Sam Patton, Founder
The premier fund-raising project of the Rhododendron Civitan Club is sponsorship of the annual all-star basketball games featuring outstanding senior players from Western North Carolina high schools. The games began in 1953 before the Rhododendron Civitan Club was founded. Sam Patton, a former All-American basketball player while in the U.S. Army in 1944, initiated and managed the games. The first game played in 1953 had ten players taking part in a scrimmage game inside the American Enka Corporation Gymnasium. Four college coaches accepted invitations to attend that game.
At the time of the game’s founding in 1953, the region was overlooked by college scouts seeking collegiate level basketball talent for four reasons. First, this region had a preponderance of small schools as this was prior to school consolidation in this region. Second, the region faced geographic isolation from larger and more easily reached urban schools with their large pools of talent. Third, there was no major metropolitan area and its accompanying media outlet to broadcast the news of talent in this area. Fourth, there were no major roads in and out of the area. There were no interstates passing through the mountains.
With the formation of the Rhododendron Civitan Club in 1959 and with the first club president being Sam Patton, the sponsorship of the all-star game, known as the Blue-White Basketball Game, was assumed by the Club. The event, which at first was played only by boys, was sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. This organization has sanctioned only two high school all-star contests in North Carolina.
The objectives of the games are two-fold. The first is to offer outstanding basketball players in Western North Carolina the chance to display their skills before college coaches, thereby giving to some players the opportunity for a basketball scholarship and a college education which they could not otherwise afford. The second objective is to give the participants a chance to do something worthwhile for their fellow man. The talents and work of the players and coaches help those less fortunate to realize something that otherwise might not have happened had it not been for the money raised through these games. Many good things have resulted in the mentally retarded programs because of proceeds of these games.
Each year since then, star players who are seniors from area high schools area have participated. In 1961 the annual classic moved to the Enka High School Gymnasium. In 1964 the game moved to the Asheville-Biltmore College Gymnasium. In 1968 the event moved to the new T.C. Roberson High School Gymnasium for the theater-type seats and more comfort. As the games grew in popularity and attendance soared, the need for a larger facility developed and the game was moved to the Asheville Civic Center in 1986, where superb facilities offered unlimited opportunities for staging a first-class event. But the rental became prohibitive. For the last several years the games have found a new homes. In 1994 the contests were moved to the A.C. Reynolds gymnasium. The games were moved back to T.C. Roberson in 2005.
The Rhododendron Civitan Club requested a girls’ game in 1973, and the North Carolina High School Athletic Association took years to approve the request. In 1977 the scope of the games was expanded by the addition of this long requested girls’ competition. The name was changed to the Annual Blue-White All-Star Basketball Games. This format proved successful and continued through 1989. The name did change to the Annual East-West All-Star Basketball Games in 1990. Players from additional counties in Western North Carolina now were given the opportunity to participate. This was in response to wishes of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. The original NCHSAA sanction allowed for only players from Buncombe and the counties touching it to participate. However, due to confusion in name recognition with another all-star game, the name was switched back to the Blue White All-Star Games in 1994.
The Blue-White games were the first major fund-raising project of the Rhododendron Civitan Club, and it is the only one that has continued through the Club’s entire 50-year history. This project has brought favorable recognition to the Club throughout the Civitan community and throughout North Carolina. The project has also provided first class entertainment to many thousands of spectators, has given a start to college careers for hundreds of basketball players, and has contributed mightily to the welfare of retarded persons in Western North Carolina.
The event at times has become a celebrity event. The 50th anniversary of the boys’ game was held in 2002. The mayor of the city of Asheville appeared, but he was not the first mayor to grace the games with his presence. Other political dignitaries have helped promote the games in the past.
Rankin (Bud) Hipp assumed the position of Chairman of the Blue-White All-Star Basketball games in 1999. The founder of the games needed help as age was slowing him down. Bud has done a spectacular job of engineering the games. But even he tires. He relinquished chairmanship of the games after the 2014 event. His daughter and son-in-law Kitty and Kenny McCurry assumed the responsibility.
Each spring the Rhododendron Civitan Club sponsors the Blue-White All-Star Basketball Game. This single basketball game has had, is having, and will continue to have a very noticeable impact on the community and the games’ participants. In fact, this impact extends beyond the community to the region. The games recruit players from all of Western North Carolina. For decades these games have provided exposure for aspiring athletes. The revenues generated from the games furnish financial resources to public school programs targeting the handicapped. These games are definitely a community service that returns the dividends earned from them to many sectors of the community.
The game’s founder happened to be also a founding member of the Rhododendron Civitan Club. The club adopted the game as a fund raiser in 1959, the same year the Rhododendron Civitan Club was founded. The Blue-White games are one of only two such events sanctioned by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association during the school year