COMMENTARY: Family Matters — In the Class 3A state championship basketball game, the Coaches Cudjoe count
Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – I have had the privilege of knowing folks named Cudjoe for most of my life, but I need to pay closer attention to certain intra-family information, including spelling of the last name.
Seriously, now: The Cudjo family unit attending the same church as the McGuigans comes from the branch that spells the name without an “e” at the end.
On the other hand, the two stellar coaches who face off Saturday afternoon (March 11) at 2 p.m. spell it with that “E” at the end.
I got that wrong in a story for The City Sentinel on Tuesday – sorry about that.
As a journalist, I will set aside any personal feelings one way or the other as to the victor when the Star Spencer Bobcats (Coach Lance Cudjoe) face off against the Frederick A. Douglass Trojans (Coach Kendal Cudjoe) in the Class 3A championship at 2 p.m. in “The Big House.”
That is the place where roundball dreams come true, AKA State Fair Arena here in the capital city.
The truth is I wish both teams could win. Of five Oklahoma City Public School District squads that entered the basketball tournaments for Classes 2A through 6A, Cudjoes coach the sole survivors in 2017. The title game flows from Douglass’s shift from Class 4A (which they won last year, their sixth in the last seven years) to 3A.
Douglass had to power its way past the Oklahoma Centennial High School Bison in Friday’s semi-final game. The Trojans had to work at it, but ultimately prevailed 77-59 in the contest, held at Southern Nazarene University’s Sawyer Center in Bethany. Coach Kendal’s lads thereby made up for a December 6 loss to Centennial.
In Thursday’s opening round, they defeated Okmulgee, 68-60.
The Oklahoman’s Ryan Aber noted Douglass is today searching for its tenth championship.
As for Star Spencer, they won the 4A championship back in 2009, and Aber points out the school “is looking to win its ninth state title.”
Coach Lance’s skillful squad was having a heck of time in Friday’s contest with Sequoyah Tahlequah, as Aber detailed, until his assistant coaches suggested he sub-in a scrappy sophomore sub named Malik Gilliam. “I was smart enough to listen,” Coach Lance said, and Gilliam’s defense triggered a powerful 18-4 run and a 64-53 win to yield today’s title date.
Star got to the semi-final by defeating Tulsa’s Metro Christian, 73-64, on Thursday.
The Cudjoe cousins share a distinguished lineage.
Before taking the top job at Star, Lance coached at Douglass, where he learned from the best. In 2016, Kendal was The Oklahoman’s Little All-City coach of the year (http://newsok.com/article/5492008).
After garnering that recognition, Kendal told reporter Scott Wright, “Growing up, I would go watch my dad coach his Douglass teams back in the ‘60s. Going into middle school, I knew I would be attending Douglass when it was time. Then my time came, and we won a state championship in football, runner-up in basketball. It’s special to go back and coach at your alma mater, especially to coach where your father coached for all those years. He has his name on the floor. I see it every day and think about him every day.”
Speaking of forebears, when I worked at The Oklahoman in 1999, reporter Ron Jackson wrote a story
(http://newsok.com/article/2674059) about Wilburt Cudjoe. In Jackson’s report, Wilburt remembered his youth – and memories of his grandfather “Witty” Cudjoe.
A 1935 Wewoka newspaper story had told Witty’s tale (he was 105 years old at the time). He was a proud Black Seminole who had traveled his people’s version of the Trail of Tears from Florida in the 1830s.
Wilburt, Jackson’s subject, was one of five Cudjoe brothers who fought for the United States during the Second World War. As Jackson recounted:
“There were Harold, Lance, Lawrence, Wilburt, Alvin and Freeland. Commodore, the youngest brother, served in the Korean War. Wilburt Cudjoe was among the first blacks to join the U.S. Navy, where he proudly served in the Pacific until 1946. …
“The twins, Lance and Lawrence Cudjoe, earned recognition as basketball standouts at Langston University. They later barnstormed with the Harlem Globetrotters before settling into education careers.
“Lawrence Cudjoe became a noted basketball coach at Douglass High School and then finished his career at Langston. Lance Cudjoe coached basketball in Oklahoma City and then worked as an administrator over Oklahoma City junior high schools. Both died in 1994.
“Six years before their deaths, the twins traveled to Africa’s West Coast where they were received with honors as long-lost brothers of the African Cudjoe clans.”
You could say the Cudjoe Cousins have the blood of princes. It’s easy to pull for both of them in today’s championship game.
And here’s the deal: They’re both winners.