A two-city doubleheader and a mystery reference

Tift County Industrial opened its 1950-51 basketball season rather late – January 19 – but the Tigers didn’t hesitate in making up for lost time.

They played a doubleheader on the opening day (and night).

“[T]hey open the 1951 basketball season on the road against Hahira this afternoon and Dasher High, of Valdosta, tonight,” according to the January 19, 1951 Daily Tifton Gazette.

Hahira’s African-American high school closed in 1959 with the opening of Westside. At the time of its closing, it was known as Webb-Miller, but it is unknown if that name was in use in 1951. Dasher ceased being a high school in 1956 when Valdosta city built Pinevale.

Though doubleheaders seem quite rare, even in segregated basketball, this one would have been relatively easy to pull off. An afternoon game at Hahira almost certainly meant that the school lacked a gymnasium. Many segregated high schools played outdoors for that reason.

Dasher, being the nicer city high school, had a gymnasium. If not on their campus, somewhere in the community that allowed it to call home. The ride from Hahira to south Valdosta would have taken less than 30 minutes.

(Tift County’s black community was seeking a gymnasium a few years later, seemingly indicating that Industrial, too, lacked an indoor court.)

There is a bit of mystery from the 1951 Gazette article:

“Both teams will be seeking to improve their last season’s record which ended with the girls taking third place in the state tournament and the boys fourth.”

Neither placed in the Georgia Interscholastic Association’s Class B 1950 state tournament. Industrial played football in Class B, though that did not necessarily mean the high school was; Class C never had enough member schools for its own state tournament.

Being the only black high school in Tift County, Industrial was likely a B school, especially as they made the 1949 state hoops tournament in B. However, no information currently exists about the 1950 Class C boys tournament. The girls did not place in the other half of Class C, though, where the third and fourth place teams were Ellaville and Union Normal (Bainbridge).

Class B girls’ third and fourth squads were Liberty County and a Cordele school (or Carroll County Training – results differ). The boys’ third and fourth were Savannah Street (Newnan) and Lemon Street (Marietta).

Nor did Tift County Industrial place in 1949. The boys were knocked out in the first round in 1949 by Union Baptist of Athens. The girls likely weren’t in the tournament.

It could be that the unknown black correspondent to the Gazette confused district and state. Basketball game results for Industrial are nearly nil, especially during that era.

School stories: Wilson (Ringgold)

Wilson (Ringgold)

A rear view of Ringgold’s Wilson High in 2013.

This was an all-grades school.

No, not the giant two-story building in the background. The one with the chimney. The one that resembles a small office.

This was Wilson High School, one of the smallest black high schools in Georgia.

Wilson opened in the building in September 1955. The history of black education in the preceding years was not well-publicized in the Catoosa County News.

From 1949-52, it was a two-teacher school. Teacher counts were not included again until 1956-57, when it had expanded up to three.

Wilson was not only quite small, it was the only school for African-Americans in the county. If any others had existed, they closed prior to the 1949-50 school year.

What sufficed as a school building prior to Wilson’s construction was not described in Catoosa County’s state survey, which was published in the newspaper January 3, 1952. It can be assumed that it was a frame building. A new building was in the works as soon as Catoosa revealed its improvement plans in 1953.

The Georgia Department of Education’s first attempt as a reasonably thorough list of black schools did not come until the 1956-57 school year. In that edition, Wilson was a 10-grade school. It was also listed as Ringgold Colored.

When exactly the Wilson name was applied to the school was unknown.

The Georgia Department of Education did not pick up the name in its directory until the 1959-60 school year and the first reference found in the Catoosa County News as Wilson was in October 1956.

The Educational Directory upgraded Wilson to 12 grades in 1957-58. It was listed as having four teachers in 1965-66, which may have been its final year as a school; Wilson is not in the 1966-67 directory.

Georgia Interscholastic Association records (housed by the Georgia High School Association) list Wilson’s average daily attendance at the high school level as 17 in 1959-60. If it still existed in 1966-67, Wilson’s ADA had increased to 22.

(Oddly, the Georgia Department of Education does not list Catoosa County as having a black high school in its 1961-62 publication, Public High School Data.)

Wilson’s existence as a high school was perhaps an odd one. Its ADA was one of the smallest of any public high school on either GIA region list.

It was not uncommon for counties with minuscule black populations in Georgia to bus school children to a neighboring district. Nearby Murray County was sending its high schoolers to Emery Street in Dalton – a county that also abutted Catoosa.

Eventually, Ringgold High grew around old Wilson. That school is the one in the background of the top photo. Perhaps surprisingly in the era of segregation, they were virtually neighbors after new schools opened in 1955.

Luckily, RHS had a use for the building.

Wilson is now the JROTC headquarters for Ringgold High. It’s a bit frightening that one department of a school is located in what was an entire grades 1-12 school.

Though a tornado came through in 2011 that damaged both Ringgold High and neighbor Ringgold Middle, Wilson still stands.

DSC02412 - Copy

Wilson is now a JROTC building. A careful examination of its walls show where windows were bricked over.

School Stories is a series of current-to fairly current photos of school buildings. Some are long abandoned, some are still in use. Most will be rural or small town schools. Information is provided by newspaper archives and editions of the Georgia Educational Directory.

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.