LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – “I said bang!”
It’s the signature catchphrase often heard echoing from announcer Cornell Bradley’s microphone, signaling one of west Louisville’s favorite pastimes – the Dirt Bowl.
The community basketball game has celebrated 50 years in the community bringing together teams from across Jefferson County to compete for the top prize and bragging rights.
“I mean this is what it’s about – community and it brings the community together. This is probably the only place other than the Kentucky Derby where you’ll see all walks of life come together through the Dirt Bowl,” tournament co-founder Ben Watkins said.
Louisville is known as a basketball city and most who participate in the tournament, take the opportunity to play this level. Those who often form teams build their skills in local parks or community centers.
Watkins says many of the kids never get an opportunity like this and most aren’t high school players.
The tournament’s beginnings date back to 1969 when both Watkins and Janis Carter Miller were college students and worked for the city’s recreation department.
Due to much of the racial tension happening locally and around the world, Watkins and Miller decided to do something.
“It was a very tumultuous time for the community. There were a lot of racial relations happening,” Miller said. “We started the Dirt Bowl. Ben’s a former Central High School basketball player – I’m a cheerleader. So the thing for us to do was have a basketball tournament. Voila! 50 years later, here we are. Same things going on in the country today, but we don’t have them at the Dirt Bowl.”
The Dirt Bowl not only is about basketball, it brings people out for good food, family fun and to hear Bradley call a game.
“Bradley – he’s been around forever. I mean without him; the Dirt Bowl is no other. He’s just the cornerstone of the Dirt Bowl,” Watkins said. “He brings out the laughter, he brings about the joy. He watches the crowd. He understands the Dirt Bowl and he understands a little bit about basketball also.”
The free outdoor tournament ended its 2019 season Sunday with a close championship game.
Newburg defeated Business as Usual 60-54.
Despite who won or lost, the greatest lesson many walk away with is that basketball continues to bring a community together.