By: Steven Wilson
For the past 42 years, there’s only been one place for “The Best Basketball in the Tri-State Area,” the Owensboro Dust Bowl. Other cities, from Evansville to Henderson to Bowling Green, have tried to replicate the atmosphere in late July at Kendall Perkins Park. But there’s only one original, and it’s still going strong after all these years.
To get the full story on the history of the famous tournament, we sat down with Othello “Big O” Millan. Involved with the Dust Bowl since its inception, Big O has worn many hats. He began his Dust Bowl career as a player, where he entered the tournament with his teammates from Dugan Best. According to Millan, in the early 70’s, the city hosted an industrial league. Organizations such as the fire department, police department, Chautauqua Center, Dugan Best and the HL Neblett Center would field basketball teams to compete against one another. These teams comprised the bracket for the original Owensboro Dust Bowl, organized shortly after tournament founders Jerry Davenport and Wayne Stout returned from watching the “Dirt Bowl” outdoor basketball tournament in Louisville. Davenport starred for the Owensboro High School basketball team in the 1960s, and went on to be drafted by the Chicago Bulls. Although an injury cut his professional career short, Davenport maintained a high interest in the game of basketball, and that’s what led him to found the Owensboro Dust Bowl. At that time, players like future University of Louisville star Darrell Griffith played, as a high school standout, against college and even pro players in Louisville’s tournament. Impressed with the level of play at the Dirt Bowl, and confident that they could make a similar tournament work in Owensboro, Davenport and Stout brought the idea back to their hometown, and the Dust Bowl was born.
After playing in the inaugural Dust Bowl, and several others thereafter, Big O went on to serve as a coach in the tournament. One of his most memorable teams was “Jimmy’s Liquors Lakers,” which boasted familiar names like Rod Drake, Dwight Higgs, and Hank Peters. According to Big O, that team, to almost no one’s surprise, won the Men’s Open division six out of seven years.
Since that time, the Dust Bowl has expanded to include six different divisions, including a men’s open division, and others ranging from 3rd and 4th grades through high school. While the games played in the Men’s Open division always draw the largest crowds, Big O says that he enjoys watching the young kids play as well. “I just enjoy watching the younger guys coming up through the age groups and going on to playing high school ball and college ball.” Among those younger guys who came up through the ranks was Aric Holman, who played in the Dust Bowl as a boy, led Owensboro High School to a KHSAA state championship, and will lace up next year for Mississippi State. As Big O points out, Holman’s father, Central Holman, is a Dust Bowl alumnus, too.
From Davenport to Drake to Holman, and many others in between, the Dust Bowl has been the main stage for Owensboro’s elite amateur basketball talent. While other activities such as football camps and AAU basketball tournaments have made it harder for student athletes to fit the Dust Bowl into their busy schedules, the tournament still draws the area’s best and brightest basketball stars.
For anyone that wants to write their name in the tournament’s rich history, it’s not too late to register for the 2015 Dust Bowl. The tournament will be held from July 17 through July 25, and the registration deadline is July 5 at midnight. For more information, contact Big O Millan at (270)302-5174 or Byron W. Owen at (270)302-6310.