From the archives: Taking a journey through AHS’s historic 1965 season
Published 7:00 am Friday, September 4, 2015
By MICHAEL MURRAY
Editor’s Note: Here at the Americus Times-Recorder, we’re very proud of our area’s rich history of sporting excellence. Our readers will remember that we recently concluded a commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Americus High School’s epic 1975 football season. Since then, we have heard a great many requests to run a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Panthers’ 1965 season, in which the team went undefeated, rolling over opponent after opponent on their way to a sweep of the state championship series.
While delving through our back issues and expansive archives, we have uncovered a wealth of photographs and articles written by former Times-Recorder sports editor, the late Clarence Graddick, from that era.
Come along with us as we take another trip back in time, highlighting one of the area’s important periods in sporting history, the 1965 season of the Americus High School Panthers football team.
AMERICUS – On Aug. 7, 1965, amid articles about the escalation of the conflict in Vietnam, the city of Atlanta preparing to host a concert by a British pop quartet known as The Beatles, Washington legislation designed to remove obstacles to African-American voting rights, and the local comunity’s response to racial tensions following the shooting of a white man by a local African-American citizen, the Americus Times-Recorder published a short, unassuming blurb titled, “Panthers Open Practice Monday.”
The brief, uncredited article simply stated, “The Americus High Panthers will begin football practice Monday at 8:00 a.m. at the high school. A week of conditioning, including running and exercises, will be held to ready the squad for a preseason camp at Camp Spence, Moultrie. Two practice sessions a day will be held at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m.
“All boys wishing to try out for the squad are instructed to report on time Monday morning. Coaches Ben Hagan and Doug Parrish will be in charge of the team during the first week.
“Coach Jimmy Hightower will arrive Friday and coaches Jack Matkowsky and Melvin Kinslow will be on hand when the team leaves for camp on August 15.”
Forty-six young men answered the call to action, getting out of bed early the next Monday morning in the final days of summer vacation to try their hand at joining the Panthers. Thirteen senior students returned to the gridiron to lend their experience to the team in what, they would soon learn, was to become an incredible season.
Prior to the season’s first contest against Cochran, there was much speculation on how the team would perform in the ’65 season.
Another uncredited article, most likely penned by ATR sports editor, Clarence Graddick, was published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Times-Recorder discussing the upcoming season opener. The article, titled “Americus to Dress 46 in Opening Grid Contest” discussed how Coach Hightower had decided to dress out each of the camp’s participants for the next week’s competition to give each player a chance to prove himself in a live game. It went on to describe how pleased Hightower was that the team had begun rounding itself out after several practices and that, despite this, there was still much work to be done. Graddick then quoted Hightower as saying that he and his coaching staff had not had the opportunity to scout the Cochran team, and therefore, did not know what to expect in the upcoming season-opening contest.
“Due to the large number of boys in uniform Friday night, there will of necessity be a duplication of some numbers on the Americus team,” Graddick wrote. “This, of course, will not be the case after the squad has been trimmed to the regular traveling number of 35.”
On Aug. 26, 1965, Graddick published one of his “Sportingly Yours” editorials in the Times-Recorder (shown above), titled “Hot Football This Week.” In the editorial, he discussed possible factors that might come into play in the team’s upcoming match-up against the Cochran Royals. The editorial also discussed an ongoing competition between Graddick and Times-Recorder ad director, Alf Bell, in which ATR employee could predict the outcomes of the most high school gridiron contests.
In that same edition, in an article titled, “Panthers Expected To Show Balanced Attack On Offense,” Graddick described the type of offensive action that Panther fans could expect to see from the local team as they raised the curtain on the 1965 season. The article also served the purpose of introducing local football fans to many of the team’s starting players.
“Coach Jimmy Hightower has said he believed the ground attack of the Panthers would be stronger this season than it was last year and this would give quarterback, David Reeves, a better chance to throw the ball. The offensive line for the Panthers is also considered one of the heaviest in recent years.
“Behind Reeves in the backfield will be (Bill) Chambliss, who alternated at the two halfback slots last season, Mike Fennessy, who plays both halfback and fullback, Harold Horne, and Buck Shiver. These are the ones listed as most likely to start the first game.
“Chambliss is expected to run from the left halfback spot. Either Fennessy or Horne, both seniors, will start at right half. Fennessy has been troubled with a pulled back muscle and has missed some of the rough work but he is also slated to play some at middle guard on defense. Shiver will handle the fullback chores.
“Bob McKinnon will be a new comer to the starting ranks as he will handle the left end spot while Gary Reeves will be at right end on offense. Both boys will see duty on defense also with Reeves going to halfback and McKinnon staying at the end.
“Ronnie Adkins and Lennie Hicks will be familiar figures at tackle with both slated to start on offense. Adkins will move over to inside linebacker with Shiver on defense while Pete Smith and Phil Saunders will man the tackle posts on defense.
“Danny McGowan is back at one of the starting guard spots with Grover Rogers slated for duty at right guard post. Smith will snap the ball on offense.
“The kicking game has come in for a lot of work by the Panthers since returning from Camp Spence. David Reeves is slated for the number one kicker but Gary may take over the duties Friday night. Both boys can also kick the points after and Gary will be the kick-off man.”
Despite the abundance of questions that Graddick had presented on how the team might perform throughout the season, Panther fans would not have to wait long to have them answered.
The team took the Americus community center field on Aug. 27 for their inaugural match ready for battle, and battle they did. The Panthers cruised to a solid 39-0 blowout of their Cochran foes, giving the delighted hometown audience a small taste of what lay ahead.
In a game article, titled, “Panthers Roll To Easy 39-0 Win Over Cochran Royals”, Graddick gave a play-by play account of the game to Times-Recorder readers.
Be sure to continue with us next week as we discuss the Panthers’ first victory of that season and learn more about the team’s rapid ascension to the top of Georgia’s 1965 gridiron class.