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

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com

Editor’s Note: Here at the Americus Times-Recorder (ATR), 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 the introduction to our latest installment of this series, it was written that, according a mid-January, 1966 Americus Times-Recorder article “City of Americus was busy congratulating Americus native, John Robert Bell, who had recently accepted a position as head football coach at East Tennesee State University after serving as an assistant football coach at Georgia Tech for six years.”
Recently, I received correspondence from a member of the Americus High School Pantherettes’ 1950-1954 team, Sandra Griffin Wardell, who pointed out that Bell was actually not an Americus native, though he had coached the team for several years.
According to Wardell’s statement, “Coach Bell was a native of Kingsport, Tenn. It was Coach Jim Luck that was the native of Americus. Coach Luck and Coach Bell came to Americus High School together in 1950 and remained until the end of the 1954 year, when they both went to coach at Tech… They had been offered the job at Tech a year earlier but requested to complete the 1954 year with the senior class that they had begun with as freshmen, at Americus High School in 1950. They were granted this request by Coach Bobby Dodd at Tech.”
Little did these two coaches know, at the time, that the legacy that they were developing at AHS would go well beyond a third-place finish in the state tournament, which the team achieved in 1950. As multiple-sport coaches, Luck and Bell had the opportunity to instill the values of sportsmanship and teamwork in a wide variety of athletes, including a young sports enthusiast named Melvin Kinslow.
As followers of this series likely already know, Kinslow would later go on to coach football, baseball, and women’s basketball at AHS several years later, eventually helping lead teams in all three sports to state championship victories in 1966.
Wardell also included the text of a letter, received by Bell after the team’s 1950 tournament loss, that would help illustrate the influence that he had on the players.
“I have a letter that the Coach of the Thomasville High School girls team, written to Coach Bell after our loss in the State Championship game,” Wardell wrote. “Part of her letter states, ‘Your team displays an enthusiasm and coordination which can result only from your enthusiasm and excellence as a coach. When I saw them play, it was obvious that they had no physical superiority over the other teams, they are smaller than most, just average height girls, but how beautifully they play together! I’d rather be able to instill that teamwork in my girls than to have the star player in the state on my team. They’ll always come through. Again let me convey my congratulations and admiration to you and your team.’”
These sentiments were echoed 16 years later, in 1966, as Kinslow and that year’s iteration of the Pantherettes swept the state championship en route to their historic win.
In a recent interview with the Times-Recorder, Kinslow shared a newspaper clipping regarding the 1966 team’s comportment during the state championship.
The letter, published by the ATR, was included in a column titled, “Voice of the People”. In the column, a woman named Mrs. Charles McCollum from Commerce, Ga., wrote, “Editor, the Times-Recorder: Your community, your school; and especially the coach, must be very proud of your girls’ basketball team.
“The sportsmanship displayed by the Americus girls at the state tournament in Macon was certainly commendable.
“Regardless of the referee’s decisions or the action on the floor, your girls accepted it, and proved the ancient adage – ‘May the best man win.’ – You did! Their training was apparent – and a pleasure to watch.”
In these two simple, congratulatory letters, it’s plain to see that the school’s long tradition of coaches instilling values in the student-athletes that will serve them both on the field or court and outside of the athletic arena for their entire lives was never a one-person commitment, but has been passed down for generations.
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When we left off in our latest installment of this series, the Pantherettes had just earned their 13th straight win of the season and were gearing up to take the first-seed spot in the sub-region championship. Prior to this, however, the team still had three more regular-season opponents to contend with.
In the Feb. 7, 1966 edition of the Times-Recorder, among articles about U.S. forces gaining ground in the ongoing Vietnam War and the City of Americus’ eager preparations to host University of Georgia athletic director, Joel Eaves, who was scheduled to give a speech at the local Touchdown Club’s Annual Jamboree, former ATR sports editor, Clarence Graddick, chronicled the Pantherettes’ 14th win of the season in an article titled, “Americus Cagers Capture Two Games from Plains Saturday”.
“The Americus High girls’ basketball team won number 14 over the season with no defeats here Saturday night by downing the Plains High girls 58-32 and the Americus boys made it a clean sweep, dropping the Buffaloes 77-46,” Graddick wrote.
“The starters for the Pantherettes quickly moved out to a 22-5 lead by the end of the first quarter and Coach Melvin Kinslow put in his second line guards and two sub forwards,” the article continued. “Shortly afterwards, three sub-forwards were playing and built up a 43-13 point margin on the visitors.
“Coach Kinslow used all 23 available players in the game as the unbeaten Americus team coasted to victory. Jeanne Posey led the scoring for Americus with 14 points and Linda Posey, sister to Jeanne, came off the bench to tally 11 points. Deborah Mason was the only other Americus player in double figures with 10 points. None of the regulars or first line subs played much over a quarter. Peggy Williams led the scoring for Plains with 13 points.
“The Americus girls put up a crack defense against the normally sharp-looking Plains girls and while [starting guards], Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher were playing, they hit on only two long shots from the field and one foul shot. The Americus girls were tops on their rebounding and were successful in stealing the ball.”

