When the TV show, “The White Shadow,” debuted in 1978, it starred Ken Howard as the white coach of a mostly African-American basketball team.
Bill Littlepage, who died Aug. 16 at age 87, beat Hollywood to it.
In 1972, “Coach Littlepage” led the Hopewell High Blue Devils to the Group AAA championship, topping all-white West Springfield, 63-55, in the title game at University Hall in Charlottesville.
Hopewell’s starting five featured four African-Americans, tourney MVP Leon Winfield, Willie McCray (state record 27 rebounds in final), Jerry Alexander and Ed Gholson, along with Caucasian Allan Brooks.
The Blue Devils had defeated Highland Springs, 79-66, for the Central Region crown and the right to advance to States.
“Coach Littlepage” was the first white coach to guide a predominantly Black team to the state title in the highest enrollment category.
The previous year, Coach Pierce Callaham had coached all-Black Maggie L. Walker to the AAA championship.
The Virginia High School League changed its classification terminology in 1971, going from 1A to AAA for the largest schools.
All the 1A winners prior to 1971 had been predominantly white teams with white coaches.
Until 1969 the mainstream VHSL served as the umbrella organization for the mostly white schools, while the Virginia Interscholastic Association (VIA), headquartered at Virginia State University, governed the Black schools.
Starring State Player of Year Richard Jones, Walker was the first from the VIA ranks to win the VHSL championship. The Green Dragons, then coached by Stretch Gardner, won the 1968 VIA title. Langston/Danville won the final VIA crown in 1969.
The VIA and VHSL schools did not play each other prior to the merger. Although there was a trickle of Black players into the larger white schools prior to the merger, the sports teams remained overwhelmingly white.
Hopewell High merged with VIA Carter Woodson High in the late 1960s. Bernard Epps and Herbie Wheat were the first Black players for the Blue Devils in 1968. With the merger, the HHS demographics changed greatly, especially in the gym.
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