TIFTON — Part 1 of 2
The Georgia Interscholastic Association existed from 1948 until 1970. It ceased to exist as the state was closing the last doors of legal segregation. While in operation, the GIA crowned sporting champions in five different events: baseball, track and field, football and girls and boys basketball. Tiftarea teams made several state tournaments, won seven of them and were runners-up nine more times.
Tift County Industrial was the original high school in Tifton for African-American students and was known by this name until 1957 when the newly-built Wilson took its place. Industrial’s athletic successes included a four-year run where they advanced to the state football semifinals in four consecutive seasons, capturing two championships and another runner-up crown.
In 1949, the Tigers’ only loss of the season was in the finals, where they were upended by Union Baptist Institute of Athens by an unknown score. The score is also missing from the final game of the 1950 season, but it was one with a much happier result. Under Coach R.L. Mack, they defeated Marietta’s Lemon Street high in a championship game played in Tifton. In 1951, they were eliminated in the semifinals by Oconee of Dublin, who was returning the favor from the year previous when they were known as Washington Street. The 1952 title game was possibly the greatest upset in GIA history when Arthur Mott’s Tigers defeated Cedar Hill, 20-14. The Cedartown team had only given up six points on the year and were 9-1. Industrial would go to the semis again in 1954, their last football appearance until Wilson returned in 1965.
The 1965 Wilson team were 11-0-0 coming into the state title game, where they were paired with a 12-0-0 Trinity (Decatur) squad. The Tigers rushed out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but saw it slip away in a 19-14 defeat. Four years later, Wilson participated in the final GIA football game when they traveled to Perry to face Houston County Training. This time, it was the opposition with a 14-0 lead, one they made last all the way to a win by the same score.
Industrial’s boys are known to have been in one state basketball tournament. In 1955’s Class A tourney at Albany State, they were defeated by Brunswick’s Risley High in the finale, 50-41. They had gotten that far by defeating Immaculate Conception of Augusta in the first round and then knocked off Griffin’s defending state champions, Fairmont, in the semis. Likewise, the girls basketball team of Wilson appears to have only gone to state once. In 1969, they captured third place over Drake (Thomaston). In the semis, they were clipped by eventual state champions Pike County Consolidated.
The Monitor Eagles easily had the most successful basketball tradition of any of the area schools. The Fitzgerald city school won two Class B boys basketball championships and came in second twice more in an incredible four-year run. The trophy haul began in 1958 when they defeated Wayne County Training in the finals, 73-65, at the Waycross City Auditorium.
The next year, Samuel Roberts' crew finished a perfect 23-0 season, but there is confusion over who they defeated for the crown. A local newspaper said they defeated Center of Waycross, 44-41, but Center was a Class A school and Monitor remained in B. The paper from Blackshear indicates that they defeated Boggs Academy by four points. Currently, no other information about the tournament has surfaced.
In 1960, the Eagles ran into a brick wall from West Point, Harrison High, who ended their run with a 62-54 win in the Class B finale. Monitor made it back in 1961, but R.L. Cousins from Douglasville stood in the way this time, 74-64. The win was revenge for Cousins, who had lost to Monitor in the semifinals in '60.
The girls team from Monitor might have won laurels to some degree in 1957. In the last year before a ban on girls basketball at all-white Fitzgerald High, Monitor advanced to the semifinals, where they defeated by Southside of Colbert. They were scheduled to face the private school from Keysville, Boggs Academy, in the consolation game, but a score has not surfaced.
The gridiron gang from Monitor, who suited up from 1955 through 1966, were runners-up in their third year of competition, 1957, when they were defeated by Cedar Hill in the championship game by an unknown score. James Willis' crew had defeated Evans County in the semis. In 1961, William Weatherspoon took them to the semis again, but this time they fell to Wayne County Training, 14-7.