1966 Americus High School yearbook:   Sandra Belcher was another 1966 Pantherette guard who helped lead the team to the state championship victory in 1966.

1966 Americus High School yearbook:
Sandra Belcher was another 1966 Pantherette guard who helped lead the team to the state championship victory in 1966.

Two days later, on Feb. 9, 1966, the ATR had the pleasure of publishing yet another article, telling the tale of a 15th victory in the team’s impressive string of successes.
Graddick’s article, titled, “Americus Sweeps 2 From Worth Co.”, states, “The Americus High varsity teams took a cage doubleheader from the home-standing Worth County cagers Tuesday night as the visiting girls rolled to an easy 47-28 win and the boys moved to a 59-44 victory…
“Deborah Mason was the leading scorer for the Pantherettes, but the most outstanding work for the winners came on the defensive side of the court. With only two subs playing in that end of the court, the Worth County forwards were able to score in double figures as a team only in the fourth quarter.
“The starting guards, Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher, along with Dianne Cripe and Patsy Hathaway as subs, limited the losers to only four points in the first quarter and five in the second. They managed nine points in the third and ten in the fourth quarter.
“Jeanne Posey was also in double figures with 12 points. Belcher led the rebounding in the game with eight, followed by Tyler’s seven and six for Bailey.”
With that victory, the Pantherettes were left with only one team standing between them and an undefeated regular season; Crisp County.

1966 Americus High School yearbook:   Irene Manning, a guard for the 1966 Pantherettes, was mentioned frequently in Graddick’s articles on the team as an important defensive player fin the season’s success.

1966 Americus High School yearbook:
Irene Manning, a guard for the 1966 Pantherettes, was mentioned frequently in Graddick’s articles on the team as an important defensive player fin the season’s success.

On Feb. 12, 1966, Graddick published another article in the ATR’s sports section titled, “Americus Girls Undefeated for Season, Boys lose to Crisp”. The article, unfortunately, has been rendered unreadable after years of deterioration of the microfilm on which the edition was reproduced. It’s reasonably safe to say, however, that the article contained welcome news to local sports fans all over Americus.
With this victory, the Pantherettes had completed their regular season with a record of 16-0 and would soon look to improve on their record in the 1-A West tournament.
In a Feb. 16 piece in anticipation of the upcoming tourney, Graddick wrote, “The undefeated Americus High girls will take a 16-game winning streak into the region 1-A West basketball tournament when they take the floor in Thomasville Thursday night…
“Play in the sub-region tournament gets underway [on Feb. 16] with the Brooks County girls meeting Worth County in the opening game…
“Americus will meet the winner of the Brooks-Worth County girls game on Thursday [Feb. 17]. The second game in Thursday’s action will pit the Central girls against Mitchell County. The winners of the Thursday games will meet in the finals Saturday night, but both will go to the region tournament to play next week on a neutral court…
“The Brooks County and Worth County girls come into the tournament with nearly the same record over the season. Brooks is the defending state champion, but got off to a slow start this season. Due to a fast finish, however, the Brooks County girls could make their weight felt during tournament play.
“The Mitchell County girls were seeded second in the play while Central drew a third-place seed. The Central girls have a good, balanced offense that has shown good potential over the season but was never able to come up with a winning combination at guard.
“The Americus girls, for the second year in a row are top-seeded and drew a bye in the first round of play. Americus has shown a well-balanced attack on offense and good depth and balance at guard.”
Two days later, on Feb. 18, the ATR’s sports page included more good news for local fans. In the form of an article titled, “Americus, Central girls win in 1-A West cage tournament”.
The article opened by saying, “The Americus High Pantherettes and the Central of Thomasville girls are assured of a try for the region championship after winning in the second round of play Thursday night in the region 1-A West basketball championship.”

