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Class of 1960: We remember Ali the friend

Class of 1960: We remember Ali the friend
Published: Jun. 7, 2016 at 11:10 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2016 at 11:39 PM EDT
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Former classmates of Muhammad Ali at Central High School share memories of the champ. (Source:...
Former classmates of Muhammad Ali at Central High School share memories of the champ. (Source: Jeff Knight/WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Jeff Knight/WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Jeff Knight/WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) -  As the flag flew at half-staff in front of Central High School to honor former yellow jacket and three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, fellow classmates joined together inside to remember a friend who told them he was the greatest even before he really proved he was.

"He said that when he was 17-years-old. He just said, you guys, you know I'm going to be the best heavyweight there ever was!" classmate James C. Brown said, almost as if he still can't believe it.

Clay's confidence was backed by his hard work. There are many stories of Cassius Clay not riding the bus to school but racing it to build up his speed and endurance.

The group broke out in laughter as Brown stressed the point, "No girls. He just trained then!"

Clay was all about work but he also liked to play. Memories of Clay moving through the halls of Central High School garnered a group response of how he did it. "Shadow boxing," his classmates yelled as the laugh and punched each other to make sure they were all in one accord.

Each had a story to tell of how Clay made his way through the hall punching his friends and the lockers as he danced by.

They also agreed only once did they see him throw a real punch out of the ring. They all remembered and all agreed that a fellow classmate relentlessly teased Clay while hanging out at a store near the school.

Brown laughs as he recalls the words of his brave but foolish classmate, "I don't think you can knock me out. Let's see if you can knock me out."

The group breaks out into laughter and eggs Brown on to continue the story.

"All the sudden Cassius went pop," Brown shouted as he punched the air with a quick shot.  "When he woke up everybody was in class. He knocked him out."

The young man from the store floor did not become an enemy of Clay but ended up being one of his best friends.

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The Central Cheerleaders in the bunch are happy to claim the credit for the catch phrase used by the famous Muhammad Ali.

Shirlee Lewis Smith explains, "Us being cheerleaders, we did this thing where you came out and said the Central Yellow Jackets are gonna sting you!"  With no prompting at all the other female classmates and cheerleaders joined in right on time.

The group began to agree.  Each of them supporting the claim that Clay had to have remembered the cheer and how effective it was against their opponents.

Smith goes on, "That's where I think he got that float like a butterfly sting like a bee."

The classmates nodding in agreement all joining in to say it was a since a pride for fellow Central high School Classmates each time he said it.

"We liked that," exclaimed Smith. Agnes McDaniel Houseal joined in, "It was boosting us up." Smith laughs, "We were the yellow jackets!"

Each member of the class with their own memories of the boy voted most popular and most athletic and the man who became known worldwide.

Dorothy McIntyre Kennedy laughed, punching another classmate in the back, "I remember when he came home with that pink Cadillac."

Most of the women in the group laughed as the clasped hands while looking at each other with sideways glances.

"He wasn't a very good driver and one of these girls had to drive the car," she laughed. Kennedy explained, "He said I'm going to take you all with me all the time cause I need a chauffeur. I'm gonna be the champ.  I need a chauffeur."

Cassius Clay's boast of becoming the greatest heavy weight champ came true as he won the title not once but three times as Muhammad Ali.

Shrugging her shoulders Lewi explains, "Every time I saw him I made the mistake of calling him Cassius cause I couldn't say Muhammad without first saying Cassius."

The group seemed to all agree. They agreed not only on the fact that each had his or her own problems with the name change but they also agreed Muhammad seemed to never mind the misstep. He would simply smile and acknowledge his friends.

"He wasn't talking that much but I could see the twinkle in his eye. He was saying enough where you'd say you're still there," Smith said, very melancholy.

Classmate Wilbur Miles simply whispered, "I will miss him."

WAVE 3 News will provide complete coverage of Muhammad Ali's funeral procession and public memorial service at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday. Those events can be viewed at the following links:

ONLINE: http://bit.ly/1dwbq7w  MOBILE: http://bit.ly/LeC49o

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