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

Published 1:22 pm Friday, July 15, 2016


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 our last installment of the series, we discussed the Pantherettes’ route to the region championship, and the team’s preparations to take on Cook County in the Region 1-A quarterfinals. We’ll pick up right where we left off, with the ATR’s coverage of round one of the tournament.
Towards the end of February and the beginning of March, 1966, the Americus Times-Recorder’s coverage was heavily focused on the ongoing war in Vietnam, as well as local turmoil that seemed to be abundant in the city at that time. Some interesting articles contained in these pages included a series on an ongoing homicide trial, in which a man named Charlie Lee Hopkins had slain local resident, Andy Whatley. On the front page of the ATR’s March 2, 1966 edition, a photo was published of the remnants of a pair of local businesses named Daniel’s Modern Cleaners and Americus Cue Club, both of which were located on Lee Street and had been destroyed by a fire the previous day. The interior of that same edition housed an article about a new military development that experts hoped would help turn the tide of the Vietnam War; the M-16, a newly-designed automatic rifle that the article describes as “looking like something out of science fiction.”
Deeper in the inside of practically every edition of the ATR, however, local readers could look forward to seeing some good news as the newspaper continuously chronicled the Pantherettes’ exciting journey to the state championship, and the team proceeded to roll over challenger after challenger.
In the Feb. 25, 1966 edition of the Times-Recorder, former ATR sports editor, Clarence Graddick, published an article titled, “Pantherettes Win, Will Go to State; Boys Play Bacon Tonight”. Situated right next to a photo of AHS gridiron stars, Gary Reeves, Ronnie Adkins, and David Reeves, who had recently been honored for their contributions to the AHS Panther football team’s exciting 1966 season, Graddick’s article chronicled the Pantherettes’ most recent success, a narrow 60-56 victory over Cook County.
In the article, Graddick wrote, “The Americus High Pantherettes will meet the Bacon County girls in the finals of the Region 1-A basketball tournament here Saturday night and both teams will represent the region in the state tournament in Macon next week…
“The Americus girls won their way to the finals in a hard-fought battle with the Cook County girls by a score of 60-56. In the first game of Thursday’s action, the Bacon County girls defeated Central High, of Thomasville, 39-33. Both Bacon and Americus were the sub-region winners in tournaments played last week.
“Jeanne Posey put the Americus team in front early in the game with a lay-up and the Pantherettes were never [behind] after that. There was never any time for Americus fans to feel comfortable, however, as the Cook County girls kept the pressure on all the way.
“Americus moved out to a five-point, 18-13 lead by the end of the first period but this was cut back to a point, 32-31 by halftime. The winners held an eight-point lead during the second half, but were unable to widen the gap as the Adel girls never gave up the fight.
“Posey continued her scoring throughout the game and wound up with a whopping 40 points; good for a game-high. Her point total edged Cook County’s top scorer, A. Adams, with 38, by only two points.
“The scoring by both teams was almost identical as Deborah Mason netted 14 points for Americus while P. Nipper downed 12 for the losers. Jean Turpin, Americus, and D. McKinnon, Adel, each had six points to round out the scoring. Both teams used only three starting forwards.
“Both teams substituted at guard and this was where the Americus depth began to show. Irene Manning was credited with doing an excellent job for the winners as a sub. Diane Cripe also played in relief of the starting Americus guards, Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher.

Submitted by Melvin Kinslow: Deborah Mason, a forward for the 1966 AHS Pantherettes, dribbles past a Cochran opponent during the final round of the state girls’ basketball championship.

Submitted by Melvin Kinslow:
Deborah Mason, a forward for the 1966 AHS Pantherettes, dribbles past a Cochran opponent during the final round of the state girls’ basketball championship.

“Belcher led the rebounding for Americus with six. Manning and Posey each came up with five.”
With the Pantherettes’ defeat of Cook County, the team punched their ticket to the region championship against Bacon County. Though both teams were already guaranteed a spot in the state tourney, they each hit the court determined to lay it all on the line and walk away as region champions.
Unbeknownst to the Americus girls, in their upcoming region title match, the Pantherettes would face some of the fiercest competition that they had seen all year. After a hard-fought battle, Bacon County eventually emerged victorious, bringing the Americus girls’ impressive streak to an end with a 59-54 defeat.
In the Feb. 28, 1966 edition of the Times-Recorder, Graddick detailed the match.
The article, titled, “Americus Suffers Two Losses; Will Play in State This Week”, said, “The Americus High basketball teams finished in the number-two spot in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions of Region 1-A here Saturday night as the Bacon County girls handed Americus its first defeat of the year in 20 games in the first game of the region finals tournament and the Mitchell County boys barely nipped the Americus boys 43-42 in a real cliff hanger…
“All four teams will travel to the state tournament beginning at the City Auditorium in Macon Wednesday afternoon. Mitchell County will meet Cartersville in the first round of play and Brooks County will take on the Dallas girls. Cartersville and Dallas are runners-up in Region 3-A…”
“The previously undefeated Pantherettes started out cold on both ends of the court in the girls’ game and Bacon County slipped off to a 12-5 lead in the first quarter. They stretched the margin to 10 points, 26-16, by half-time.

