One night in 1966

The January 29, 1966 Tifton Gazette carried Associated Press high school basketball wire scores from around the state.

Football wire scores have been a constant in Georgia’s papers since the mid-1930s. Wire scores were fairly common then for basketball, but the practice has since faded out.

Wire scores for basketball were almost always mundane affairs, mostly limited then to Atlanta schools.

There was something a bit strange in that column, though.

St. Pius X won over Drexel in two games.

For most basketball fans, it was just a pair of high school teams playing on a Friday night. Georgia had numerous schools and this Drexel must assuredly be one of them.

Indeed Drexel was a Georgia school. Catholic and Atlanta-based, it was also an all-black high school. Scores from those schools’ league, the Georgia Interscholastic Association (GIA), were rare appearances on the wire.

Drexel’s opponent was a bit better known and continues to be. St. Pius X, also Catholic and Atlanta-based, was integrated in 1962, but it was a member of the Georgia High School Association.

This was a rare meeting of an all-black school with a GHSA member in the 1960s.

1966-01-29 Tifton Gazette (Drexel-SPX)
Part of the AP high school basketball scores column from the January 29, 1966 Tifton Gazette, showing the Drexel-St. Pius X games.

So rare, that the Drexel-St. Pius X match-ups were possibly the first games between a white high school in Georgia and another that was all-black.

If so, that would mean the game was a milestone for Georgia history. Even if not the case, the games were among the first.

And yet, it slipped nearly completely unnoticed.

No one seems to have made a to-do about the St. Pius X-Drexel games, which were played January 28, 1966 at St. Joseph’s Gym.

St. Pius X swept the pair of games, winning the girls game, 49-21, and taking the boys by a 71-63 score.

The Atlanta Daily World briefly previewed the twinbill January 26, which said the games would be played that night. In actuality, they were two days later.

“Drexel has played numerous out of town games this season,” said the Daily World, “including a team at Conyers, Ga.”

The Conyers team would have been J.P. Carr, which the Drexel yearbook does not mention in scores. Conyers could be a misprint of Canton, whose teams, Ralph Bunche, Drexel did play.

The deepest recap of the Drexel-St. Pius X games comes from the Atlanta Daily World, published in the February 1 edition and carrying the byline of Arthur Micklebury. Micklebury wrote for the Drexel Tattler,  a student publication.

Micklebury called the loss heartbreaking.

“Eddie Wood, James George, Robert Grantley, Eddie Smith and Donald Barnes, the First Five, fought with heart and soul to overcome Pius, but their colorful efforts were in vain,” he said.

Drexel led most of the first half, according to the Daily World. The Atlanta Constitution said St. Pius X led at halftime, 34-32.

Constitution stats show Marion “Jeep” Jenkins leading the Falcons with 21 points. Wood and George each scored 10 points. The Golden Lions were led by 30 from Bob McDonel, Bob Mulvihill adding 13 and Lyle Carlson contributing 12.

Less is known about the girls’ contest, won handily by St. Pius.

Micklebury said the Drexel sextet fell “under the powerful clutches of the Lions.”

“The guards, Reginal Rogers, Sandra Kelly and Laverne Jones, fought like demons to keep the Lions from scoring, but in spite of their efforts, victory was not theirs.”

1966-02-01 Atlanta Daily World
Headline and byline of the February 1, 1966 Atlanta Daily World article about the Drexel-St. Pius X games.

No stats have surfaced, with the Constitution providing merely a score. Micklebury’s report did not mention more than the game being a loss. The Atlanta Journal did not provide any recap of either game.

“The cheer leaders [sic] of both teams kept things lively, as students of both schools cheered almost without pause for such a well played game,” said Micklebury. “The game was well attended by priests and Sisters.”

Yearbooks of both schools mention the games, with photos available in Drexel’s.

Micklebury said it was the second game between the schools.

No evidence has popped up to support that. Classmates.com has many St. Pius X yearbooks, including from 1963-66.

The 1963 edition did not have full scores, but odds are against St. Pius playing Drexel, considering Atlanta schools had integrated only in 1961. Plus, it is not mentioned in a January 1963 edition of Southern School News.

