From the archives: Taking a journey through AHS’s historic 1965 season

Published 7:31 am Friday, October 30, 2015

Submitted by Kellette Wade:   Panther fullback, Michael Fennessy, poses in the Americus High School class of 1966 yearbook.

Submitted by Kellette Wade:
Panther fullback, Michael Fennessy, poses in the Americus High School class of 1966 yearbook.

Editor’s Note: Here at the Americus Times-Recorder, we’re very proud of our area’s rich history of sporting excellence. One of the area’s most celebrated historical periods of athletic prowess was the Americus High School 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, during that era.
In last week’s installment of the series, we read about the Panthers’ seventh shutout of the season over Cook County, which turned out to be one of the toughest of Americus’ contests of the regular season. True to their form, the Panthers refused to give up and fought tooth and nail for the full 48 minutes to bring home a 13-0 win. The team then set their sights on the defending region champions, the Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets, who were scheduled to head to Americus the following week.
In the Oct. 22, 1965 edition of the Americus times-Recorder, Graddick published, in his weekly “Sportingly Yours” installment, his preview of the upcoming homecoming clash against the Yellow Jackets. In the column, Grad

ATR File Photo: Members of the Americus High School class of 1966 Homecoming Court watched the action from the sidelines as the Panthers did battle with the Central High Yellow Jackets.

ATR File Photo:
Members of the Americus High School class of 1966 Homecoming Court watched the action from the sidelines as the Panthers did battle with the Central High Yellow Jackets.

dick wrote, “The defending champions of Region 1-A West come to town tonight and will be out to grab that last straw between them and a repeat performance… A win over the Americus High Panthers and they hope for a three-way tie for the sub-region crown.
“The would probably be tough enough even without the element of a title in the picture but from all reports from Thomasville the Yellow Jackets will be here with everything they have and are keyed up to the highest pitch. Central had its first taste of victory over Americus last year and liked it well enough to take a return helping if possible.
“Central missed the sure road last week in losing to Mitchell County and many times a team will come roaring back from a game they lost like a wounded tiger and we feel this is the way the [Jackets] will be. They probably will be able to do some stinging if this is the case.
“There can be no let down on the part of the Panthers if they want to win the sub-region title and continue on in the playoffs. If they win this one against Central tonight there will be another tough game in front of them next week against the Mitchell County Panthers and even with a 3-0 record (if they beat Central) the Camilla Panthers would have to be licked because they have a 2-0 record in sub-region play with only Brooks County to play after the Americus game.
Then again the Panthers will have to take things the way they are an play each game as it comes up. This way they won’t be looking ahead and get hit in the present. A let-down by the Panthers at this stage of the game would be disastrous.
All year the boys have played ball like they wanted to go all the way. They let actions speak louder than words and we believe they will continue in the usual manner tonight and climax the Homecoming Ceremonies with a convincing win over the Jackets. Also, we do not think the Panthers will have their goal crossed by the Jackets.”
A convincing win it would turn out to be, as the Panthers would hit the gridiron that very night and push towards a 36-0 win against the Yellow Jackets, marking the team’s seventh shutout of the season, not counting the 0-0 tie against Fitzgerald.
The next morning, the Oct. 23, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder contained an article about the groundbreaking ceremony for a soon-to-be erected new building that would accommodate Americus’ First Methodist Church’s growing congregation. The paper also covered the previous evening’s Homecoming festivities, and included an interesting article on the resignation tendered by the president of Georgia Southwestern, Dr. Lloyd Moll, after being repeatedly harassed following his encouragement of the formation of a biracial committee to promote civil rights in the community.
Of course, the edition also included an in-depth account of the Panthers’ victory of the previous night, penned by Graddick, and titled, “Panthers Continue Win Streak With 36-0 Victory”.
A portion of this article is shared below:
Panthers Continue Win Streak With 36-0 Victory: Chambliss Scores 3 TDs As Jackets Lose Stinger

