Jump to content

Kentucky High School Basketball Best: Part 2 - The 30s

Recommended Posts

The second full decade of Kentucky high school basketball saw increasing numbers of participants and teams. 410 teams entered the postseason in 1930; by the end of the decade that number would increase to 550. Nine different schools would win the state championship, with Ashland's back-to-back titles in 1933 and 1934 marking the only team with two trophies.

Classed basketball continued for the first two years of the decade with both A and B champions from each district advancing to the region tournament, A and B champions from the region advancing to the state tournament, and A and B champions meeting to determine one final champion.

Things changed in 1932 when the KHSAA adopted the now well-known 64 district, 16 region format. For the most part, the alignment was similar to today. However, because of the growing number of basketball playing schools in the state the regions were often extremely large. Interestingly, there was only one district in Jefferson County and it included the Bullitt County schools. Jefferson County would later have their own region, but a second region for Louisville wouldn't happen until the mid-1960s.

Every state tournament in the 1930s was played at the University of Kentucky's "white elephant" Alumni Gymnasium. Built for $100,000, there was concern that the 2,800 seat gym was too big to host Kentucky basketball games. That proved incorrect as the 1930s saw Adolph Rupp's Wildcats emerge as the premier team in college basketball. It wasn't too big for high school basketball either, as it annually hosted the 43rd District tournament and was filled full for the state meet.

Alumni Gym.jpg

Alumni Gymnasium, University of Kentucky

While basketball and education were growing in the commonwealth, the American economy was taking a downturn due to the 1929 stock market collapse and the Great Depression that followed in the 1930s. It didn't appear to slow the interest in hoops, however, as 3,300 fans overflowed Alumni Gym for the 1935 state final between St. Xavier and Newport.

The decade would end with the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939, triggering the start of World War II. America would get involved two years later after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Player defections due to the military draft would diminish many small teams (and eventually even their schools) in the 1940s. But that's a story for the next chapter.


This article is the second of ten that will endeavor to rank the ten best programs in the state during each of the ten decades of Kentucky high school basketball. There is some science to the rankings: teams were awarded 1 point for a district championship, 2 points for a region championship, 3 points for each state tournament game won, and 5 points for a state championship.

Part 1: https://bluegrasspreps.com/ky-boys-basketball/kentucky-high-school-388637.html

As a reminder, even though it only existed for the first two years of the decade, only teams that won the actual district and/or region final are given the points. If you won the Class B portion of a tournament, but then lost the ultimate final to the Class A winner, only the Class A school received points.


Part 2: The 1930s

1. Hazard (54 points)

District Championships: 9

Region Championships: 5

State Tournament Wins: 10

State Championships: 1 (1932)

The closest race of any decade, first place Hazard had one more point than second place Ashland, although the Tomcats won one more state title. Hazard dominated district play, taking all but one championship and winning five region titles. Hazard and its neighboring schools were originally in the 16th Region before the first of three large scale realignments in 1937 (the other two were in 1966 and 2006) moved them to their now familiar 14th Region.

Hazard's 1932 state championship finished 32-1 and rolled through the district and region. They then beat Virgie, Danville, and Newport before securing the title with a 15-13 upset of Male. Morton Combs scored on a put back with 20 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs the title. It was the only title of the decade for Hazard, but on two other occasions they made it to the semifinals. Combs would later guide Carr Creek to a state title in 1956.

Hazard 1932.jpg

1932 Hazard basketball team

2. Ashland (53 points)

District Championships: 8

Region Championships: 4

State Tournament Wins: 9

State Championships: 2 (1933, 1934)

Nearly the equal of the great Hazard teams of the 1930s, Ashland won one less district title, one less region championship, and one less game at the state tournament, though they won one more state crown. The formula puts Ashland second but it was almost too close to call. Ashland's crowning moments were the back-to-back state titles in 1933 and 1934. A third straight championship would have seemed possible but the entire Tomcat athletic program was suspended for one year in 1935 due to the football team's use of an illegal player. Paul Jenkins, who coached both the football and basketball teams at Ashland, would then leave for the football head coaching position at St. Xavier. It would be 27 years before Ashland won another state championship.

3. St. Xavier (44 points)

District Championships: 4

Region Championships: 4

State Tournament Wins: 9

State Championships: 1 (1935)

Often second fiddle to Manual in the previous decade, St. Xavier became the basketball power in Louisville in the 1930s. Two priests led the team in 1930 and 1931 before Robert Schuhmann took charge in 1932. Schuhmann would hold the position for a dozen years, winning 264 games and the 1935 state title as well as the national Catholic championship.

For the second year in a row the defending state champions would not participate, this time on their own volition. St. Xavier chose to participate in the national Catholic tournament once again in 1936, abandoning the state tournament process which would happen at the same time. Manual would beat Male for the district crown.

