A Community Legacy: The State Championships of the Decatur High School Varsity Boys’ Basketball Team
In honor of March Madness, let’s take a look back at some of the successes that the Decatur High School Boys Varsity Basketball teams have had.
By Nemain Morgan-Curtis, Agnes Scott intern, Winter 2022
It’s that time of year: basketball fans will soon be dusting off their brackets and once again attempting to predict how this year’s March Madness will play out. Over the years, basketball, and sports, more generally, have brought people together, even when they’ve been apart, as with the Covid-19 pandemic. Although at this time of year, all the buzz is mainly about college basketball, high school basketball tournaments are also in full swing and can provide a similar sense of unity (and competition) within the more local community. Additionally, studies have shown that sports improve overall self-esteem and happiness among players and community members.
Sports have always been an important part of student success and community spirit at Decatur High School. The school has had some quite successful teams. In honor of March Madness, let’s take a look back at some of the successes that the Decatur High School Boys Varsity Basketball teams have had.
The 1952 State-Championship Decatur High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team.
In the second half of the twentieth century, Decatur High’s Boys Varsity Basketball Team managed to win four state championships, in the years 1952, 1970, 1980, and 1982. The 1952 state championship team was known as the “Kings of the Court.” (For those who are unaware, while this name attests to their dominant winning capabilities, it may also be in reference to the name of a common one-on-one basketball drill.) During the 1952 season, Decatur dominated their opponents and overall schedule, winning 30 of their 33 games. Even with the three games they lost, it was by a total of only five points. Their star player was co-captain, Don Keiser, who was the leading Region AAA scorer in the state with an average of 23.8 points per game! This win was in the aftermath of a devastating defeat in the state championship game the previous year, so they were out to prove their mettle and the worthiness of their program. They were able to do just that and brought home the Decatur High basketball program’s first state championship trophy during this period. It would be 18 years before they would hold that title again.
Coach Bob Reinhart in 1970 and 1971.
Nevertheless, unlike the team in 1952, the teams of 1970, 1980, and 1982 all had one instrumental component of their teams’ makeup that was the same: their head coach. An article in the Atlanta Daily World from 1983, discusses Reinhart’s overall successes throughout his 14 years as head coach of the Bulldogs after he achieved that position in 1968. He was later quoted saying that the team’s motto that they had used in the past and would continue to use was “respect all but fear none.” The 1970 team was surely a testament to that motto. They went on to win 20 of their games, only losing once that season, winning the state championship. Although, as alumnus Bob Johnson recalls in 3TEN’s “Decatur through the Decades,” students “butted heads,” especially as the school desegregated, but the school was still significantly diverse, which was reflected on the basketball team itself. Further, because the team had the success it did, it was able to bring the people of Decatur High School together despite these differences that they were grappling with during this time. It was proof as to what a sports team could provide for a community.
Because of all of this, one might think that the 1970 team would be Reinhart’s ultimate legacy, but 11 years and nine failed tournament trips later, Reinhart and the Bulldogs were finally able to outdo themselves. They went 26 and two that season and ultimately, they added another trophy to the collection.
The 1970 State Championship Team in action.
Decatur High School Basketball Commendation, March 1970.
The last state championship trophy to be brought home during the twentieth century was by a similar team, with many of the same players, during the 1982 season, under Coach Bob Reinhart. During this run to the championship, as well as into the next season, the team maintained a 57-game win streak. This team had many notable players, including Bob Reinhart’s own son, Bobby Reinhart, who was a sophomore at the high school that year. Bobby Reinhart would actually end up following in his father’s footsteps and later also became the head coach of the Bulldogs in 1995. In a Decatur news article from 1998, the elder Bob Reinhart, is quoted saying that he knew his son could be a good coach and that he was proud of his son’s accomplishments. Bobby continued to build on both his own, as a Decatur Bulldog, and his father’s, as a head coach, legacy in the Decatur High basketball community.
Melvin Howard with his plaque naming him to the 1983 McDonald’s High School All-American Basketball Team.
The 1982 team’s most successful player was Melvin “Hollywood” Howard. Howard racked up two state championships during his time as a Bulldog, as well as having a record of 102 total wins to only nine total losses. Additionally, Howard was selected as one of the top 25 players in the country in 1983 and was named to the McDonald’s High School All-American Basketball Team, which conveniently played its star-studded game in Atlanta that year. Columnist Hal Lamar, of the Atlanta Daily World, describes Howard, and others, being named to the team in awe, stating that many refer to it as the “dream” team due to the scrutiny of the selection process. After these recognitions and accomplishments, as well as the 1,500 points he amassed as a Decatur Bulldog, Howard went on to sign with and play at the University of Georgia and then transferred to play for Georgia State University.
Bob Reinhart continued to collect accolades and recognitions during his career and in November 1983, accepted an assistant coaching position with the local NBA team, the Atlanta Hawks. Reinhart continued his work in the NBA, later becoming a scout with Utah and Dallas. However, throughout his over 17-year coaching career at Decatur High School, he left his mark. In a 1984 article in The Atlanta Constitution, Carter Wilson, a former assistant under Reinhart and the team’s succeeding head coach, spoke to Reinhart’s character. Wilson said that “Bob was a great motivator. By the time he stopped talking, you had goosebumps.”
The 1980 State Championship Bulldogs in action.
Since 1982, the team has come close to winning, several times, but they have ultimately been unable to add another state championship trophy to their collection. Within the 1927-1928 yearbook, part of a poem by Rudyard Kipling is included on one of the pages devoted to basketball at Decatur High. It reads: “It’s not the individual / Or the army as a whole, / But the everlasting teamwork / Of every bloomin’ soul.” Whether it be the coach, the players, the students, the school, or the community, everyone can play a role in the success of a team, as was the case with the Decatur High School Boys Varsity Basketball Team.
Berberick, Emmie. “Decatur through the Decades.” 3TEN, 16 May 2016, https://3ten.org/lifestyle/2016/05/13/decatur-through-the-decades/.
Collins, Nandini, et al. “Effects of Early Sport Participation on Self-Esteem and Happiness.” The Sport Journal, vol. 24, no. 1543-9518, https://thesportjournal.org/article/effects-of-early-sport-participation-on-self-esteem-and-happiness/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2022.
“Howard Named All-American.” DeKalb Neighbor (Tucker), March 23, 1983.
Mahone, Derrick. “Bulldogs on a roll with yet another Reinhart.” DeKalb History Center archives – no publication listed.
“Reinhardt Accepts Position with Hawks as Assistant.” Atlanta Daily World (1932-), Jul 10, 1983. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/reinhardt-accepts-position-with-hawks-as/docview/491600100/se-2?accountid=8381.
Rogers, P. “Wilson Keeps Wins Coming at Decatur.” The Atlanta Constitution (1946-1984), Feb 21, 1984. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/wilson-keeps-wins-coming-at-decatur/docview/1622426167/se-2?accountid=8381.
Rosenberg, I.J. “Reinhart: A Dynasty Is Built in Decatur.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 11, 2016. https://www.ajc.com/sports/basketball/reinhart-dynasty-built-decatur/91ZF0kkpX1E070WHPxr4DJ/.
Starrs, Chris. “Reinhart Relishes Challenge of Professional Game.” DeKalb Neighbor, November 2, 1983.