The Bowie News is publishing a letter sent in from David Prater, who was the starting center, co-captain and named to the all-state tournament team on the 1974 Bowie boy’s basketball state title team. He is the son of Bettie and the late Paul Prater and wanted to give his first-hand account of that season as a tribute to his Coach Gayno Shelton after the team was featured in the looking back series. The letter will be published in two parts.
The excitement of moving should have been more tempered by the fact we were leaving a place we had called home for 10 years. Being an introvert, I had teammates, classmates and neighbors of which only a few I would say were friends.
Of course we were not moving to some strange town. We were moving to Bowie, where dad had played on the first team to go to state and mom graduated with Temple Tucker and saw four straight state championships. We had come to Bowie every Christmas and summer my whole life. I knew Heard’s Hardware, Bradley’s Jewelry, Piggly Wiggly and other downtown stores. I knew the names of lots of mom and dad’s friends and classmates. I just didn’t know anyone my age.
The team I was leaving had a 10–14 record that year. One of their better records and the first time for double digit victories in while. If you believed the newspaper, and as a 16–17 year old I did, it was implied and sometimes stated that the reason we didn’t win more was the poor post play.
If I had a good game, they wrote about the rarity of a good game by me and how it was wasted in a losing effort. I hoped the move would allow me to just play and not be the reason we won or lost. Bowie had a good basketball program with winning seasons, so I hoped I could just fit in.
We had been in town for a week or so and it was time for a haircut. Dad and I walked into the barber shop and were the only customers. I went first and after a minute the barber asked if we were new in town. I said we had just moved in from New Mexico and I was going to be a senior. He slapped me on the back a couple of times and said, “By God you are real. We heard a 6-foot-8-inch Mexican was moving in and you were all-state for three years!”
I was terrified, horrified, mortified and every other fied you can think of. I quickly tried to explain I wasn’t any good. I had barely made all-district honorable mention in a four team district. I was not going to lead the team to state. I wasn’t that good. I suddenly felt a lot of expectations and pressure.
Some time passed and dad decided we needed a break from repairs on the turn of the century house we were living in, so we went to see if we could get in the high school gym. We were in luck. The back door of the school was unlocked. We walked in and started looking at the trophy cases and pictures of old teams.
Found his team pictures and some state championship trophies. Suddenly we heard a heavy door open and close and out marched a short little janitor from the gym side. I could tell it was the janitor by the big wad of keys on his hip. He headed towards the front and glancing over his shoulder saw us. I swear he stopped in mid-stride, spun around on his back foot, marched right up to us, stuck out his hand while looking up at us and said, “Hi, I’m Gayno Shelton, boys’ basketball coach. Can I help you?” I hope he didn’t see the disappointment I felt when I was thinking, “Great, another little want-to-be basketball player who is trying to coach. What is he going to teach me about becoming a better post player?”
He took us through the gym, assigned me a locker and then started talking crazy. He gave me a basketball that I was responsible for keeping up with. He said the gym was open most evenings and on the weekend. That’s crazy! Gyms were only open during basketball season and only if there was practice or a game. We had 40 guys and half a dozen old basketballs between us. Who had their own real basketball? He then said he wanted me to do some weight lifting. That was something new also.
A few days later I got the courage to ride my 10-speed bicycle to the gym and see if it was open. There were quite a few people there. After introductions, we started a new game. One of the first plays, Bobby Brashear dribbled down the left side of the lane. I moved to the other side to get out of his way and found a pass heading right at me. I don’t know if I scored, but I remember thinking, I had better keep an eye on him all the time or I might find a pass in my ear.
It was a great summer. I met the church youth group which became a haven from the expectations of basketball and the disappointment people would have once they saw me play.
I rode my 10-speed all over town, played lots of basketball and lifted a few weights. I bulked up my 6-foot-8-inch frame to 180 pounds.
To read the full story, pick up a copy of the weekend edition of the Bowie News.