St. Xavier basketball.png

4. Danville (43 points)

District Championships: 7

Region Championships: 6

State Tournament Wins: 8

State Championships: 0

Danville is one of the two most successful teams in Kentucky history, along with Paducah Tilghman, to have never won a basketball crown. Winners of a dozen football titles, the Admirals have never sailed away with a basketball championship. The 1930s were their best years with a 1934 championship loss sandwiched between state semifinal appearances in 1933 and 1935. Danville played in six state tournaments during the decade and won eight games but it was never enough.

5. Inez (41 points)

District Championships: 7

Region Championships: 5

State Tournament Wins: 8

State Championships: 0

Perhaps the most out of nowhere club of the 1930s was the Inez Indians of Martin County. Inez began play in 1927 and began dominating opponents shortly thereafter. Inez was 22-3 in district tournament play, winning seven titles in the decade. They were 16-3 with five region championships as well. Inez made their first state appearance in 1934, having no home gym and a coach who had never played basketball but also an undefeated record. The Indians would fall to Hazel Green in the second round but would make it to Lexington five times in the decade, their best performance a championship game loss to Midway in 1937.

6. Newport (34 points)

District Championships: 5

Region Championships: 4

State Tournament Wins: 7

State Championships: 0

Newport's athletic heyday of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s seemed to coincide almost perfectly with the burgeoning mafia scene in the river city. A port town directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Newport had players and success. One of a quartet of northern Kentucky powers in the 1930s, along with Highlands, Holmes, and Bellevue, Newport shined brightest with five district championships and four region wins. Newport made four trips to the state during the decade and one at least one game each time. The best Wildcats performance was a runner-up finish to St. Xavier in 1935.

7. Corbin (32 points)

District Championships: 5

Region Championships: 2

State Tournament Wins: 6

State Championships: 1 (1936)

Sometimes it takes a little luck to win a state title. Corbin has long been a major player in the 13th Region and has made fifteen trips to the state tournament. The first trip was the best trip, though, as the Redhounds won it all in 1936. Many believed that Corbin wasn't the best team in the state that year; some believed they weren't even the best team in their region.

Benham High School in Harlan County was undefeated and considered by many to be the best team in the commonwealth. They had previously defeated Corbin in the regular season. However, due to a spinal meningitis outbreak in Harlan County all schools except Benham and Harlan withdrew from the District Tournament. Both teams met in Harlan’s gymnasium behind locked doors (each team was allowed only fifteen spectators). Though Benham won and claimed the district title, neither school was allowed to participate in the Region Tournament.

Corbin would beat Bell County and Hazel Green to win the Benham-less 13th region and then would waltz through the state tournament, capping the crown with a 24-18 win over Nebo. Corbin would finish fourth in 1939 but have never again been champions. Sometimes it's better to be lucky!

Corbin basketball.png

8. Horse Cave (31 points)

District Championships: 6

Region Championships: 5

State Tournament Wins: 5

State Championships: 0

One of the forgotten powers of early Kentucky basketball are the Horse Cave Cavemen from Hart County. Horse Cave won six district titles and another five regions during the 1930s. They also won five games at the state tournament during the decade, including a run to the state championship game in 1933 where they fell to Ashland. The Cavemen would lose twice in the first round in the thirties, to Midway in 1937 and Brooksville in 1939, both eventual state champions. This was the high water mark for Horse Cave, who would close in 1950 along with Cave City to create Caverna High School, the only school district in the state that overlaps two different counties.

9. Manual (30 points)

District Championships: 2

Region Championships: 4

State Tournament Wins: 5

State Championships: 1 (1931)

While not a successful in the 1930s as they were in the 1920s, the Manual Crimsons were still a force to be reckoned with. Manual won district titles in 1934 and 1936, although it was arch rival St. Xavier that had their number often, beating then five times in the district during the decade. Manual would play in four state tournaments during the decade, winning the crown in 1931. The 1931 squad finished 22-3 with losses to Male, and freshmen university teams from Louisville and Eastern Kentucky.

Manual 1932.png

1931 Manual Crimsons team

10. Corinth (29 points)

District Championships: 5

Region Championships: 2

State Tournament Wins: 5

State Championships: 1 (1930)

The seeds of success for the Corinth Braves in the 1930s were planted one year earlier in the previous decade. Corinth, a school of less than 100 students in Grant County, had won the Class B title in 1929 before being handled easily by Heath, 21-6, in the state championship game. It didn't come easy in 1930 either as the Braves fell to Highlands in the district final and Henry Clay in the region final, although they were fortunate that at that time both finalists still advanced to the next round.

It was in Lexington where the Braves caught fire. Corinth breezed past Woodburn and Carr Creek in the first two rounds before a late Dave Lawrence basket gave them a one point semifinal win over Tolu. Teammate William Jones would be the hero in that evening's championship game, draining a shot from mid-court to give the Braves a 22-20 victory over Kavanaugh.

Corinth continued to win district titles through the late 40s and would advance to two more state tournaments in the 1930s. But they'd never again reach the heights of 1930.


Banner celebrating Corinth hanging in current Grant County High School gymnasium

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...

Important Information

By using the site you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use Policies.