Submitted by Melvin Kinslow: Irene Manning, a member of the 1966 Pantherettes, battles for possession of the ball over a Cochran player in the final round of the state championship tournament.

Submitted by Melvin Kinslow:
Irene Manning, a member of the 1966 Pantherettes, battles for possession of the ball over a Cochran player in the final round of the state championship tournament.

“Americus outscored the winners in the final two quarters but not enough to overcome the lead. The Americus guards stopped the forwards doing the damage for Bacon in the first half but were unable to handle the left-handed jump shots of Jane Taylor, who emerged from the game with 34 points.
“Jeanne Posey did a good job in scoring 28 points despite the Bacon County girls keying to stop her. Linda Montgomery came on as a sub in the second quarter for the Americus girls and kept the team in the game with nine points for the quarter. Her total for the game was 12 points, matching Deborah Mason’s game total.
“The Pantherettes were also off in the rebounding department with Sherrell Bailey pulling down six and Irene Manning four. Posey finished out the season to date with 26.8 scoring average per game on a total of 563 points in the 20 played. As a sophomore, she averaged 24 points and last year, 26.
“Taylor’s 34 points led the scoring for the winners as three of the Bacon forwards hit in double figures also. Cherry Altman added 11 and Linda Wheeler, 10.”
Just like that, the Pantherettes had had their confidence shaken with their first defeat of the season. The Americus ladies were certainly still feeling the sting of this loss as they began their preparations for taking on North Cobb in round one of the state tournament, scheduled to begin later that week. This determination would prove to be an asset, however, as the Pantherettes traveled to Macon on March 3, 1966.
According to a Graddick-penned article in the March 2, 1966 issue of the ATR, the Americus girls were the favorite to win in round one of the action. As the Americus ladies were gearing up to take on North Cobb, Monroe was taking on Washington County and Bacon County was battling Dallas. Following the Pantherettes’ match, Cochran was scheduled to take on Franklin County.
Of course, the Pantherettes went on to win their first-round match, which was detailed in a March 4 article titled, “Pantherettes Gain Semifinals 71-44 Win Over N. Cobb”.
In the piece, Graddick wrote, “The Americus High Pantherettes turned in a stunning performance here to win a place in the semifinals Friday after rolling over the North Cobb girls 71-44.
“In other games played in the first round of the girls’ division Friday, Monroe defeated Washington County 61-52 in the second game, Bacon County raced to a 54-33 decision over Dallas and, in the final game of the day, Cochran nipped Franklin County 50-49 in the last second.
“The Americus girls broke on top with a field goal by Deborah Mason and [never looked back]. The winner held a 21-15 lead going into the second quarter and took off to a 37-28 lead at the half.
“North Cobb made a determined rally midway through the second quarter and pulled to within a point of Americus, 29-28 with two minutes left in the first half. Linda Montgomery, in the game to spell starter, Jean Turpin, hit on one two-pointer and stole the ball as it was inbounded by the North Cobb team and hit another field goal to give Americus a five-point lead. The losers failed to score again in the period while the Pantherettes streaked to a nine-point advantage at the intermission.
“Americus added three points to the lead by the fourth quarter and then broke the game open as the guards held the North Cobb team to only four points on two field goals in the last quarter. Coach Melvin Kinslow moved a complete new team at forward and guard into the final two minutes of play and the new girls continued to widen the gap.
“Mason was the big gun in the aggressive attack as she stripped the nets for 38 points, connecting on both long and short shots. Despite being guarded by the tallest player on the floor and also being double-teamed at times, Jeanne Posey added 23 points to the winning cause.
“The Americus guards did a good job on the North Cobb forwards and forced the quick-moving trio to shoot mostly from the outside. This, Pat Ingram did well and led her team with 22 points in the losing cause.
“Both the Americus guards and forwards moved the ball better during the game than they have all year. Turpin’s floor play was excellent, especially during the second half of play as she fed the other two forwards in the point production race.
“Mason’s 38 points equaled her high for the season, duplicating her point total made in the opening game of the season against Schley County. Mason also turned in one of her best floor games of the year.
“So [sharp] were the Americus shooters that the regulars rolled up to a fantastic 63.6 percent before leaving the game with still two minutes to go. The three sub-forwards kept pace with a cool 59 percent and the entire Americus team registered 61.3 for the game.
“Americus made a total of 27 field goals to only 18 for North Cobb. In the foul shooting, the Pantherettes made 17 of 23 while the losers were hitting only eight of 16.
“Sherrell Bailey, Pam Tyler, and Sandra Belcher were the starting guards but Irene Manning came on in the second period and played a terrific game. She and Bailey tied in pulling down rebounds with six each and Manning repeatedly kept the North Cobb forwards off balance with good blocks of shots.”
With that victory, the Pantherettes had pushed themselves one step closer to the state title match, scheduled to be played two days later. Before heading into the final round of competition, however, the Pantherettes had to overcome one more test of skill; a match against Monroe that would require the Americus ladies to utilize all of their strengths in order to emerge victorious.
Please visit us next week as we wrap up our series on the Pantherettes’ epic 1966 season, discussing the semifinal and final rounds of competition and sharing more ATR coverage and photographs of the team’s historic rise to the top.