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March 10, 2011

OPENING SHOT - Frank Alvis forever made himself the answer to a trivia question when he scored the first points at Cassell Coliseum

By: Jimmy Robertson

Frank Alvis was recognized by the Tech athletics department at a game in 2006 for scoring the first two points at Cassell Coliseum.

Frank Alvis cemented himself into Virginia Tech history when he scored the first two points at Cassell Coliseum on a January night in 1962.

It’s not a shabby accomplishment for a guy who actually never planned on going to college.

“I was going to enter the construction field, like my dad and brothers,” Alvis said. “I told Coach [Bill] Matthews [a Tech assistant under head coach Chuck Noe] that I wasn’t prepared for college. I only took the subjects in high school that I had to take. But he was persistent. He didn’t let up, and my mother didn’t either.”

Matthews’ tenacity – he went and watched Alvis play several times – paid off as Alvis signed with Tech in 1959 after a tremendous career at Athens High School in Athens, W.Va. The 5-foot-10 guard guided Athens to a state championship his junior season and averaged 29 points a game his senior year.

Most West Virginia kids end up going to West Virginia University, and the locals in Athens and Princeton tried to persuade Alvis to head to Morgantown. In fact, Rod Thorn’s father, who served as the chief of police in Princeton, tried to convince Alvis to join Rod, an All-American, in Morgantown, but Alvis wanted to stay closer to home.

It also aided Tech’s cause that the then-West Virginia coach Fred Schaus turned Alvis off.

“He visited my home after my senior season was over,” Alvis said. “He told me that guards were a dime a dozen. I told him he better go get a dozen of them then. That’s when I made up my mind to go to Tech.”

Alvis played on the freshman team in 1959-60, and then he spent three years on a loaded varsity squad that included talented players like Bucky Keller, Lee Melear and Howard Pardue – all three of whom were eventually inducted into the Tech Sports Hall of Fame. That group went 47-25 in three seasons.

Alvis spent most of his time dishing the ball to those guys, while also serving as the team’s top defender. He enjoyed the occasional big scoring game, but his biggest claim to fame came when he scored the first points at Cassell Coliseum on a short jumper. Tech never trailed in beating Alabama, 91-67.

“The tip came to me, and I guess my man got lost in the shuffle,” Alvis said of his basket. “I dribbled to about the free-throw line and took the shot.

“It was no big deal when it happened. It’s only become a big issue now. I had a sportswriter from Galax [Va.] call me to do a story a few years after I left, and I told him I scored the first basket in Cassell Coliseum. After I told him, I bet I had no less than 10 people come up to me and say, ‘You’re the man who scored the first basket in Cassell Coliseum.’”

Alvis has been recognized ever since. A few years ago, his daughter asked if he had any old press clippings from his playing days, and she took those and organized them. She also framed his old No. 12 jersey. She even contacted the Tech athletics department for two tickets that she wanted to put in his Christmas stocking.

A department official told her that the games were sold out. She then told that person that her dad was the first person to score a basket in Cassell Coliseum. That led to her receiving tickets and to Alvis being recognized at a 2006 game.

But he said there were other great moments in his career, too. In his junior season, Tech beat Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., in the season opener, handing legendary coach Adolph Rupp his lone season-opening loss in 42 years of coaching. Tech won that game 80-77, and Alvis’ defense on Cotton Nash turned out to be the difference.

“I was a 5-11 guard guarding a 6-4 All-American,” Alvis said. “My only advantage was quickness, and I was able to draw four charges on him. He sat on the bench for most of the third quarter.”

In Alvis’ senior season, Tech knocked off another great program – North Carolina. He and his teammates defeated a Tar Heel team coached by Dean Smith in double overtime at Carmichael Auditorium.

Alvis also relayed some tales. One time, the team was flying to Jacksonville, Fla., to play in a tournament, and Noe unexpectedly had the pilot land in South Carolina.

“He had a brainstorm about a change in our defense,” Alvis said. “They [Florida] had a 6-11 center who played mostly in the high post. So Coach Noe had the plane land in South Carolina, and we practiced at a high school in the middle of the night. It worked because we won the game and the tournament.”

Despite not being prepared academically for college, Alvis did well in the classroom during his days at Tech. He graduated from Tech in 1964 with a degree in distributive education.

Following graduation, he took a teaching job at Fries High School, now a middle school, in Grayson County, Va. He also coached basketball there.

He stayed at Fries for a year. While in the hospital recovering from pneumonia, he received a visit from the superintendent of schools in neighboring Carroll County and told he told Alvis his marketing teacher at the high school had left. He offered Alvis a job for a year, so Alvis took it – and never left.

He also drives a school bus, something he continues to do after retiring following a 30-year career in teaching, most of that in Carroll County.

“I started driving my second year in Carroll County,” he said. “They had trouble getting drivers, and it paid more than coaching, so I stayed with it. I also train drivers, too.

“This is my 45th year of driving a school bus. I enjoyed the kids, and it pays a little more now. When I started, I made $6.25 a day.”

He and his wife, Gladys, whom he married before taking the job in Carroll County, have two children and four grandchildren. He and his family occasionally get back for games, and he came back to Blacksburg recently, as the athletics department recognized the 1961-62 team as part of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Cassell.

“It was great,” Alvis said. “I hadn’t seen Howard [Pardue] or Lee [Melear] in 50 years. I came up to Blacksburg when Coach Noe was inducted in the Hall of Fame, but only me, Chris Smith and John Wetzel were able to make it, so I hadn’t seen those other guys.

“I had lost touch with Tech after Don DeVoe left [in 1976], and the basketball team struggled there for a while. Then Frank Beamer came along, and we started following football. But my whole family now … we’re all excited about Tech these days.”