The forgotten basketball run of Meson Academy

1941-03-20 The Georgia Cracker (Meson wins)
Headline of the March 20, 1941 Georgia Cracker, announcing a championship for Meson Academy

As the Lowndes Vikettes stood on the cusp of 100 wins in December 1979, the Waycross Journal-Herald looked back at the history of such streaks:

“There are two known streaks longer than the one the Vikettes currently own. Taylor County reeled off 132 in a row under Coach Norman Carter in the late 60’s and early 70’s and Appling County reached 138 straight under Coach Bob Davis in the 40’s.”

Lowndes would ultimately win one more championship and see the streak reach 122 before it was bumped 63-56 by rival Valdosta December 9, 1980.

The article noted that the Georgia High School Association did not keep up with that type of record.

Baxley’s numbers are a bit of a gray area at the moment. Records found so far indicate the team was indeed quite good. But such a level of winning was difficult after the introduction of official girls’ state tournaments in 1945.

Coupled with World War II shortening schedules, it would not have been easy to maintain a very high level of play for multiple years.

It is known that Baxley lost a game in 1941.

Perhaps Baxley will be vindicated someday as 100+-consecutive game winners.

Even if Baxley did not soar to such heights, there might have been a team that did nearly as well in the same era.

If accounts are to believed, there was a team that won 104 games through the end of the 1941-42 season.

Oglethorpe County is not known as a girls’ basketball powerhouse these days.

The Lady Patriots made state in 2015, but it was their first appearance since 2006 and the school had to suffer through 62 consecutive losses during a streak in between.

Oglethorpe County has won but one girls’ state tournament game since the school’s formation in 1947. Headed into the 2004 Class AA tourney with a 26-1 mark, the Lady Patriots beat Chattooga before falling to Paideia.

Turn back the clock to the early 1940s, however, and the story was much different in the city of Lexington.

In those days, the high schools of Oglethorpe numbered four: Crawford, Arnoldsville, Maxeys and Meson Academy, the latter being Lexington’s city school.

Pre-1940-41 research has yet to be done in the Oglethorpe Echo. Not much information is available for the 1940-41 and 1941-42 seasons in the newspaper or even a photo.

Meson won the Class B 10th district championship for the third consecutive year on March 3, 1941, defeating Alexander Stephens Institute by a score of 32-23.

The Georgia High School Association did not crown girls’ state champions until 1945. District tournaments almost always meant the end of the girls’ season throughout the state. However, 1941 was different. Hazlehurst High decided to organize an unofficial state championship (dubbed a “tournament of champions”) for girls.

Hazlehurst was not the first city to propose a postseason girls tournament; Lakeland had done so in the 1930s and was one of probably a number of schools to host one in this era.

Teams invited to Hazlehurst included area schools such as Baxley, Nicholls and Dodge High. Hazlehurst also reached out further, to Damascus, to Southwest DeKalb and also to Meson Academy.

Meson’s head coach Tom Riden accepted, then declined.

Tenth district officials objected and threatened to ban Meson from future district competition. With that in mind, the squad decided to stay home.

Meson, though, neglected to inform Hazlehurst of the decision.

A call came to Meson on March 11, 1941 from Hazlehurst.

Where are you? The tournament starts tomorrow night and you’re supposed to be here now.

Meson informed Hazlehurst of what it heard from the district. Hazlehurst said that could not be the case, that someone was telling them hooey and that everyone else scheduled to play had arrived.

With that information, Meson principal David Hardin agreed to send Meson’s team to Hazlehurst, but only if the schedule could be rearranged. Meson was to play the next day, March 12, but the squad could not leave until that afternoon. In the absence of major highways and many paved roads, a journey between the two cities was a huge undertaking.

Hazlehurst agreed to let Meson’s first game be March 13 and the trip to the state tournament was back on.

Unfortunately for Meson, the schedule could not be changed.

“[W]ord was received this morning that the team after riding six hours yesterday afternoon it was impossible to rearrange the schedule,” said the March 13 Oglethorpe Echo. “[S]o as to avoid playing last night and that they were forced to meet the strong Hazlehurst team at nine o’clock, with only an hour rest. The game resulted in a victory for the Lexington girls. We did not learn the score as the message only said they won. There will be no game for them tonight their next game being Friday night with the winner of tonight’s play.”

Meson won over Hazlehurst, 29-25 in what Hazlehurst’s newspaper, The Georgia Cracker, referred to as a “thriller-diller.”

1941-03-20 The Oglethorpe Echo (Meson wins)
Meson’s title not only made the front page of the March 20, 1941 Oglethorpe Echo, but was one of the lead stories.

After getting Thursday off, Meson was back in action again, defeating Nicholls by a score of 41-37 in the semifinals. That put them in the finals against powerhouse Baxley High, which the Waycross Journal-Herald said had only lost two games in two years.

Meson won the championship, 40-34.

No one other than Meson expected the victory, according to the Echo.

“They were the underdogs in this contest as all visiting coaches, players and spectators freely predicted their defeat, saying that Meson had no chance of winning, as Baxley had the greatest team in Georgia.”

