Albany High closes

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The final Albany High School (source: Wikipedia)

The Dougherty County School System announced Tuesday that Albany High was closing, effective immediately.

Albany was the county’s oldest high school, with roots to the 1800s and was the system’s only public white high school until Dougherty opened in 1963. Monroe was the home of all of the system’s black high school children until September 1964, when 12th graders began the process of desegregation.

The closure came six weeks after the Dougherty County School System proposed reorganization for Albany High, whose numbers have been declining.

The Albany Herald said the vote was 4-3 in favor of closure.

The final AHS building was completed in 1954, costing a whopping $1.9 million at the time. By contrast, in 1952, Terrell County estimated that it would cost $1.5 million to build seven elementary schools as part of its building program.

When opened in 1954, Albany High had 1,300 students. The last numbers released by the Georgia High School Association – average daily attendance for reclassification in 2016 – Albany was down to 837.

Average daily attendance numbers are hard to come by before 1978, but AHS had to be near its peak in student population in 1962 when the number was 1,697. That made it the second largest white high school in Georgia (Savannah, 2,008) and third largest in Georgia overall (Washington of Atlanta was second at 1,777).

Upon the opening of the 1954 building, no guarantees were made about how long it would last.

The Albany Herald said, “With Albany growing at its present rate, however, no building can be made adequate for anticipated needs for any great length of time, Mr. Kalmon [E.H. Kalmon, Dougherty board chairman] indicated.”

The lengthy article described every facet of the building, from recessed water fountains to its 1,900 lockers. Naturally, the athletic facilities were quite nice for the era.

“THE GYMNASIUM is of such tremendous size as to stagger the visitor. No less than six basketball goals are erected on the interior which boasts a maple floor and pull-out bleachers recessed in the walls which will seat 1,400 persons. In addition, huge ventilating fans keep the structure pleasantly cool. Two practice and two contest courts are provided for basketball and the gym is fringed with showers and dressing rooms, as well as offices and class space for physical education and coaches. The girls’ showers are planning for individual use, whereas the boys have “gang” showers. Lockers and shower facilities are also provided for visiting athletic teams.

“The gymnasium also has a well-designed lobby containing trophy cases, a concession stand and public rest rooms. It is easily available to the enormous parking area in the plant’s rear.

“The basketball goals of the gymnasium may be pulled up and recessed into the wall when not in use and facilities are available to drop a metal screen down the center of the gym to separate boys’ and girls’ basketball squads or physical educational classes.”

Within 10 years, the city had a new high school to behold with the opening of Dougherty on the growing east side of town. Westover opened in 1968.

Albany kept its school population over 1,000 until likely the mid 1990s. GHSA numbers were based on three grades until 1998.

In 1978, the first year the league printed ADA figures in its handbooks, Albany had 922 students from 10th-12th grade. The number dipped to 852 in 1984 before falling under 700 during the next classification cycle.

Albany High recovered to 914 students in 1998, but spent 2000-14 under 800 students, including a low of 702 in 2012-14. The number jumped again to 912 for 2014-16, but dropped again.

Albany

The second Albany High School

Albany’s first dedicated high school was built in 1916, according to the Albany High Times, and located at the corner of Society and Monroe streets. It quickly outgrew the site and was replaced by a building at 1000 N. Jefferson Street. Before the high school buildings, Albany’s high school was part of an all-grades building called Albany Academy.

Albany won only one boys state basketball tournament, the Class B championship in 1935 under head basketball coach and former head football coach, Bevin Lee. The Indians dominated Perry, 34-20, at Woodruff Hall in Athens for the championship.

Albany Indians, 2006-07

Albany High basketball, 2006-07

They were runners-up in 1990 and 1993 – both times to Westover – under Archie Chatmon.

Albany’s girls won state titles in 1952 and 1953. They had not been to state since 2012.

Starting in 1955, Albany also hosted the city’s major boys basketball Christmas tournament before the Civic Center was built.

Indians was chosen as the athletic teams’ nickname in a contest c. 1924. Albany did not have a nickname prior, though the school colors of orange and green had already been established.

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1961-62 Albany High Squaws

Sources: The Dawson News – Nov. 6, 1952; The Albany Herald – Aug. 17, 1954, Dec. 16, 1979; Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Education Statistics: Public High School Data; Southern School News – September 1964; multiple handbooks of the Georgia High School Association; Albany High Times

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Anniversary of GHSA admitting black schools

May 24 marked the anniversary of an important milestone in Georgia High School Association history.

It was on that day in 1966 that the organization voted to admit all-black schools.

