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Stanley was Gaston County’s first dominant basketball program with many titles and the county’s first boys state title in 1941

By Richard Walker

When basketball was first played in Gaston County, old Stanley High School was quick to embrace the sport and became the county’s first dominant power.

Originally nicknamed the Bluebirds before changing to the Blue Devils, Stanley boys and girls basketball teams won 61 regular season or tournament titles from 1922 to 1972.

Wales Sigmon coached Stanley to a 1941 boys basketball state championship before leaving the school and later returning to coach Stanley’s girls basketball team to more titles.

Stanley teams won more than 1,300 games since the men’s team was founded in 1922 and the women’s team was founded in 1928 until the high school closed in 1972 to join nearby Mount Holly High School to form East Gaston High School.

The numbers are all the more amazing when you consider the school didn’t even have an indoor gymnasium until 1938.

The pinnacle of Stanley’s success came in 1941 when the Bluebirds won the area’s first N.C. High School Athletic Association state title during the state’s second-longest winning streak of 88 games.

The streak started on Feb. 25, 1938 and lasted until December 16, 1941 when Stanley lost 17-12 at old North Brook High of Lincoln County.

In between, Stanley won three regular season conference titles, four conference tournament titles and three state playoff games capped by an impressive 38-18 win over defending state champion Green Hope at the University of North Carolina’s Woolen Gymnasium for the 1941 Class C state championship.

The team was coached by Wales Sigmon and James “Poke” Stroupe and comprised of starters Ned Cannon, Yates Craig, Jake McGinnis, Jack Cannon and Paul “Fuzzy” Brown and reserves Jack Homesley, Herbert Cannon, David Long, Ralph Stone and Raymond Clemmer. Nine of the 10 players would eventually serve in the military during World War II.

The championship game was played in front of 3,300 fans and part of tripleheader that also saw Durham defeat High Point 42-34 for the Class A state title and Winston-Salem Hanes defeat Cary 27-24 for the Class B title.

For Stanley, McGinnis scored 13 points, Ned Cannon nine, Craig seven, Brown six and Jack Cannon three as the Bluebirds built a 15-9 halftime lead and pulled away for the 20-point victory in the second half.

Their title came when Stanley’s population was 1,045 and fewer than 100 students attended the high school. But nearly 500 fans would regularly pack the new Stanley gymnasium to watch their home games.

Coach James “Poke” Stroupe (second from right) is pictured with Stanley High’s 1942 boys basketball starters.

Brown told The Charlotte Observer in a Feb. 25, 1991 story commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the team’s title that he didn’t think much about the size of his town or school at the time.

“We knew we were a small school,” Brown said. “But I guess the size of your school doesn’t matter that much when it’s five-on-five.”

McGinnis was the team’s tallest player at 5-foot-11, but Sigmon employed a fast-breaking style of play that suited his teams of the time.

“It was grab the ball and up the court you’d go,” McGinnis told The Charlotte Observer. “We’d wear down a lot of the taller teams by running them up and down the court.”

Many of the team felt that exceptional conditioning was borne of practicing on dirt courts outside the school’s gymnasium that wasn’t completed until 1938.

“We played in the cold so much that when we got inside we outran everybody,” Brown said. “We were more long-winded that the other teams.”

The 88-game overall winning streak remains trails only a 91-game winning streak by old Beauford High from 1960 to 1962 is N.C. high school boys history.

The 1941 team was the first Stanley to even compete in the state playoffs since 1932. But the Bluebirds – whose nickname was changed to Blue Devils in 1948 – would finish as Western N.C. Class C runner-up in 1942 and 1943 and as N.C. Class B runner-up in 1948 and won the 1954 district title while finishing a district runner-up in 1963, 1964, 1967 and 1968.

Sigmon would lead Stanley’s boys to a 144-33 record from 1933 to 1942, then turned over the head coaching reins to Stroupe. Sigmon would later coach one season at Mount Holly and for 13 seasons as Stanley as girls basketball coach while amassing a 334-107-2 overall coaching record; In 2015, Sigmon was posthumously inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame.

Stanley’s all-time winningest basketball coach is Fanny Kiser, the wife of longtime school principal O.L. Kiser for whom the an elementary school located on the grounds of the old high school is now located. Fanny Kiser led Stanley to a 375-64-6 overall record during her 24-year girls basketball tenure that lasted from 1930 to 1954.

Dick Thompson, a 1973 GCSHOF inductee, came to Stanley from his high school alma mater (Mount Holly) in 1946. He would eventually coach football, basketball and baseball teams to a combined 441 victories and his 164-134-21 overall football record that also includes Mount Holly and East Gaston make him Gaston County’s all-time winningest football coach.