Indefensible: Schools closing after winning state basketball titles

A wide variety of Georgia high schools have won state basketball championships.

The GIAA began state tournaments for its league in 1922 and the official Georgia High School Association championships started in 1926. (For reasons unknown the GHSA does not list the 1926-37 champions on its site.)

Of course, in nearly 100 years of tournaments, not all schools are still standing.

Seven schools competed in the 1922 GIAA tournament. Two are still operating, Georgia Military College and Riverside Military Academy. Sixteen schools played in the 1963 Class C girls tournament. Four of those are still left: Putnam County, Jones County, Crawford County and Dacula.

Consolidations are what have caused the biggest changes in the brackets.

Half of the 16 schools in the 1960 Class C boys tournament were closed by 1970-71. Low attendance had plagued all of them. Class C itself played its last tournaments in 1972 because there were too few high schools in the state with attendance low enough to qualify.

There were a handful of schools that made state in their final year of operation.

Seven teams from six schools won the state title the year they closed. Roopville swept the state titles in 1959. Barney won back-to-back boys titles in 1943 and 1944. McRae-Helena annexed the boys state title in 1958 and Edison did so in 1963.

Even more recent schools are not immune. Broxton-Mary Hayes’ girls won Class A in 1990, then were consolidated with Coffee. Hogansville was redistricted in 1996 with other Troup County schools, with Callaway High becoming its new area school.

BARNEY

Barney won the Class C title in 1944 by edging Stilson, 21-17. They led 9-7 at halftime.

Tip Gamble scored eight to lead Barney in the championship.

1944-03-16 Quitman Free Press (Barney title)

The Quitman Free Press announces Barney High’s 1944 state championship (March 16, 1944)

In the quarterfinal round, Barney thrashed Dexter, 21-6, before dispersing Dacula in the semifinals, 30-21. The GHSA-recognized All-State list honored Gamble, Jack Martin and Guy McAllister from the team.

Barney was the only school blindsided by consolidation. Its closure was announced months after the 1944 state title, the school’s second in a row. A year earlier, the school defeated Byron for the Class C title, 19-17.

During World War II, Brooks County faced a decline in student population, which led to a smaller allotment of teachers from the state. The Quitman Pree Press said there were 104 fewer high school pupils in the county in 1943-44 than in 1942-43.

In August 1944, the Board of Education reached a decision it thought would be most beneficial to students.

“[T]he board finally decided to bring South Side high school pupils to Quitman high school, Barney high school pupils to Morven and the Sand Hill pupils that have been coming to Barney will be transferred to Barwick,” said the Free Press.

Morven was absorbing only 30-40 Barney students, it said.

Barney remained an elementary even after enrollment increased with the conclusion of the war. The elementary school permanently closed in 1959, when Brooks County finished its State School Building Authority program. Like with the high school consolidation 15 years earlier, students were sent to Morven.

McRAE-HELENA

Ernest Batchelor gave the Blue Devils their lone boys state basketball title with a free throw in the waning seconds of the 1958 Class C championship game against Pitts. McRae-Helena won, 68-67.

The Blue Devils had swamped Butler to start the tourney, 72-51, but had to edge Jakin in the quarterfinals, 55-52. They defeated Manor by 14, 60-46, in the semifinals.

Fourteen of the 16 teams involved in the tournament eventually closed. One of the closed, Stewart County, was resurrected.

McRae-Helena had known since as late as 1956 that its high school would be consolidating; It was just a matter of when the buildings would be finished.

Construction began speeding along in August 1957 on a consolidated Telfair County High, Workmore Elementary and a big addition to McRae-Helena Elementary and segregated schools Central High, Rock Hill and Milan and an addition to Lumber City.

Work was still not finished on Telfair County High at the end of August, so the start of school was pushed back to September 15. The school was completed by basketball season, when a unified Telfair County Trojans took the floor.

When opened, Telfair County High combined students from McRae-Helena, Workmore and Ocmulgee (Jacksonville). Five years later, under heavy state pressure, the county board ordered Lumber City and Milan to consolidate high schools as well.

ROOPVILLE

Roopville had long been a bridesmaid, never a bride before winning state. Both teams were runners-up in 1956 and made the semis in 1957.

Render R. Caswell coached the Hornets, with his wife, Gladys, coaching the Hornettes.

The Roopville boys were the first of the two to win the state tournament (tournaments were staggered until 1977), defeating Midville, 42-39, in the finals.

The Hornets finished with a 27-1 record and also defeated Harlem, Pineview and Crawford County during the tourney.

A week later, the Hornettes completed the double crown, winning over Yatesville, 54-42, and completing a 34-0 mark.

None of the games were very close during the tournament, the girls winning by 16, 23 and 15 points in the previous three rounds over Tennille, Laurens and Clay County, respectively.

Roopville was spared for its last season by overtime of sorts – late construction on the new high school building.

That construction was even happening was the end of eight years of fighting among county citizens against consolidation.

A survey in 1951 suggested the closure of Roopville, Whitesburg, Mount Zion and Temple. The first three were suggested to consolidate with Carrollton or just with one another. Temple was to have combined with Villa Rica.

In 1953, a “committee to keep our local schools,” not only wanted all four schools to maintain high schools, but even more for them. At Roopville, they wanted a new classroom added and central heating.

The county high school idea in some form seemed nearer in late 1956, but construction still did not begin until over a year later. The new high school was nearly complete in August 1958, but in mid-September, it lacked equipment and grass on its campus. That work would take months to finish.

