The West Point All Stars

by John W. Lauterbach

At one time or another, you may have heard about an infamous basketball team at Fort Benning, Ga. that was composed of West Point classmates attending the Basic Officers Course. It is my intent here to tell you the rest of the story.

Yes, this group consisted of Glenn Davis, Hank Emerson, Jim Tatum, Stu Force, Bob Coleman, Bobbie Ozier, and John Lauterbach. All were bachelors and all had soon tired of the sooty, small, and ill-decorated rooms in the WWII barracks-type BOQ to which we were assigned. One day, as we were sitting around commiserating about our plight, someone suggested, "Let's go over to the Post Gym and play a little basketball." And so we did; however, upon our arrival at the gym, the door was locked and a caretaker informed us the place was closed for repair. He went on to say if we wanted to play basketball you can go down to the Columbus YMCA.

Undaunted by that setback, we took the advice, jumped in the available cars, and proceeded to the 'Y". Once there, we asked if we could use the court and were told we could but would first have to join the "Y". Pooling our "mad" money, we came up with enough cash to satisfy that requirement but were then told we'd have to wait because there was a tournament about to begin. After a very short conference among ourselves, we queried if we might be allowed to enter the tournament. The response was affirmative followed by the instruction to be there that evening for our first game. We complied!

Our first glimpse of the basketball court was a bit dismaying. "Small" would hardly do it justice. "Tiny" might be a better adjective if you also added the word "crackerbox". A few fans were there but were restricted to balcony seats because the playing court took up all of the floor space. Please picture what we looked like- each with his own version of a workout ensemble which probably would have made the average fan shudder. But there were only a very few individuals who had come out to see the tournament so who cared! Despite being the first time we had ever worked together as a team, WE WON!

The next morning, to our complete amazement, the local newspaper (Columbus Ledger) came out with an emblazoned headline which read something like this, "Come To the YMCA Tonight and See Glen Davis and His West Point All Stars Play Basketball". I can still hear the "hoo-rahs" that greeted us as we entered the classroom! Nevertheless we showed up for our evening game and to our utter amazement, the place was packed with fans, some of whom were hanging from the chandeliers! So there we were before a packed house, all dressed up in our very decrepit, unmatched, and unlaundered uniforms. Yet, we came out victorious, much to the acclaim of the spectators.

Autograph seekers abounded! We were having a great time! As the tumult subsided, we noted a well-dressed individual approaching us with a huge grin on his face. He started the conversation by saying he was the owner of the Columbus Sport Shop and wanted to sponsor our team. He went on to say he would provide us with uniforms, warm-up jackets, shoes, socks, and anything else we might need as long as he could put "Columbus Sport Shop" on the jerseys. From that point forward we became known as "Glenn Davis and his Columbus Sport Shop All Stars"

Now that we had become the essence in on-court attire, how did it affect our on-court performance? Clothing, as the saying goes, "does not make the man"  and it didn't in this case either --- "Big Jim" Tatum was still the "Enforcer" who roamed the keyhole and defied the opposition to just try and enter his zone for a lay-up; "Hatchet" Bob Coleman was his very able assistant in "closing the door to the basket"; "Nifty" Bob Ozier was always an offensive threat who could thread his way through an eye of a needle on his way to the basket; "Slasher" Stu Force could also find his way to the basket and wore the blood and scars to prove it; and Glenn was always Glenn- a top performer. By the way, I should have added "Big Jim" Tatum was a terror on offense: his play reminded me of those words from the  Jimmy Dean song, "Big John"..." Nobody messes around with the likes of Big John (Jim)". In my opinion, Jim Tatum should have been on the "A" squad basketball team at the Academy.

But getting back to the subject, it was indeed gratifying to have that sartorial splendor, especially when we eventually became a "road" team. And a "road" team we did become! We were playing two or three times a week as long as it didn't interfere with our military obligations. And the nice feature of our "sideline" was the fact an admission price was charged at all out-of-town games with the pot being split with the contending team. Our half was equally split among us and reached the point where we jokingly remarked our military pay supplemented our basketball earnings.

All in all it was a great experience and created long lasting friendships. Bless you Glenn, Jim, Stu, Bobbie, Bob, and Hank. One final note, we only lost one game and that was to the then semi-pro team from Atlanta at the Omni Center. If you are holding your tongue in cheek, I refer you to Jean Sutton who was dating Bob Coleman at the time and was our staunchest fan!