June 12, 2014
Charles “Boonie” Russell’s 1974 SEC Championship ring, earned during his time at the University of Alabama, was returned to him by Martha Ann Wyatt after it was pawned off nearly 40 years ago.
More than 30 years ago, a pal of Russell’s sold the 1974 ring to a pawnshop. The two had planned to return for the ring later, but before that happened, Russell headed to Mexico to play basketball. He ended up making a career out of it, spending 20 seasons playing internationally.
Russell said he didn’t think too much about that championship ring since he still had his 1975 SEC Championship ring.
“It was pretty much forgotten after the first few years since I was in a different country,” Russell said. “As time passed, it was like it had never really existed. It’s hard to live in one country and be in another, so it didn’t really cross my mind.”
While Russell was playing in Central and South America, a new owner found his ring.
Martha Ann Wyatt of Coaling, Ala. had been a lifelong fan of Alabama basketball. When her friend asked her if she was interested in a 1974 Alabama SEC Championship ring from a local pawnshop, she gladly took it, paying a measly $50.
Wyatt cherished the ring, keeping it in a homemade display case among her other Alabama memorabilia, but she had always intended to give the ring back if and when she had the opportunity.
Russell said he was lucky for it to have been bought by such a caring fan.
“It was a great surprise, but I considered it more hers than mine,” Russell said. “She had been taking care of it for almost 40 years. I just had it a few, but she wouldn’t hear of not giving it back.”
That opportunity came in March when Alabama played Auburn and recognized the 1974 team on the 40th anniversary of their SEC championship season. Both Wyatt and Russell were in attendance.
Wyatt approached Russell and told him she had his ring. He was shocked and excited to get to see the championship ring again.
Wyatt scheduled a time for them to get together and return the ring.
Russell and Wyatt were finally able to meet at Wyatt’s home in Coaling on May 13, Russell’s 61st birthday.
Wyatt’s care for the ring and its significance ensured a special birthday for Russell.
“Getting to see the ring would have been special on any day of the week, but it did make a nice birthday present,” Russell said. “It being my birthday didn’t make her giving it back special. There are special people in the world that do special things. She’s a real sweet young lady.”