Charles “Boonie” Russell: How once ‘forgotten’ man is remembered
In November 2018, Charles “ Boonie” Russell received a letter from Mark Walker in Tennessee asking for his autograph.
Walker is an avid fan of basketball, especially of players from the 1970s. In his letter, Walker referred to Russell as one his favorite basketball players from the ’70s.
Russell responded with an autographed photo from his days at Alabama, signed stationary from the Denver Nuggets of the ABA and a note of thanks.
Russell, who said he once felt forgotten by the school he gave his all for, now knows he is not forgotten. Numerous people who remember him, not only from his time as a player for Alabama but for the man he is today.
He recently retired from working for the Parks and Recreation department for Hartselle.
This letter brings to mind a story originally written by Tommy Deas and published in the Tuscaloosa News May 18, 2014.
Return of the Ring: Former Alabama basketball standout Charles ‘Boonie’ Russell reunited with lost treasure after over 30 years
Charles “Boonie” Russell was a standout basketball player for Hartselle High School on the 1971 State Championship team.
He left Hartselle for the first time to play for Alabama Christian, now known as Faulkner University, in Montgomery. He was named a junior college All-American for his play on the court. He later had his jersey number retired by the school and was inducted into its sports hall of fame.
Once his career was over at Alabama Christian, he signed a scholarship with the University of Alabama and coach C.M. Newton. During his time in Tuscaloosa, he helped lead the Crimson Tide to back-to-back SEC Championships. With the championships came the coveted championship rings that were given to each player.
Russell was drafted by teams in two different Associations after his college playing days. The National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers and the American Basketball Association’s Kentucky Colonels wanted Russell to be a part of their organizations.
Before he signed his professional contract he was injured in training camp for the Lakers. The injury forced him to give up his hopes of playing professionally.
Five years later, after trying out for the NBA’s Kansas City Kings, Russell got the opportunity to play professionally in Mexico thanks to a Kings assistant coach, Frank Hamblen.
Before leaving for Mexico, a close friend came to him needing help financially. The one thing that Russell had that could help was his SEC Championship rings.
Russell’s plan was to loan the ring to his friend who would then pawn it at a local pawn shop. Once his friend was able to afford, he was to buy the ring back and then return it.
Before the plan came full circle, Russell left Hartselle to begin a 20-year playing career down in Central and South America. During his time away, he played on teams in Mexico, Argentina, and Chile.
When Russell returned in the late 90s, the pawn shop and the ring were nowhere to be found.
The ring was purchased by Martha Ann Wyatt of Coaling, Alabama for $50 sometime in the early 1980s. She found out about the ring from life-long friend Bart Latner, who was working for a church in Hartselle at the time.
After purchasing the ring, she had a display case built to show it off to anyone who visited her house. Over the years she said that it was an excellent conversation piece.
The ring was a treasured possession for Ms. Wyatt for almost 40 years. But she knew that eventually she would want to return it to its’ rightful owner. She was hoping that at some point in time she would get to see Russell, whom she watched during his playing days for the Tide.
Sometime during the mid-2000s, Russell got the chance to go back to Tuscaloosa to tour the basketball facility. During his time there he saw photos of his former teammates on the walls but noticed that there was not one of him. This left him feeling forgotten by the school.
Over time he eventually reconnected with the program thanks to the help of longtime friend, the late Dr. Robert Sittason.
Back in 2014, the University of Alabama invited Russell to take part in the 40-year reunion of the 1974 SEC Championship team. Russell was in attendance for the reunion and there he met Wyatt.
She had made a point to being at the game when the team was recognized. While there she was hoping to see Russell and get a chance to talk with him.
During the celebration, Wyatt approached Russell to introduce herself. She let him know that he was not forgotten and that she was in possession of his ring and that she wanted to return it to him.
Russell drove down to Coaling in March of 2014 to meet with Wyatt at her home. She met him at the door with the ring and showed him how much she treasured it during her time in possession of it.
An act of kindness over forty years ago had come full circle on that day in March 2014 in the small Alabama town of Coaling.