Superintendent Spencer Teal said that since the new building still needed so much, no effort would be made to inhabit the building during the school year.

Roopville continues to maintain an elementary school.

EDISON

One of the most uniquely nicknamed team in the state, the Dynamos had also won a state championship in 1960.

Edison’s closest call came in the quarterfinals, where they needed overtime to defeat Pitts, 51-50. The championship game was a 72-59 victory over Crawford County.

Ten years earlier, Edison was toast.

Calhoun County had come to an agreement to consolidate Edison and Morgan high school students at Morgan.

This consolidation was stopped by the local Board of Education becaue of issues with the State Board of Education. Calhoun County had applied for state school building funds, but there was an issue that had nothing to do with Edison or Morgan.

Students were being bussed by Calhoun in Early County to attend Arlington, but without a contract between the counties. The state wanted that cleared up.

In 1955, another consolidation was attempted at Morgan – this involving Arlington as well – but this one did not go well. Demonstrations were held at Arlington and Edison, with some in Edison going as far as to break a lock on the door of the school and naming their own principal. The tactics worked well enough that all three schools were left alone.

Surprisingly, Morgan buckled first, consolidating with Edison in 1958. In return, Edison sent its junior high school students to Morgan.

With the Morgan students, Edison’s enrollment was boosted to 136 that fall, with Arlington’s at 96. Neither lasted with those small numbers.

The state gently prodded Calhoun County to finish consolidating high schools in 1962, offering $192,000 to build a new high school at Edison. This time, the county accepted.

Calhoun County High opened for the 1963-64 school year. It is still maintained at Edison in 2017.

BROXTON-MARY HAYES

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” Broxton head coach Bill Whiddon said to the Waycross Journal-Herald after the school’s first and only state hoops championship, the Class A girls title won in 1990.

The Lady Buccaneers defeated Taylor County for the crown, 61-59, with Helen Davis scoring 15 points and pulling down 19 rebounds during the game.

Broxton led 58-47 with 1:40 left in the game, but Taylor County cut that to 59-57 with 22 seconds left.

With 14 seconds remaining, Michelle Cliett was fouled. She made both free throws to ice the win. Cliett said after the game she wasn’t nervous in that spot.

1990-03-12 Waycross Journal-Herald (Broxton-MH title)

Broxton-Mary Hayes celebrates its one and only state basketball championship. Months later, the school closed. (From the March 12, 1990 Waycross Journal-Herald)

The Lady Bucs finished the season 23-5. Region rival Clinch County defeated them twice during the regular season. In state Broxton won over Pelham, Twiggs County (in overtime) and Dawson County before facing a 30-1 Taylor County in the finals.

The high schools of Broxton and Nicholls were exempt when Coffee County consolidated the Douglas high school with other rural high schools at Ambrose, West Green and Satilla in 1955.

High schools were still there in 1970, when full integration boosted the student loads at both and Broxton incorporating the name of the African-American Broxton elementary school, Mary Hayes, into its own.

Both high schools remained small, however.

In 1978-79, the Georgia High School Association listed Broxton-Mary Hayes’ average daily attendance as 111. Nicholls was at 86. The two increased some in the mid-1980s, but in 1988-89, the league listed Nicholls at 76. Broxton-Mary Hayes was at 144.

These were too small for Coffee County.

On November 16, 1989, the Coffee County Board of Education decided to merge both high schools with Coffee High, a move that also affected the middle schools of all county schools.

Pressure to merge had come from the Quality Basic Education (QBE) Act. Both high schools’ numbers were less than what the QBE recommended. Despite protests, Coffee County stuck to its plans.

Broxton-Mary Hayes and Nicholls continue now as elementaries.

HOGANSVILLE

The Green Wave were arguably the most successful of the final time champions. The 1996 Class A title was the boys’ sixth in school history. Their first came in 1970.

“I told the kids before the game this was the last time they’ll ever wear the green,” Hogansville coach Terry Hayes said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the conclusion of their last. “I told them go out and play hard.”

Hogansville defeated Buford for title No. 6, 75-63, to wrap a 23-7 season. Michael Hardaway scored 21 points during the contest.

Three of the four wins for the Green Wave came by more than 10 points – Providence Christian by 11, Macon County by 12 in the semfinals and Buford. Only the quarterfinals game against Athens Academy – 57-55 – was closer.

Hogansville had resisted changes for more than a decade.

West Point had agreed to come into the Troup County School System in the 1980s and merge its high school in 1986.

An agreement in 1995 brought together the LaGrange, Troup County and Hogansville school systems. With one consolidated system, the county drew new districts for high schools.

Hogansville lost its city high school, but was granted a substitute of sorts. The brand new Callaway High School kept a Hogansville address.

An elementary is still maintained in the city of Hogansville.

Sources: The Quitman Free Press – March 16, 1944, Aug. 31, 1944, March 19, 1959; The Telfair Enterprise – Feb. 23, 1956, Nov. 21, 1957, Sept. 4, 1958; Macon Telegraph and News – March 26, 1958; Carroll County Georgian – March 22, 1951, March 5, 1953, Oct. 4, 1956, July 10, 1958; Times Free-Press – Sept. 16, 1958; The Calhoun County News – Aug. 21, 1953, Feb. 28, 1958, Sept. 5, 1958; Rome News-Tribune – Sept. 6, 1955; Tri-County Courier – Sept. 20, 1962, May 2, 1963; Waycross Journal-Herald – Nov. 17, 1989, March 12, 1990; Troup County Comprehensive High School – School History; Macon Telegraph – March 12, 1944; The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – March 10, 1996.

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