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

Published 2:35 pm Thursday, June 23, 2016


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 previous installment of this series, we discussed the beginnings of the Pantherettes’ 1966 season, in which they won each of their initial seven contests. We will continue our journey here, starting with the Pantherettes’ match-up against long-time rivals, Plains High School.
First, however, I would like to discuss some of the differences in the way that women’s basketball was played fifty years ago and the way it is played in modern times.
Following this year’s championship by the Americus-Sumter Lady Panthers, I was talking to my mother (herself, a former high school basketball player) who had the watched the game on television. To my knowledge, she hadn’t previously watched a basketball game in my lifetime so, of course, I asked her what she thought of it. She said that she had really enjoyed watching the game, but wasn’t sure what the half-circle line around the goal was for. After a moment, I realized that she was talking about the three-point line, which, apparently was added after her time on the hardwood.
In a recent interview with Melvin Kinslow, former head coach of the Pantherettes, I recounted this story and asked him if there were any other major changes to the game that many younger locals (myself included) might not be aware of.
In addition to the establishment of the three-point line in 1979, Kinslow went on to say that, in the earlier days of high school girls’ basketball, each team would have six players on the court at a time, as the sport’s governing bodies seemed to think that a five-on-five match-up might be too tough for the young players to handle. He also stated that the team’s guards and forwards were forbidden from crossing the half-court line, as each team member would be relegated to either the defensive or offensive end of the court for the duration of the match.
Of course, we know today, as exemplified by the 2016 Lady Panthers team, that high school girls’ basketball players are certainly capable of taking care of business in a five-on-five match-up, as well as draining long shots from beyond the arc. Also evident, from the Americus Times-Recorder’s coverage of the Pantherettes’ 1966 season as well as this past season, is that both the 1966 and 2016 teams would surely have excelled at the sport no matter what style of play they were relegated to.
In January of 1966, newspapers around the country were giving the public detailed coverage of the first ever transportation strike in New York City, as well as a planned march on the Georgia Capitol, which was being organized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the time.
Inside the paper, the world of national sports news was dominated by a talented and quick-talking young heavyweight boxing champion named Muhammad Ali, who would soon be stripped of his title and forced to take a four-year hiatus from the ring as a result of his refusing to sign up for the United States draft. Of course, Ali would later go on to become one of the most famous heavyweight fighters in the country. At the same time, Sandy Koufax was also making waves in the baseball world, having been recently named “Top Male Athlete of the Year” by the Associated Press for his talented performances on the mound.
In addition to all of this, each week, like clockwork, the Americus Times-Recorder would publish an article on another of the Americus High School (AHS) Pantherettes’ substantial victories.
On January 9, 1966 the AHS Pantherettes returned to the court to continue their onslaught of the local competition with in a tilt against Plains High School, which the Americus ladies won by a stunning 70-38 margin for their eighth consecutive win of the season.
In a January 10, 1966 article titled, “Americus Defeats Plains Cage Teams”, then-sports editor of the ATR, Clarence Graddick, wrote, “Leading the way for the Pantherettes was forward, Jean Posey, who marked up 32 points, while Deborah Mason had a successful night also with 23.”
“Others scoring for the AHS girls included Linda Athon with five, Jean Turpin, Linda Montgomery, and Joyce Griffith, all of whom had four each and Becky Anderson, two,” Graddick continued. “The Pantherettes of Coach Melvin Kinslow’s sank 51 percent of their attempts from the field in their most successful night of the year in this phase. Sandra Belcher had nine rebounds to her credit, Jeanne Posey, six, and Sherrell Bailey, five.

1966 Americus High School Yearbook:   Shown above, junior, Deborah Mason, frequently scored in the double-digits for the Pantherettes during the 1966 season.

1966 Americus High School Yearbook:
Shown above, junior, Deborah Mason, frequently scored in the double-digits for the Pantherettes during the 1966 season.

