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Tracing The History Of Louisville's 'Dirt Bowl'

Kertis Creative

If you don't know, the Dirt Bowl is a basketball tournament that takes place in Shawnee Park every year. Since 1969, it has played host to future NBA stars, college basketball legends and some of the best streetballers in Louisville.

The Dirt Bowl is also a social gathering that brings West Louisville together.

And it’s the subject of a new book and radio documentary.

“I Said Bang: A History of the Dirt Bowl” was produced by the Louisville Story Program, a nonprofit that helps underrepresented Louisvillians tell their stories.

WFPL News partnered with the Louisville Story Program to produce a radio documentary examining the history and impact of the Dirt Bowl. It airs Wednesday at 1 p.m. (and again at 7 p.m.) on 89.3 FM.

I spoke with Darcy Thompson, the group’s director, about its new book, which comes out Thursday. First question: What does the book's title mean? (Listen to the interview in the player above.)

"'I said bang' are probably the most famous words you will hear coming out of the speakers when you walk into Shawnee Park," Thompson says. "During the games, one of the unique things about the Dirt Bowl is that there's always an announcer on the microphone who is doing some live play-by-play, and doing a lot of comedy and commentary."

The Dirt Bowl is all about good basketball. But it's also about family and community.

"It's a gathering spot," he says. "Folks have reunions, they see people maybe they haven't seen in years, they get to connect with folks from other neighborhoods, other parts of town. In different eras, people have talked about organizing marches and demonstrations -- that goes back to the '60s with open housing and stuff around busing was being hotly discussed."

The Louisville Story Program will host a book launch on Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Muhammad Ali Center. For more details, visit their website.

Stephen George is President and CEO of Louisville Public Media. Email Stephen at sgeorge@lpm.org.