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From the Archives: Taking a journey through the AHS Pantherettes’ historic 1966 basketball season; part three

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 Americus High School (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 beginnings of the Pantherettes’ exciting journey as they barrelled their way past the local competition, as the team pressed on for an easy 4-0 record in their first few weeks of play and began attracting the attention of sports fans across Georgia.
When we last saw the Lady Panthers, the team was gearing up to take on Worth County after delivering a 52-37 defeat to neighboring Crisp County.
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Throughout the end of December 1965 and the beginning of the following January, the Americus Times-Recorder’s editions were peppered with articles about new industrial plants that planned to make their homes in Sumter County, mounting tensions in the Vietnam war, and the US troops’ preparations for a brief Christmas cease-fire that would afford American soldiers overseas a much-needed, though all-too-brief, respite from the horrors of war.
The ATR’s sports section was dominated during this period by articles speculating whether or not University of Georgia head football coach, Vince Dooly, would accept a job offer in Oklahoma.
The town of Americus was still reeling from the High School football team’s recent state championship win as team members continued to receive honors from all across the state. One ATR article stated that the school’s football team would be honored by the Albany Touchdown Club in a ceremony which would feature Dooly, himself, as a keynote speaker.
Slowly but surely during this time, the AHS Pantherettes gained more and more prominence in the local news with their impressive accomplishments on the hardwood.
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Following their fourth consecutive win of the season, the Pantherettes went on to battle Worth County on Dec. 17, earning a 54-30 victory in the process.
In an article, titled,” Americus boys win first game as girls take fifth straight”, former ATR sports editor, Clarence Graddick, discussed the Panthers’ narrow 50-48 win over their Worth County counterparts before going on to write, “Jeanne Posey and Deborah Mason with 18 and 13 points, respectively, led the Americus girls to their fifth straight win. The Pantherettes jumped off to a big 26-7 lead by half-time as the Americus guards were turning in another outstanding job. Sandra Belcher led all rebounders with eight. Marie Wisham was the only Worth County girl in double figures as she hit 15.”
Eight different members of the Pantherettes contributed points to the win.
After a long, well-deserved break, the Pantherettes returned to action on Jan. 4, ringing in the new year with a 44-17 blowout victory over Union High School, of Leslie.
In an article in the Jan. 5, 1966 edition of the Americus Times-Recorder, Graddick wrote, “The Americus Pantherettes led all the way in the inter-county game. The scoreboard read 10-6 at the end of the first quarter, 22-8 at the end of the first half and 32-13 at the end of three quarters. Pacing the scoring for the winners was Jean Posey with 17 markers, Deborah Mason, 13, Linda Montgomery, 6, Linda Posey, two, and Jerri Keene, two.”
The January 9, 1966 edition of the Times-Recorder told the tale of yet another huge win for the Pantherettes, this time over Unadilla. “Jeanne Posey tossed in an impressive 30 markers to lead the girls to their win, 42-28…,” Graddick wrote. “In the girls’ game, the Pantherettes ran their string of victories to seven without a defeat. Posey continued as the leading scorer, adding the healthy 30 points to her total last night.
“Deborah Mason accounted for five points, Linda Montgomery, three, while Jean Turpin and Linda Athon each added two.
“The quarter scoring had the Pantherettes ahead all the way, 7-4 after the first period, 18-12 at the half, and 32-21 after three. Sherrell Bailey had eight rebounds on the evening for Americus while six each were taken in by Sandra Belcher and Irene Manning.”
The evening of their seventh win, the Pantherettes would begin preparations to face Plains High School the following day. Unbeknownst to the team members and their fans, the Pantherettes’ next 14 games would prove to be just as fruitful as the initial seven.
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One former Pantherette, Sherrell Bailey, who spent her senior season as a guard on the 1966 team, recently sat down with the Times-Recorder to discuss her time on the court.
Asked what sparked the team to such a successful season, Bailey stated, “I think that there was a different kind of determination to win that year because, the prior year, we’d had a 22-1 season. We had lost in a playoff game. It just kind of crushed us all because we had been undefeated for so long that we just kind of assumed that we would keep winning. After you win 22 straight games, you want to keep on rolling.”
“So then, my senior season rolled around, in which we were also undefeated in the regular season,” Bailey continued. “When we got to that [championship] game, I can remember thinking, ‘We’re gong to win this. We have to win it.’ I don’t think that not winning was an option in our minds… Also, the group of girls… you realize that, during my 11th-grade year, there were no seniors on the team… the majority of us had all played together since middle school so we had spent several years on the high school team, playing together and nobody graduated the previous year. So from that 22-1 team, we had everybody back. We gelled so well together that… you knew where everybody else was. It was just kind of automatic in my head from the position that I played out front as a guard. If somebody got by me, I knew that Irene [Manning] was going to stop them. From there, I knew what I needed to do because I knew where she was going to be. It was almost like you had eyes all over your head because you knew where everyone was going to be. We had played together so much and been taught so much by [Pantherette head coach, Melvin Kinslow].”
“There was a sense of… I won’t say overconfidence, but there was a sense of confidence in our skill as a team that we could win,” Bailey continued. Every game wasn’t an easy win. It wasn’t like we just wiped everybody off the map. A lot of teams we did, but there were games we didn’t play as well as we should and there were games we played wonderfully.”
Bailey stated that she also attributes a great deal of the team’s success to Kinslow’s coaching, saying that, due to the hard work that he put into training a successful team, one of the girls’ greatest concerns was that they didn’t want to let him down.
“I remember one game where we were not playing well because the team we were playing against was not very good,” she said. “You know, you tend to kind of play at the level of the team that you’re competing against. We were winning, but we were not playing well.”
We looked around and Coach Kinslow was not over there on the sidelines where he was supposed to be,” she continued. “We got to looking around and he wasn’t even in the gym. At half-time, we went to the locker room and thought, ‘Where’s Coach Kinslow? Where did he go?’ and he didn’t show up in the locker room at all, so we said, ‘Oh. Okay. He’s mad.’ He wouldn’t even come talk to us… We went out for the second half and set ourselves up and put ourselves in the game and started playing like we should have been playing all along. A few minutes later, he came back and we heard him whistle. He was back in position. He said later that he was so mad he thought it best not to come talk to us.”
Bailey concluded by reiterating the fact that the entirety of the season had seen a tremendous team effort on the parts of the players and the coaches.
“I think that the whole season was built on pride in the team, pride in working together as a team, and doing what it takes to win,” she said. Nobody on the team was a one-woman show. Nobody tried to outshine anyone else. It was just a team effort in the true sense of what a team has to do to move forward.”
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With seven solid wins behind them, the Pantherettes were well on their way to making a name for themselves in the high school basketball world. Be sure to pick up a copy of next week’s edition as we continue to explore the Pantherettes’ exciting 1966 rise to the top and share excerpts from a recent interview with Kinslow.