Ryan remembers classic with Pearl

Friday, January 14, 2005 at 1:00am

Forty years ago, Father Ryan and Pearl High played a basketball game believed to have been the first integrated athletic contest in Nashville sports history.

Today, Ryan commemorates the occasion with a dinner for both schools' players and coaches at Ryan's Neuhoff Library at 5:30 p.m.

Following that will be a special recognition in the Ryan gym between games of the Irish vs. Brentwood Academy at about 7:20 p.m.

Coaches were Bill Derrick of predominantly white Ryan and the late, legendary Cornelius Ridley of all black Pearl High.

"I went to our principal, James Hitchcock, and suggested we play," said Derrick, 75, "and he said, 'Let's do it.'"

They agreed on Jan. 9, 1965 at Municipal Auditorium because neither school's gyms could come close to accommodating the expected overflow crowd. "Even Vanderbilt (7,229 capacity at the time) couldn't hold it," Derrick said.

There were 8,300 fans who jammed into the Auditorium, and Derrick said, "They had to lock the doors when they reached capacity."

"Eleven of their 12 players could dunk the ball, and in pre-game warmups they put on a show, really got their crowd into it," said Derrick, noting that Perry Wallace and Ted McClain played for Pearl. "We had two excellent black players on our team, Willie Brown and Jesse Porter."

"It was deafening," said Tony Moorman, 56, who was on the Pearl JV team which beat Ryan in the opener. "It was split down the middle in fan support."

"I remember how big the buildup was, how they talked about the game at church," Moorman said. "That game really taught us so much for later in athletics and life."

"Willie Brown took a shot from the right corner, it missed, and Lynn Dempsey got the rebound, and hit a jumper in the lane as the buzzer sounded," Derrick said.

It gave Ryan a 52-51 upset victory.

Among those expected to attend are: Derrick, Hitchcock, Dempsey, Martin Gilmore, Pat Sanders and Don White from Ryan; and Moorman, Ron Parham and assistant coaches Melvin Black and James Armstrong, Ridley's wife Carolyn from Pearl; and the referee, Joe Casey.

Wallace, an attorney in Washington, D.C., was unable to attend but he wrote a letter which will be read at the ceremony.

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