From the Archives: Taking a journey through the AHS Pantherettes’ historic 1966 basketball season; part two
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 decided to take off on a journey down memory lane and commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the AHS Pantherettes basketball team’s sweep of the state championship tournament, which left the AHS ladies at the top of the Georgia heap with an impressive 22-1 record on the season.
In our latest installment of the series, we discussed the Pantherettes’ preparation for what would become en epic string of performances on the hardwood, beginning with a 70-49 thrashing of Schley County in the team’s season opener.
In December of 1965, the news was dominated by tales of the United States’ and Great Britain’s efforts to establish a path to a peaceful resolution to the war raging in Vietnam. In most newspapers, these articles on the horrors of the brutal war were offset by photos of the Gemini 7 Spacecraft, which had been recently launched and sought to make history with the longest manned space flight ever recorded.
The Times-Recorder’s sports section was still detailing the aftermath of the Americus High School (AHS) Panthers’ recent state championship win, as several of the team’s players had been named to the Middle Georgia All-Star Team and AHS’ Ronnie Adkins had just signed a national letter of intent to join the Georgia Bulldogs on the gridiron the following fall.
As the month progressed, however, the focus of the ATR’s sports section steadily shifted towards basketball; women’s basketball, in particular.
As the AHS Pantherettes progressed through the season, it became clear to many locals that there was plenty more excitement in store for the school’s local athletes, as the AHS girls continued to bulldoze their way through their competitors in their quest for the state crown.
In the Dec. 8, 1965 edition of the Times-Recorder, ATR sports editor, Clarence Graddick, published a short article titled, “Union Boys drop Panthers for 9th win, AHS girls triumph”, detailing the previous evening’s hardwood action.
In the article, Graddick wrote, “The Union High School Yellow Jackets rolled to their ninth win of the season here Tuesday night with an 83-63 win over the Americus Panthers after the Pantherettes had coasted to a 74-40 win over the Union High girls.”
“The girls’ play was highlighted by a new personal record for Jeanne Posey as she registered 43 points in three quarters of play to lead all scorers,” the article continued, “Deborah Mason was next for the Pantherettes with 17 points before fouling out early in the third quarter.
“Jan Bailey led the scoring for Union with 28 points. Ruth Ellison contributed 12 points to the losing cause,
“Coach Melvin Kinslow used 24 players as the Americus girls jumped out to a 40-13 lead at half-time. Coach Norman Moye saw four of his girls leave the game by the foul route, three starters and one sub.”
The article went on to say that the AHS boys’ and girls’ teams would be returning to action in Camilla the following Friday, facing Mitchell County.
The afternoon after that match, Graddick published another article titled, “Americus girls beat Mitchell County; Boys, B-Team lose”, detailing yet another exciting win for the Pantherettes as they had earned a 43-33 victory to extend their winning streak to three games.
“The girls’ game was closer than the final score indicates as the Americus team held only a 23-17 lead at half-time and widened it slightly in the third period to lead 33-25 going into the final quarter,” the article stated. “The Americus guards did a fine job in holding the Mitchell County team under 10 points in every quarter.
“Sherell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher started at guard for the winners. Jeanne Posey led the rebounding as well as the scoring (32 points) with seven. Belcher and Bailey were close behind with six each. Kathy Kirbo with 20 points and Omida Good, 13, did all of the scoring for Mitchell.
“Coach Melvin Kinslow commended his substitutes for playing well. Linda Posey was an early sub and also went in early in the second half when Deborah Mason fouled out. Linda Montgomery also subbed as forward and both substitutes scored four points. Irene Manning, Diane Cripe, and Patsy Hathaway were the sub guards.”
Four of the Americus ladies got in on the scoring action in that contest, with Montgomery and L. Posey each contributing four points.
The Pantherettes would not get to celebrate for long, however, as they were to return to the court the following evening to face one of their toughest opponents up to that point in the season.
On Dec. 11, the Pantherettes geared up to take on Crisp County in a contest that would prove to be a true test of the Americus ladies’ grit. The neighboring girls managed to match the Pantherettes point for point over the first half, even taking an 18-17 lead into the locker room at the half.
In Graddick’s words from a Dec. 13, 1965 article, “The forwards were slow in warming up… but stayed in striking distance of [Crisp County] due to the tight defensive play of the Americus guards…”
The article went on to say that Americus’ Sherrell Bailey had seen her best performance of the season, leading the team’s rebounders with 11 boards while tacking on an additional five steals. “Deborah Mason caught fire in the second half to lead the Americus scoring with 28 points,” the article stated. “She had only six foul points in the first half. Jeanne Posey also was in double figures with 19. Renna Biggers led the losers with 21 points.”
Sherell Bailey recently sat down with the Times-Recorder to discuss the team’s amazing season. In the interview, she spoke about the way that the community steadily began increasing their support for and interest in AHS ladies’ hoops.
“When I was playing basketball,” Bailey told the Times-Recorder, “… until we started winning, you’d see that half of the crowd would be there for our game. The boys’ game would start and all of a sudden, the gym would fill up. It was all about boys’ basketball and the excitement of those games. People thought of the girls’ games as if they were watching the B-team or a junior high game. Then, when we started winning, it would get to where people would come to see the girls and partway through the boys’ game, they’d go home, which was kind of a reverse and I think that was an important piece of that part of history as well because, when I graduated high school, you could go play basketball in college, but that was it. There wasn’t a professional league or anything like that.”
As the girls continued winning, the community rallied behind them more and more, cheering them on every step of the way to the state championship game.
At this point, with four solid victories under their belts, the Pantherettes were well on their way to making local basketball history, but there was still a very long road ahead. Be sure to join us next week as we continue to explore the Pantherettes’ exciting 1966 rise to the top and share more excerpts from Bailey’s extensive interview in which she shares more of her memories from this impressive season, as well as some of her thoughts on this year’s Lady Panther state championship team.
The next installment of this series will also include portions of a recent interview with Pantherette head coach, Melvin Kinslow.
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