A funny Ronald Reagan tidbit from my upcoming story on Pembrook Burrows III

Just finished writing a long feature on West Palm Beach’s Pembrook Burrows III, who way back in 1970 played with Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore on the unlikeliest Final Four team you could ever hope to see.

The story, which is peppered with great photos, can be found at mypalmbeachpost.com beginning Thursday. It’s full of fun nuggets about the heyday of Roosevelt High School basketball and the overnight emergence of tiny Jacksonville University as a national power. Here’s one funny scene, however, that got left on the cutting-room floor.

ronnie raygunWhen Jacksonville advanced to the NCAA championship game to play mighty UCLA, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a real colorful guy, sent a telegram to his counterpart in California, Ronald Reagan.

Kirk had a lot of fun with it and made sure the contents of the telegram was released to the media. He referred to the Bruins as “the champagne team from Smoggy Hollow,” and announced “I am supremely comfortable in the knowledge that Jacksonville will ‘win one for the Gov’ while UCLA is ‘losing one for the old Gipper.’ “

Best of all, Kirk promised “If I lose, I will watch 50 reruns of ‘Death Valley Days.’ If I win, all I want is your public acknowledgement of this additional area of Florida’s superiority. I will await your wire of acceptance and your subsequent telephone call of congratulations.”

Reagan, the former actor and future U.S. president, served in 1964 and 1965 as narrator on television’s “Death Valley Days” anthology of western stories from the pioneer days. Some of those shows must have been a little dry based on Kirk’s wager.

[Why shouldn’t Hurricanes be formidable in both major sports?]

[Bullish on the Warriors finishing the job and besting 72-10]

[Simplest measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

There is no record of what happened when UCLA beat Jacksonville 80-69 but it figures that Reagan was gracious, not wishing to speak ill of a fellow Republican. Besides, the Bruins were beating everybody back then.

In 1972, after Kirk had left office, UCLA scored another victory over a Florida team in the NCAA championship game, beating FSU 81-76.