A May 26, 1966 Associated Press article from the Palm Beach Post (Fla.) and one the same date from the Rome News-Tribune provided details of the change.

Ten Atlanta schools and four from Savannah had applied for membership in the GHSA when the league held its annual meeting in Thomaston.

The 14 had been members of the Georgia Interscholastic Association. The schools admitted to the GHSA in 1966 were Savannah’s Beach, Johnson, St. Pius X and Tompkins. From the Atlanta area were Archer, Carver, Drexel, Hamilton, Harper, Howard, Price, South Fulton, Turner and Washington. Drexel and St. Pius X were both private Catholic schools (Drexel, oddly enough, was swallowed up by DeKalb County’s St. Pius X in 1967).

These were the first all-black schools in the GHSA, but some integration had taken place earlier. Barely a year after Atlanta’s high schools opened their doors to African-American students, January 1963’s Southern School News had a report on the integration of sports teams.

Whether by agreement or a GHSA ruling, no athletes were playing varsity level sports during the 1962-63 school year. Southern School News said that two athletes, John Henry Carter and Grady Davis were playing B-team basketball at Grady. Clemsey Wood was playing B-team hoops at Brown.

Integration was met with mixed results.

Decatur High, it said, cancelled a B-team game against Grady rather than face black athletes. Druid Hills and St. Pius X (DeKalb) had no issues and played on, as did Smith and West Fulton.

Wood told Southern School News that he believed his teammates had accepted him.

Bert Johnston, who coached Brown’s B-team admitted there was hostility during games.

“[A]s far as I can determine the boys on the team have accepted him. Of course, there has been some reaction from the spectators at other schools, but that’s to be expected.”

An African-American athlete also initially joined the Marist swim team, but found the travel to early morning practice too trying, according to athletic director Rev. William Seli.

Several other schools were gradually integrating and some systems with a small black population, such as Murray County, had completely integrated by the time of the applications.

Though powerful on a local level, the admittance of the 14 in May 1966 was a much bigger step. Now schools were playing not just one or two athletes that had changed schools, but entire teams rooted in identities.

In 1966, GHSA leader Sam Burke was apparently puzzled by what to do with the schools. Reclassification had taken place the previous fall. Regions were settled, schedules were settled.

Burke proposed a new region, 7-AAA, entirely filled with the applicants.

Though brutal for travel, it was not that much of a stretch for the 14 schools. Even at its largest, the GIA had only a single region for its largest schools, though it was subdivided.

The GHSA executive committee overruled Burke’s decision about a single region. The choice was left up to the schools.

All 14 schools were placed in a region for the 1966-67 season.

Region 2-AAA became the home of Beach, Johnson and Tompkins.

Region 3-AAA took on Archer, Harper, Howard, Price, South Fulton, Turner and Washington.

Carver went to Region 3-AA, while St. Pius X went to 2-A and Hamilton went to 4-A. For its one year in the GHSA, Drexel was in Region 8-C.

The ex-GIA members ultimately played a lot of each other in 1966 as figuring out a solution to region standings was not an easy fix. Basketball proved much better, with both Carver and Beach taking state boys titles. Beach walloped South Fulton in the AAA championship game and South Fulton and Turner also made the state tournament field.

A year later, the list grew even more.

Josey and Lucy Laney joined the league at the beginning of the school year. Carver (Columbus) and Spencer came over that December, after the GIA football season ended. The GHSA was even getting smaller public schools, such as Blakeney of Waynesboro.

Others filtered in in 1968. Had total integration not been pushed for 1970 by the Supreme Court, some deep southern Georgia smaller schools were also considering the jump.

Excelsior, based in Rochelle, had gotten the OK from Burke to join in 1970, according to principal Eddie Daniels.

Wilcox County High received all of Excelsior’s students in 1970. Had Excelsior continued, the November 6, 1969 Wilcox County Chronicle said they had at least temporarily been placed in Region 1-C, with Unadilla, Wheeler County, Vienna, Randolph County, Terrell County and Albany private school Deerfield.

The mass of schools leaving had a detrimental effect on the GIA.

Thirty-one high schools jumped to the GHSA or closed between 1966 and 1968, based on differences in the GIA region lists archived at the GHSA office.

At its peak, the GIA had four basketball classifications – AA, A, B and C. In its final year of operation, it was down to AA and A.

On November 12, 1969, The Atlanta Constitution reported that the league would disband in 1970. Burke said the GHSA was receiving applications, which would have included Excelsior’s.

The Constitution said the GIA was encouraging its schools to go to the GHSA if they thought they would have athletics in 1970-71.