Though they never trailed, the contest was a close one, the Echo going so far as to call it the greatest girls basketball game ever played in the state.

Elizabeth Paradise led Meson, as well as all players in the tournament with 68 points scored, and was voted Most Valuable Forward (Aycock of Baxley was named Most Valuable Guard). The official presenting the award to Paradise – a gold plaque – declared her the “one that stood head and shoulders above any in the state.”

Paradise was named to the tournament’s all-star team, along with fellow Meson players Frances Arnold and Lucy Nell Cunningham.

Paradise was even more of a leader to the team. Spirits were down heading into the finals, but after having seen the trophy, Paradise gathered the team and told them there was no chance it was staying in south Georgia.

A journey from Lexington to Hazlehurst was arduous. Perhaps surprisingly, the Echo said 61 individuals from Lexington watched the finals. After having been defeated by Meson, Hazlehurst declared them their team, too, providing even more support.

Once back in Lexington, the city wasted no time in celebrating the team nicknamed the “Black Cats.” There was an ice cream party featuring a specialty cake from Benson’s Bakery in Athens, a turkey supper for the boys and girls teams and even a trip to Athens to see Gone With the Wind.

The tournament final was said to be the 71st straight victory by Meson Academy.

Basketball soon resumed for another season. Cunningham was gone in 1941-42, but Arnold and Paradise returned.

Meson won the 10th district again, defeating Elberton in a tournament played at Comer on March 10 (or March 17) in the finals, 57-13.

There would be no play after district in 1942. The United States had entered World War II in December 1941 and money was increasingly tight in schools.

On March 19, the Echo reprinted a tribute that was published in the Athens Banner-Herald:

The girls basketball team of the Lexington High School defeated the Elberton team Tuesday night by a score of 57 to 13 in the final contest of the B Division, tenth district basketball tournament, which was held in Lexington.

It rounded out 104 consecutive victories for this outstanding team. For four consecutive years, Lexington has been awarded the coveted Bronze trophy which is the highest award given by the Tenth District Athletic Association. In 1941, the Lexington team also won a handsome trophy in Hazlehurst, where a tournament by invitation to championship teams in Georgia was held.

“Elizabeth Paradise, captain of the team, is conceded by professional critics to be an outstanding athlete. A review of the small number of points scored by the opposing teams during the tournament in Comer, in which Lexington won each time, is a proven fact that Kathrine Green, Frances Arnold and Sara Daniel are the backbone of the team in unsurpassed guarding. Smooth composure and perfect timing mark every play made by forwards Lucyle Reynolds and Ruth Bray. To select a star from this all-star team would be impossible. The brilliant, unexcelled teamwork of this team has long since made it famous in basketball history.

The Echo started off with good coverage of Meson in 1941-42, but had very little after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

No coverage was given the team in 1942-43, if a team even existed. Many schools cut athletics during the war. How long Meson’s streak ended up being is unknown as is where and how it ended.

If still active during World War II, Meson’s streak ended by 1945. Hartwell and Tignall represented the 10th district in the inaugural GHSA state girls tournament. Monroe and Winterville went to state from the 10th in 1946 and Thomson and Comer did so in 1947.

Meson closed in 1947 as all four Oglethorpe County high schools joined together under the Oglethorpe County name at Arnoldsville. The county high school stayed at Arnoldsville until a new building opened in Lexington in 1955.

While information of the team after the era is scant, the legend did live on, at least with one player.

While the information given was inaccurate, a 2014 obituary for Arnold mentioned Meson’s prowess, ahead of information about her husband and children.

Paradise played semipro basketball after finishing high school, including with the Atlanta-based Sports Arena Blues.

Riden, who coached the team in at least 1940-41, is better known for his years in Buford. Buford High’s football stadium is named for him. Riden coached football and basketball there.

Unfortunately, there is a question of how many consecutive games Meson won.

At the end of the 1941 district tournament (which finished up March 3), the Oglethorpe Echo credited them with 64 consecutive wins. When the Hazlehurst tournament finished (March 15), both the Echo and Waycross Journal-Herald credited the squad with 71 straight wins.

Meson played three games in the tournament. They almost assuredly did not play between district and Hazlehurst.

The March 19, 1942 Echo, albeit a reprint of a claim in the Athens Banner-Herald, proclaimed the streak to be at 104. (The March 12 Oglethorpe Echo, by itself, claimed the streak was over 100.)

This would mean that Meson played 33 games, including district, in 1941-42.

Meson played at least five games in November 1941, before coverage tapered off. A Christmas tournament would have been unthinkable in December and with travel under increased scrutiny because of wartime, Meson would not have traveled too often or too far, especially out-of-district.

The announced number of 104 consecutive wins is very unlikely, but regardless of the true number of the streak, Meson had an incredible run.

Sources: Waycross Journal-Herald – March 17, 1941, Dec. 22, 1979; The North Georgia News – Nov. 26, 2014; Warrenton Clipper – March 7, 1941; Oglethorpe Echo – March 6, 1941, March 13, 1941, March 20, 1941, March 12, 1942, March 19, 1942, Aug. 27, 1947; The Georgia Cracker – March 13, 1941; Macon Telegraph – Dec. 24, 1945.

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