On January 11, the Pantherettes returned to action, earning their ninth win of the season with a 64-43 victory over Dooly County.
According to Graddick’s article in the following day’s ATR, “The first quarter score found Coach Melvin Kinslow’s Pantherettes ahead by only one point, 10-9, but they scored 15 in the second period and led 25-13 at the half. After three quarters, they were ahead 34-20… Sandra Belcher led in rebounds with nine. Sherrell Bailey and Irene Manning both had seven apiece.”
Posey had, once again, set the pace for the Pantherettes’ scorers with 31 points while Mason followed with eight. Turpin and Athon added two and one, respectively.
The Pantherettes tacked on their tenth victory to their impressive record on Jan. 21 with a 55-38 thrashing of their Macon County counterparts.
In this match, Posey saw her most productive game up to that point in the season, posting 39 points for the Americus cause, followed by Mason, who contributed another 12 while Turpin and Athon each tossed in one bucket.
Pantherette head coach, Melvin Kinslow, recently sat down with the Times-Recorder to discuss the team’s season. During the interview, Kinslow discussed the aforementioned differences between the way that the game was played 50 years ago and how it is played today. In addition to the differing rules, Kinslow said, “We had a lot of girls on the basketball team. You probably won’t see that many players on a team nowadays. I think we had over 20 on our team.”
“It was kind of hard for me to cut any of those girls from the team,” he continued. “They all worked so hard and they wanted to play so much that it was hard for me to cut anybody…
“We did have some hardworking girls that year. That led to the championship because they were willing to put the time and the effort in to be better players. When they were better players, we were a better team. There were some great kids on that team. I remember a lot about what a nice group of girls they were.”
Asked to what he would attribute AHS’ unprecedented success that year in women’s basketball as well as on the football field and the baseball diamond, Kinslow (who had a hand in coaching all three sports) responded, “Well, that year… Sometimes you come up with a great group of athletes at the same time. Whether it’s boys or girls. In this case, it happened to be both boys and girls… They all came up through Coach Finklea’s midget program in football and baseball, so that added a great deal to it… I coached all of those guys from the time that they were in the six and seven year-old programs all the way through high school. They had the same coach all the way through, teaching them the same fundamentals and they had all been playing together. The families… They didn’t want to coach like you sometimes see today. Today, parents want to do the coaching. Back then, most parents… just let us coach and they came to the games to watch us play. I think we owed a lot of our success to a lot of those kids’ parents who pushed them a little, but not to the extent that we sometimes see today… I know, when we went to some out-of-town games, sometimes there wouldn’t be but a couple of parents there because they were working, most of them. Today, a lot of the parents go to every game.”
Kinslow is still involved in coaching, as he helps out his son, Ty Kinslow, coach the Southland Academy Lady Raiders basketball team.
Asked if his coaching strategies have undergone any significant changes over the years, Kinslow responded, “We still try to teach them the fundamentals that we have over the years. The same fundamentals applied back during the day of this championship team that we’re talking about here, from 1966. The same fundamentals still apply… The dribbling, the shooting and defensive skills… We still have to do the same thing that we did then.”
Asked if there are other ways that he feels that the game of basketball has changed over the last 50 years, Kinslow replied, “[The players] are a lot better athletes now. They’ve come up with all of the programs so that, from an athletic standpoint… kids today seem bigger and stronger and faster. I guess it’s diet, exercise… all of those things that add to it. You can look at the kids on our football team in 1966 and then look at the size of the kids on football teams now and see how much difference there was just 50 years ago.”
Kinslow continued coaching at AHS until the 1969-1970 school year. He began coaching at AHS in the 1957-1958 school year.
In summation, Kinslow concluded the interview, saying, “They were just a great group of girls. We had that and, of course, in our football and baseball… just a great group of kids. They were hard workers and had good family participation without much interference, just support.”
Please join us next week as we continue our exploration into the Americus High School Pantherettes’ historic 1966 season and share excerpts from our interview with Pantherette guard, Irene Walker (formerly Manning).