Winning ways return to Birmingham high school

Banks Feature
Banks Academy's recent ACAA basketball championship harkens back to when the former Banks High School captured multiple football championships. [Photo Credit: Contributed]

It was the 1960s and teenagers were rocking to the Beatles.

In the governor’s office, George Wallace was promising “segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

And on the east side of Birmingham, head coach George O. “Shorty” White was winning the first of three state football championships at Banks High School.

Jimmy Sidle, a tall, rangy fellow, was one of the first to earn a college scholarship. He chose Auburn and in 1963 became the first quarterback to lead the nation in rushing with 1,003 yards.

Larry Willingham made his mark at Banks, Auburn and with the St. Louis Cardinals as an All-Pro defensive back. Mike Neal and his brother, Rick, were not far behind.

Banks kept winning and the college scholarships kept coming. Alabama signed Bobby Johns, Johnny Musso, Gary and Jeff Rutledge, Donny and Johnny Johnston, Billy Strickland and Ronnie Roddam.

But then, in 1989, the city transformed Banks High School into a middle school.

It was a shocking development that still stings for some students and fans.

Now, a school of winning in football as well as the classroom, is an unoccupied eyesore, and some nearby residents have urged the city to tear it down.

Whether the city does or doesn’t knock it down, there is a something new to be proud of and respect.

Through the efforts of Shorty White’s son, Darryl, and Banks graduates, including Mike Dutton, Steve Foster, Marilyn Davis Purdy, Cal Dodson and Randy Overstreet, a new Banks was born.

Banks Academy, a private Christian high school, is carrying on the old Banks High School’s penchant for winning.

The Jets won the recent Alabama Christian Athletic Association basketball championship by defeating Harvest Christian 82-58, then squeaking by Cornerstone Christian 86-84.

The ACAA is an association of about 30 private Christian schools.

Banks Academy finished the season with a 25-4 record and Chase Cornelius was voted Coach of the Year.

“When I was offered the job as head coach, my dad enlightened me on what the name Banks meant,” Cornelius said. “It was a name that received national recognition and was a powerhouse, especially in football.”

Dutton, a former varsity basketball player and later principal at Banks High School, is on the Banks Academy board of directors. He has a positive outlook about Banks Academy and the work of Darryl White.

“He had the vision for this, and his leadership has been tremendous,” Dutton said. “Darryl is the catalyst.”

Dutton is confident that Banks Academy students will latch onto the skills and opportunities to be successful in life.

The school has 36 students, and that’s not many. But White said he expects enrollment to be 55-plus for the 2018 term, which starts in August.

T-shirts acclaiming “Old Name New Tradition” were worn by students when they first enrolled at Banks Academy.

“The old tradition is not dead,” said White, “this is just the beginning of a new Banks era.”

And he offered a final word: “Football is on the horizon.”

Rutledge and Nathan, a look back

Banks vs. Woodlawn was a rivalry that split the schools apart in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, and there was no bigger game than Jets vs. Colonels in 1974.

Traffic backed up for miles to get to Legion Field for the game that featured Banks quarterback Jeff Rutledge and Woodlawn running back Tony Nathan (and featured in the movie “Woodlawn” and a highlight from the book “Woodlawn” on which the movie is based).

Tony Nathan (22) breaking away for a long run. (contributed)

Traffic backed up for miles to get to Legion Field. And when fans got there, only four gates were open.

With kickoff time near, fans had to squeeze their way through the gates and find seats.

This was the largest crowd – an estimated 40,000 — to watch a high school game in Alabama.

Police estimated that another 20,000 turned around and went home.

But on the field it was Banks vs. Woodlawn, Rutledge vs. Nathan, Coach Shorty White vs. Coach Tandy Geralds.

The results:

  • White picked up his 100th victory.
  • Rutledge completed nine of 10 passes for 188 yards and a touchdown.
  • Nathan rushed for 112 yards in 31 carries.
  • Banks 18, Woodlawn 7

Republished with permission from the Alabama NewsCenter.