Melvin Kinslow, A Mentor to Greatness

Published 3:48 pm Wednesday, May 29, 2019

AMERICUS – America has been blessed to have great leaders throughout its history, such as President Ronald Regan, Henry Ford, General George S. Patton and many others. The country has also produced great sports heroes like Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Jesse Owens. Two of those great sports leaders are from this very town: Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey. However, all of these people have one thing in common. They were taught and mentored by someone who wanted to impact not just their lives, but also the lives of countless other people as well.

Melvin Kinslow is just such a mentor. He coached both Reeves and Gailey at Americus High School (AHS). Kinslow has spent six decades mentoring young people and is still involved today as a volunteer coach at Southland Academy.

Kinslow has been in education for 62 years. He has served as a school principal, a teacher and a coach. His journey to becoming an educator and a championship coach started in his boyhood town of Montezuma, GA, where he learned the work ethic and discipline necessary to achieve the success that he would later enjoy. “All of the boys grew up there and our moms worked at the knitting mill. My dad worked at a saw mill,” Kinslow said. “We would be playing on the street. We would be hitting the ball with a broomstick, but when that 5 p.m. whistle went off, everybody, like a covey of quails, would get into their homes because we had to get the fire going for our moms so they could start cooking when they got home. If you didn’t, you got something on your rear end.”

This is a picture of a newspaper article from 1966. The Georgia Athletic Coaches Association named Former Americus High School baseball coach Melvin Kinslow Coach of the Year in baseball for the state of Georgia.
Photo by ATR

The discipline and attention to detail Kinslow learned as a child served him well as a student-athlete and later, as a teacher and coach. He went on to have a stellar athletic career at AHS, where he was a three-sport athlete. Kinslow played four years of high school basketball from 1949-53. He made All-State his senior year and led the team in scoring. He helped AHS make it all the way to the state semifinals before losing to Druid Hills in 1953.

In football, he was a starting defensive safety and helped the Panthers win the region championship in 1952. The Panthers made it to the South Georgia championship that year, where they lost to Valdosta. On the baseball diamond, Kinslow shined there as well. He played all four years and helped lead AHS to the school’s first state championship in baseball in 1953. In the 1953 state championship game, Kinslow scored the winning run in the bottom of the 11th inning to give his team the state championship. In his senior year, Kinslow was awarded the “Most Outstanding Athlete Award for Americus High School” in 1953 by head coach Jim Luck.

The Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA) had a banquet on a Tuesday night in 1966 to honor the Georgia High School Coaches of the Year in basketball, baseball and football. Melvin Kinslow, the Coach of the Year in baseball, is standing next to Wright Bazemore (far right), the Valdosta High School football coach who was named Coach of the Year in football. On the far left is Tommy Taylor, who was named Coach of the Year in basketball. To his right is Sam Roberts, Sportswriter of the Year. To his right is Paul Dietzel, who was at that time the head football coach at the University of South Carolina.
Photo by Charles Bennett, ATR

After Kinslow graduated from AHS in 1953, he went to Tusculum College in Greenville, TN on a basketball scholarship. “The coach that coached me in basketball told them about my playing ability and they awarded me a scholarship,” Kinslow said. While at Tusculum, Kinslow started as a freshman on the basketball team during the 1953-54 season. However, due to financial constraints, he decided to go to college and play sports closer to home. “Back then, it was tough for me. I didn’t have much transportation and I wasn’t able to go back the next year, so I went to Georgia Southwestern and played there my sophomore year. Back then, it was a junior college.”

While at GSW, Kinslow was a starter on both the basketball and baseball teams during his sophomore year (1954-55). As a basketball player, he helped lead GSW to a conference title in 1955 as a guard. On the baseball field, Kinslow was fifth in the conference in stolen bases.

After one year at GSW, Kinslow transferred to Mercer University (MU), where he played both basketball and baseball for the Bears from 1955-57. He scored 29 points in a 91-71 victory over the University of Georgia and averaged 15 points a game. As a baseball player, Kinslow led the Bears in hitting with a .433 batting average and helped lead MU to wins over Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia Southern.

Melvin Kinslow, center, is shown receiving the Martin Theatre Trophy for being named Americus High School’s “Most Outstanding Athlete of the Year. Shown left to right: J.P. Luther, the Chamber of Commerce manager, Martin Theatre manger T.C. Laird, Kinslow and high school coaches Jimmie Luck and Carroll Jones.
Photo by Charlie Meyer, ATR

During his playing career in college, there were two occasions in which Kinslow showed his willingness to do whatever the team needed him to do. “I was a shortstop, but when I went to Georgia Southwestern my second year, Coach Jack Robinson asked me if I would catch because they needed somebody to catch,” Kinslow said. “I told him I would play anywhere as long as I can play, so he put me behind the plate and I caught that year. Then when I went to Mercer, I was playing shortstop in a game against Auburn. In that game, our catcher made some errant throws. The next day, the coach asked me if I would go behind the plate and I agreed to do so. I ended up catching at Mercer for two years.”

