after a basketball game. If I ever apologized to him I’m sure it was because Coach McLaughlin and Principal Ike Mitchell made me. Although I can’t remember exactly, I’m thinking an apology was probably an essential component of my disciplinary and redemption package. Along with several licks to my backside with Ike’s big board, too, no doubt, although I have long forgotten that part.

I do remember vividly, however, a 4-game suspension, including (or maybe in addition to) sitting out the re-match with Ronceverte later that season, so I’m fairly positive an apology to Dolan and his family and his school and maybe his community was in there somewhere. If it was I doubt that I meant it back then.

You see, Ronceverte and Alderson were big rivals back in 1956. The name of the high school in Ronceverte was Greenbrier High School, but we never used that name. We just called them Ronceverte. Most everybody else did, too, including the newspapers who reported on their sporting events. Besides, the name of our county was Greenbrier and the Greenbrier River ran smack dab through the middle of Alderson and we weren’t about to freely use the word ‘Greenbrier’ in reference to a hated rivalry. So they were Ronceverte, and their colors were orange and black and they always, whether on the football field or basketball court, put you in mind of Halloween.

Now the guys in Alderson dearly loved the girls in Ronceverte and we were always chasing them. Or they were chasing us; I’m not sure which is the most accurate. In any event many Alderson males gravitated to the Ronceverte girls and some of us, including me, wound up marrying one of them. I’ve still got her. I don’t know where the Ronceverte boys looked for their gentle company; or even if they looked. Didn’t seem to us that they ever came out at night except to play basketball; but make no mistake, those boys could play that game.

As it happened they were in Alderson for a road game one very cold January night 50 years ago. Most of a heavy snow in previous days had melted but patches of it still lay on the ground in the shady spots. The snow had frozen and it made crunching noise when you walked on it and your breath smoked from your nostrils and mouth when you went outside.

We were ready for the game with Ronceverte. Our gym was a cracker box compared to the National Guard Armory where they played their home games. This would be to our great advantage in that it would make it easier to slow their vaunted fast break with so little room for them to slash and run and break on the basket. It was not uncommon for Ronceverte teams to score 100 points, but it wouldn’t happen in the Alderson gym.

I see in an old newspaper clipping in a scrapbook that my mother kept, now in my possession following her death, that Ronceverte’s starting line-up included Ronald Cornwell, Tommy McCleese, Warren Morris, Mike O’Brien and Eddie Dolan. The starters for Alderson were Kenny Ambrose, Paul Bland, Delmore Highlander, Richard Ballard and yours truly, David Shields. Alderson was coached by Abe McLaughlin; Ronceverte by Howard “Toddy” Loudin, both legendary coaches in West Virginia at the time.

The game itself was the proverbial barn burner, with Alderson actually pushing these guys to keep up. We shut down the run and shoot offense Ronceverte was so good at and kept the score tight. In fact, we were tied at 21 at the end of the first quarter. In the second, we outscored Ronceverte 18 to 9 to go out at the half 39 to 30. It was more of the same in the third as we pushed the lead to as much as 12 but we couldn’t hold it. As the newspaper account said, “Ronceverte wouldn’t roll over and play dead.”

In fact, Ronceverte got hot and outscored us 19-9 in the final eight minutes of play and won the game 62-60 on a long jump shot by Tommy McCleese at the buzzer. The newspaper account said the McCleese shot gave “Ronceverte High a thrilling Southern Greenbrier Valley triumph… [and] killed a brilliant 28-point performance by Alderson’s David Shields.” But what the newspaper account didn’t include was the fact that I about killed Eddie Dolan after the game. At least that’s what everybody was saying the next morning.

Some stories had me hitting Dolan upside the head with a brick. Others said it was a piece of frozen ice. Well, the truth of the matter is it wasn’t a brick and it wasn’t a piece of frozen ice. It was nothing more than a well-placed left hook, and what hit Eddie Dolan upside his head was my fist. The punch sent him sprawling into a bank of frozen snow just outside the gymnasium’s front door where I had waited patiently for the Ronceverte team to exit after their showers.

Something else that needs to be said is the fact that Dolan had pinched, tripped, punched and clawed at me throughout the game, not to mention some pretty unflattering things he said to me throughout the ballgame. I’ve always been convinced that old Toddy had told him to do those things to try and rattle me, knowing that I was a hothead as well as having a fairly deadly jump shot.

But I managed to keep a lid on my temper until the game was over. But I had told Dolan during the game that he could expect me to give him a knuckle sandwich the next time I caught up with him after the game. I don’t suppose he ever dreamed that it would come that same night.

I waited for him outside. It was bitter cold and great puffs of breath-clouds wafted out of my hands as I blew into them to keep them warm. When the Ronceverte team exited the building, I called Dolan out. It was a sucker punch because I started out by congratulating him on the win and as soon as he was disarmed I landed the haymaker left hook and he just lay there. No one came to his defense. My guess at the time was they knew he had it coming. In retrospect, I figure they were probably just paralyzed by the act of barbarity they had just witnessed.

I think Eddie Dolan is still alive and still living in Ronceverte, West Virginia. If you are out there, Eddie, I want to take this opportunity to sincerely apologize for sucker punching you that night 50 years ago. And I genuinely mean it this time. It was a rotten thing to do and I’m sorry I did it. I hope you can forgive me.