The Southern School News article is key in that it details the integration efforts going on in Atlanta-area high school sports. St. Pius X is specifically mentioned as not having issues with playing an integrated Grady High boys basketball B-team.

Anything bigger would have been mentioned by Southern School News, which additionally mentioned that St. Pius X had desegregated in 1962, but no black individuals were on the athletic squads.

The 1964 and 1965 St. Pius yearbooks did publish full basketball schedules. Neither mentioned Drexel. Only one game between the sides is mentioned in 1966.

That does leave the possibility there was another game, one much more covert than in January 1966.

Why would the schools want the games quiet?

Though integration was a bit more common in Atlanta by 1966, there had previously been incidents.

Ronald Thornton, a basketball player at St. Joseph’s High, became the first black varsity athlete to play in and integrate a high school game in Atlanta and likely the first in the state. He was to debut January 12, 1963 against, appropriately, St. Pius X.

St. Joseph’s, said the Atlanta Constitution of December 26, 1962, was cautious about using Thornton. Though GHSA executive secretary Sam Burke stated that any team refusing to play against Thornton would be suspended for a year under GHSA by-laws and that all basketball games in that period would be forfeited, St. Joseph’s did not want that scenario. St. Joseph’s was playing their first season in the league and did not want to create a stir.

Roswell High principal G.W. Adams personally had no issues with playing Thornton when the teams were set to vie in November 1962, but after consulting with the city’s mayor and police chief, requested Thornton not play.

St. Joseph’s head coach Bill Daprano said the players should have the same rights as other students, but at the same time, “we realize the potentially explosive situations that exist in the towns where we play.” St. Joseph’s, he said, did not want to create trouble for other schools.

Three years later, much had changed in the Atlanta area. Integration was more widespread. Games had been integrated, athletes accepted (southern Georgia had barely integrated by this time with athlete acceptance varying widely).

There were no issues between the Catholic schools, which were usually at the forefront of integration. But a game with Drexel was a different level, being that it was currently an all-black GIA member.

It’s possible the game might not have been completely legal in the eyes of the GHSA.

The GHSA had not yet opened its doors to all-black schools in January 1966. That did not come until months later.

It was not until May 24, 1966 the GHSA elected to admit black schools from the GIA.

GHSA by-laws for 1965-66 were vague if its schools can play GIA members.

Member schools could play junior high schools, junior colleges or college B-teams. Schools could play its own alumni or faculty. Member schools can play “interscholastic contests with member schools of a private non-state association provided that all transfer pupils of the member school of the private school association be eligible only after a full year’s attendance at the private school concerned.”

The latter by-law enabled GHSA schools to play teams such as McCallie, Tenn., or Baylor, Tenn. Darlington, an associate member of the GHSA, was also in a private league with schools such as these.

The GHSA made no mention of another state association within Georgia’s borders.

Drexel was one of the inaugural GIA members that joined the GHSA in 1966. That was the only year for the Falcons in the GHSA as the school was absorbed by St. Pius X in 1967. The school had opened in 1961 with a freshman class and added a grade each year. The first senior class finished in 1965, with Drexel only graduating three classes total.

Drexel’s 1966 yearbook, the only one from the school available on Classmates.com, has no other games against white schools. The teams were coached that year by Louise Beckum and Wilbur George. St. Pius X was guided by Mrs. Robert C. Carter and Morris Mitchell.

Scores in Drexel’s yearbook show the boys with a 5-8 record and the girls at 2-11. The St. Pius X boys were 6-14 and the girls were credited at 9-10.

Sources: Southern School News – January 1963; Atlanta Constitution – Dec. 26, 1962, Jan. 29, 1966; Atlanta Daily World – Jan. 26, 1966, Feb. 1, 1966;  Southern School News – January 1963; Palm Beach Post (Fla.) – May 26, 1966; Rome News-Tribune – May 26, 1966; GHSA Constitution and By-Laws Region and State Meets 1965-66, 1966-67; Drexel Catholic High School alumni collection; Classmates.com high school yearbooks collection.

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