Kinslow graduated from Mercer with a degree in Education and returned to Americus in 1957. He spent 12 years as a teacher and was the head baseball coach at AHS from 1957-1969. During that time, Kinslow led the AHS baseball team to five state championships (1961, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1969). In order to win one of those state championships, Kinslow recalls that his team had to win three ball games in one day. “We started at about 2 p.m. and finished up at about 10 p.m. that night,” Kinslow said. ”We got into the losers bracket so we had to play a game at 2 p.m. Then we had to play this team that was in the winners bracket two times. That was pretty special. That’s hard for anybody to do. To do that in the middle of June in 98-degree heat is pretty special.”

The Georgia Athletic Coaches Association named Kinslow Coach of the Year for the state of Georgia in 1966. He was also named Region Coach of the Year in baseball nine times.

Head Coach Melvin Kinslow (far right) celebrates with the 1966 Americus High School girls’ basketball team after the won the state championship.
Submitted Photo

Kinslow was also the girls’ head basketball coach at AHS. In 1966, he guided the Lady Panthers to a 26-1 record and the state championship. During his tenure at AHS as the girls’ head basketball coach, Kinslow amassed a record of 120-25. He had two undefeated regular seasons and was named Coach of the Year in 1966.

In addition to being the head baseball coach and head girls’ basketball coach at AHS, Kinslow was the defensive coordinator under AHS head football coach Jimmy Hightower for two state championship football teams (1962, 1965).

During his long and successful coaching career, Kinslow had the chance to coach hundreds of great student-athletes who went on to do great things in life. Two of those former athletes, however, made it big in the NFL: Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey. Kinslow remembers the competitive fire and drive that both Reeves and Gailey had. “They were both very competitive,” Kinslow said. “I myself have always been competitive in athletics, both playing and coaching. I liked their competitiveness and I liked their attitude about playing. They were in there to win the game. It wasn’t just to play. It was a lot of fun coaching them because they had a lot of athletic ability. Their athletic skills were really superior at that time when they came along so it was a joy to coach them.”

Reeves was a standout football, basketball and baseball player at AHS. He would go on to play quarterback at the University of South Carolina and was a running back for the Dallas Cowboys from 1965-1972. As a player, he was a member of the Cowboys team that defeated the Miami Dolphins 24-3 to win Super Bowl VI. He was also an assistant coach for the Cowboys team that defeated the Denver Broncos 27-10 to win Super Bowl XII. He went on to be the head coach of the Broncos for 12 seasons. During that time, he led the club to three Super Bowl appearances. He would later make it to another Super Bowl as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons during the 1998 season. In total, Reeves spent a combined 23 years in the NFL as an assistant coach and a head coach. This is an example of Kinslow being a mentor to greatness.

While at AHS, Gailey was also a stellar athlete who lettered in football, basketball, baseball and golf. As a football player, Gailey was an all-state quarterback for the Panthers. He went on to play football at the University of Florida from 1971-1973. After graduating from Florida in 1974, Gailey stayed in Gainesville for two years as a graduate assistant before heading to Troy State University (now the University of Troy) in Troy, AL to be the secondary coach there. After spending four years as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy, Gailey came back to Troy State to be the head football coach. He led the Trojans to a 12-1 record and an NCAA Division II national championship in 1984. Gailey’s first NFL coaching job was under Dan Reeves as a defensive assistant and special teams coach with the Denver Broncos from 1984-1990. During that time, the Broncos made three Super Bowl appearances. Gailey went on to be a head coach for the Birmingham Fire in the World League of American Football (WLAF). After one year as the head coach at Samford University, Gailey returned to the NFL as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His first NFL head-coaching job was with the Dallas Cowboys. With Gailey at the helm, the Cowboys won the NFC Eastern Division in 1998. He was the only coach in the club’s history to make it to the playoffs every season as their head coach. After his stint with the Cowboys, Gailey ended up being the offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins during the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

He returned to the college ranks in 2002 to be the head coach at Georgia Tech and was there until 2007. He has since had assistant coaching positions in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Gailey is another example of Kinslow’s ability to be a mentor to greatness.