By Clarence Graddick
Sports Editor, Times-Recorder

The Americus High Panthers took all the sting out of he Central High Yellow Jackets here Friday night with an impressive 36-0 win over the defending 1-A west champions before a capacity crowd of about 2,000.
The win puts the Panthers in the driver’s seat for the sub-region crown with a 3-0 record but they must get Mitchell County in Camilla next week to wrap up the crown. Mitchell stands 2-0 in the sub-region and has to play Brooks County as well as Americus.
Central gave the indications that they came to play but the scrappy visitors could do nothing against the Panthers playing inspired ball. Only twice in the game did the Jackets get past their own 35-yard line, once to the fifty, as the horn sounded the end of the game  and another to the Panther 45-yard line.
This easily kept the Americus goal line uncrossed through eight games showing a record of seven wins and a scoreless tie. the Americus [offense] meanwhile has piled up 204 points to average 25.5 points per game.
Bill Chambliss was the top point-getter in the game as he ran for two touchdowns, four and 11 yards, and took an 11-yard pass from David Reeves in the fourth quarter to wind up the scoring…
Mike Fennessy capped the longest drive of the night with the shortest run for a score as he blasted over Central from the one-yard line on the eleventh play of a 65-yard march with 3:21 left in the half. David Reeves entered the touchdown parade here as he intercepted a Central pass and showed his broken-field running ability by going 26 yards for the score. He had already kicked three points but missed this one from seven yards out after a penalty had erased one through the uprights.
A safety started the scoring procedure midway through the first quarter as Larry Williamson, Central quarterback, was tackled behind his goal by Pete Smith and Phil Saunders, both Americus tackles, who hit him at the same time.
These two Americus players, along with Ronnie Adkins can claim much of the credit for holding the Jackets to negative 16 yards on the ground and plus-12 yards in the air during the first half. So tight was the Panther defense that three Americus runners accounted for more total yardage each than the entire central team.
Nor were these three all the defense as the win, as has been the case all season, was another one turned in by the entire team. During the first half of the game, the Panthers turned in the best ball that has been played by the squad this season and this was against a team that, according to its backers, was playing its best game of the season.
The article went on to say that the only aspect of the performance that seemed out of the ordinary was the team’s passing game. Graddick wrote that Central defender, Bernie Lannigan, had done an excellent job of putting pressure on Reeves and Jimmy Lunsford, who both served as quarterback in for Americus, limiting the Panthers’ progress through the air to only 55 yards. The Americus squad made up for this by barreling through Central’s defenses for 195 yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ skilled defensive line put a cap on the Yellow Jackets’ movement at 40 total yards, 28 of which were earned through on the ground, while the other 12 came through the air.
With seven shutouts and one 0-0 tie under their belts, the closer to the end of the regular season the Panthers got, the more determined their competitors became. After the excitement of yet another significant victory settled, Americus’ squad began preparing for the next week’s test against Mitchell County. This would prove to be an even more trying game for the Panthers when, in the ninth contest of the season, an opponent would finally manage to break into the Panthers’ end zone.
The Panthers’ incredible talents had been on display for a full two months by this point and, if any challengers dared to ask them who the toughest football squad in Georgia was, the Americus boys would certainly not hesitate to show them exactly why they were situated squarely at the top.
Former Panther team member, Mike Fennessy, recently spoke with the Times-Recorder, discussing the team’s many talents. On the team’s phenomenal success, Fennessy said, “One thing about our team was that we had a balanced attack because of David Reeves. He was a very accurate passer. That helped make our team stand out. Of course, you had to have the receivers too, and he had the receivers… I think that helped our offense quite a bit, having that balanced attack.”
“Our line was good,” he continued.  “We didn’t have any weak spots in the line. They came off the ball well and made crisp blocks. Our guards pulled a lot and they would pull out and lead the backs through the hole.”
“Number one would be coaching,” he added. “The coaches instilled the character in the team. We wanted to do a good job to please the coaches. We wanted to do it for ourselves, too, of course. I think the thing that separates the winners and the losers… You can have the talent and not have a winning team… It was the coaching that made the difference…
“We had a lot of good talent on the team, too. If you asked me, I would say David Reeves was the most talented player on the team. He played three sports, baseball, basketball, and football. David could do anything and everything. He was fast and talented.
“Ronnie Adkins was talented as well… He was a tackle and played linebacker on defense… Just about everybody went both ways. It wasn’t a matter of, ‘You play offense and he plays defense,’ there were so few of us that we had to go both ways… They had me either at inside linebacker or middle guard. That was my position on defense. All the guys played both sides.”
Fennessy sang the praises of a few more members of the team as well. “Gary [Reeves] was an end both on offense and defense. Gary could catch anything that was thrown anywhere close to him…. and Pete [Smith] was a great center. He would block well. He would hike the ball and would always get a good block in. Pete was tall and muscular. He was one of the bigger guys on the team.”
All of them were talented in their own right,” Fennessy concluded. “They were all good at what they did. We had a lot of hustle. We worked hard at practice and we didn’t goof off. The coaches didn’t let you goof off.”
Be sure to visit us next week as we continue to explore the Panthers’ epic 1965 season, with the details of yet another impressive victory over  the Mitchell County Panthers in Camilla, during which the home team managed to find a chink in the Americus crew’s powerful armor and score the first touchdown that Blue and White had given up in nine games.