1966 Americus High School yearbook:   Shown above, Pam Tyler was one of the guards that helped lead the 1966 Pantherettes to their state championship victory.

1966 Americus High School yearbook:
Shown above, Pam Tyler was one of the guards that helped lead the 1966 Pantherettes to their state championship victory.

The article went on to state that Brooks County had earned the right to face the Pantherettes the previous evening with a victory over Worth County. In the tournament, the Pantherettes then took down Brooks County by a margin of 40-30. At the same time, Central’s ladies were busy dealing a 54-40 blow to Mitchell County for the right to move on to the region championship.
“The Pantherettes and Central will meet Saturday night in the finals of the sub-region play…,” the article continued before giving the details of the previous evening’s win.
“The Americus girls’ offense was divided between Jeanne Posey and Deborah Mason in the scoring department with each adding 20 points,” Graddick wrote. “Jean Turpin was the other starting forward and was very instrumental to the win with her good floor play. These were the only forwards used by Coach Melvin Kinslow.
“The same trio of guards started for the Americus girls, who turned in one of their better games of the season by holding floor mistakes to a minimum. Coach Kinslow also used his second team of three guards to a good advantage.
“Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher were the starters with Irene Manning, Patsy Hathaway, and Dianne Cripe alternating. Bailey and Belcher led in the rebounding department with eight each and Manning came up with six.
“Sandra Coffee led the scoring for the losers with 14 points. Gail Nichols helped the cause with 11.
“The Pantherettes led by a slim, one-point margin, 7-6, at the end of the first period of play. The half-time score was 17-12 and at the end of the third quarter, 25-16, with Americus leading all the way.
On Feb. 21, 1966, the ATR included yet another piece detailing the Pantherettes’ prowess on the hardwood, titled, “Americus Girls Win, Boys Lose Both in Region Tournament”.
In the article, Graddick described how the Pantherettes rode a late surge to dominate Central High School, of Thomasville, in the sub-region championship match on their way to taking their place at the top of region 1-A as a whole.
“The Americus High girls’ basketball team won the region 1-A West championship Saturday night with a 56-41 victory over the Central High girls, but the Americus boys dropped the title game to the top-ranked Mitchell County boys, 75-57,” Graddick stated in the article.
“All four teams will compete in the region 1-A tournament on the Central High Courts on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. The girls will play two games Thursday night, while the boys play two Friday night with the finals set for Saturday. All four teams in the finals on Saturday will go on to the state tournament.
“The Pantherettes will meet 1-A East runners-up, Cook County, in the 8:30 game Saturday. The opening game at 7 o’clock will be Central and Bacon County, who defeated Cook County for the eastern crown…,” Graddick continued, discussing the upcoming action.
Describing the previous evening’s victory, Graddick went on to say, “The Americus girls moved out to an 18-11 lead over the Central girls and outscored the host club in every quarter except the third. During the third period, Central hit 12 points and Americus, 11. The half-time score was 30-24 for Americus.
“The extra margin for the winners came in the final quarter of play as the Americus forwards hit for 17 points while the Americus guards, probably playing their best part of the game, limited Central to only five points.
“Jeanne Posey led the scoring for Americus and was game-high with 32 points. Deborah Mason ran into foul trouble early in the second quarter and sat out about four minutes of the first half. She came back to play an excellent game throughout the second half and, despite the four fouls, managed to avoid another and scored 13 points. Jean Turpin failed to get into double figures, but she registered nine points and played a good floor game.
“Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher started the game and played all but a part of the second period.
“Bailey, in playing one of her better games of the year led the team in rebounds with seven. Belcher, who has led the team most of the year, had six and Tyler, five. Tyler turned on the steam in the final three minutes of play and turned in a magnificent portion to go with her already good, steady game. Tyler has excelled all year at intercepting overhead passes under the goal.”
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With their latest victory, the Pantherettes were assured one of the top spots in the upcoming region championship, taking on the region 1-A East champs, Cook County.
Be sure to check with us next week as we continue to chronicle the 1966 Pantherettes’ rise to prominence, beginning with the region 1-A championship game. We will also be including more photos from this epic season, as well as more excerpts from our interviews with former Pantherettes team members and coaches.