While most of Kinslow’s student-athletes didn’t make it as far as Reeves and Gailey did, they were still great athletes and great kids. Unlike today, during the late 50s and 60s, there were no outside influences such as ESPN or social media to influence young student-athletes. This made it easier for Kinslow to impart his wisdom and instruction. According to Kinslow, these outside influences are the main difference between coaching kids back then and coaching the kids of today. “Back then, those kids believed everything you said,” Kinslow said. “If you were coaching, they were really coachable. They hung on to every word and every technique. Today, with all this media coverage and analysts, they see so much of it that sometimes, when you’re telling them something, they think ‘Well, I saw something different on TV from one of those analysts.’ To me, it was a little easier coaching then than it is now.”

After 12 years of coaching at AHS, Kinslow decided to focus much of his time and energy as a school administrator. In 1969, he left AHS to become the principal at Cherokee Elementary School and served in that capacity until 1971. He then headed to Southland Academy, where he served as the headmaster for 25 years. While at SA, he got back into coaching. He was the boys’ head basketball coach during the 1982 and 1983 seasons. As head coach, Kinslow guided the Raiders to a Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA) state championship in 1983 and was named Coach of the Year. His son, Ty Kinslow, was the point guard on that team. The younger Kinslow is now the headmaster at SA and also serves as the girls’ head basketball coach.

During his time at SA, Kinslow also led the Raiders’ golf team to five state championships (1986, 1987, 1988, 1992, 1994). He coached four golfers who ended up earning college scholarships to Georgia Tech, Tennessee and the University of Troy.

In 2001, Kinslow went to Deerfield-Windsor, where he served as an assistant football and baseball coach. He was the defensive coordinator for the 2002 DWS team that won the state championship and helped lead the 2003 DWS baseball team to a state championship.

In 2003, Kinslow returned to Southland Academy, where he served as an assistant baseball coach during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. During those two seasons, the Raider baseball team finished as the state runner-up. In total, Kinslow has been a part of 16 state championship teams. He won 12 of those state championships as a head coach.

Kinslow has had many great moments during his 62-year career as a school administrator, teacher and coach. Winning the girls’ state basketball championship at AHS in 1966 and the AHS baseball state championship in 1969 were among his top special moments. In general, however, he sees his entire career in education as one great ride. “I’ve had the honor and the privilege to be around and work with some of the best students, teachers and high school athletes anywhere,” Kinslow said. “When I look back, those were the greatest times for me. In the 50s and 60s, when we were playing and coaching, those were great times and I’ve always enjoyed the competition as a player and a coach. I think it has been a great ride for 62 years.”

Amongst the many accolades Kinslow has earned during his playing and coaching career, he was inducted into the Mercer University Hall of Fame and the Georgia Southwestern College inaugural Hall of Fame in 1991 for baseball and basketball.

He was inducted into the Georgia Baseball Coaches Association Dugout Club Hall of Fame in 1998. In 1966, Kinslow was selected to coach the South baseball all-star team, which took on the North baseball team at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

In 1983, he was selected to coach the GISA basketball all-stars against the South Carolina all-stars at Georgia Southern College. The GISA all-stars won that game 95-91.

Kinslow had a positive impact on thousands of student-athletes throughout his coaching career. One of those student-athletes was Terence Duncan. As a senior in 1998, Duncan was a starting running back and defensive back on the Southland Academy football team when Kinslow was the offensive coordinator. “We reached the state semifinals in large part due to his coaching,” Duncan said. “In addition to his incredible record in coaching, which speaks for itself, he is a man of impeccable character. He expected a lot out of you, but he knew how to get the most out of his players. He is extremely well-known and respected by all in the athletic and academic worlds throughout the state of Georgia.”

Kinslow was selected as the first recipient of the GISA Coaches “Distinguished Service Award.” He also received a resolution from the Georgia General Assembly in 2005, honoring his work as a teacher, coach and administrator for 48 years.

In 1963, Kinslow served as an assistant coach for the South all-star football team under head coach Jimmy Hightower. The team played against the North all-stars at Georgia Tech and won by the score of 14-6. In 1996, Southland Academy named their gymnasium after him. Since then, it has been called the Melvin T. Kinslow Gymnasium.

In spite of his tremendous career as a high school coach in the state of Georgia, Kinslow has yet to be inducted into the Georgia High School Coaches Hall of Fame, though his name has been put on the list of candidates for induction.

Nevertheless, for 62 years, Kinslow has impacted the lives of thousands of student-athletes who have gone on to do great things not only in sports, but more importantly, in life. He is a hometown hero to Americus and Sumter County. He has been and still is a mentor to greatness.