On Saturday evening we will gather at Upson-Lee High School to induct and honor the ninth class to enter the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame. We got started in 2005 when we inducted our 15-member charter class and we’ve been going strong since then. This year’s class is a strong one.
For the first time in a while, we will have two female inductees as Gwen Murphy Cowart and Tammy Dawson enter the Hall. Both were outstanding basketball players at R.E. Lee. Cowart played for Coach Jim Cavan and was a member of the 1963 AAA State Championship team that went on to win 59 straight games. This was in the days when high school girls basketball teams played three-on-three with three forwards on the offensive end and three guards on the defensive end. No one could cross half court.
Gwen was a forward for Coach Cavan and was a two-time all-state performer. I played on the Lee boys’ teams during this time and was a 1965 classmate with her, so I saw all of the games she played in. She was a really good player who played somewhat in the shadow of Joannie Cavan and Helen Middlebrooks for a couple of years before taking the leadership role in her senior year and having an all-state, Most Valuable Player season. She was a great representative of her school and her home town.
Tammy was a very solid player for Coach Bobby Smith at Lee and played at a time when girls basketball had transcended to full-court action. She then went on to be a two-time all-state player at Gordon Junior College where she led the state of Georgia in scoring. She then enjoyed the significant honor of having her uniform number, #30, retired by the Gordon atheltic department. \
Jeff Neighbors was an All-State, All-Southern, and honorable-mention All-American linebacker for Coach Tommy Perdue at R.E. Lee. He led the Rebels to a region title in his senior season and was named AA Defensive Player-of-the-Year as well as All-Classification Player-of-the-Year. Jeff went on to receive a scholarship to Auburn University.
Ronnie Paul was a truly outstanding running back for Coach Perdue at Lee. This guy could always be counted on get the tough yards when the chips were on the line. He wasn’t the fastest fellow around but he made up for that with toughness, a quick start, and a fearless style. Ronnie led the Rebels in rushing for three straight years. In Lee’s long football history no one else ever did that. When he graduated in 1978 he was the leading career rusher in Rebel history. The Lee Athletic Department thought so much of him that they retired his #32 uniform number. He then received a scholarship to Davidson College. This young man is one of my all-time favorite Rebels!
Coach Wallace Rhodes was my basketball coach at R.E. Lee for my senior season. He made quite an impression on me. He was a big guy who quickly let us know that he was in charge and that he knew what he was doing. He turned a bunch of slow and sometimes bumbling kids into a 15-10 team. You had to be there to know what an accomplishment that was. Rhodes went on to develop some outstanding teams at Lee, especially in 1968 (21-3) and 1975 (22-3), and won 156 games in his career on East Lee Street. His 1975 team won a region championship and finished 3rd in the state tournament. He turned average players into above-average players and good players into outstanding players. This man was an outstanding basketball coach who was successful at a school that did not emphasize basketball.
Our team inductee this year is the 1972 Thomaston Little League baseball team. This team did something that no other local Little League squad ever did when they won the state championship. This was a bit unexpected and they captured the hearts of local fans as they continued to win night-after-night against tough odds.
Bill Heule will receive the Hall of Fame’s Merit Award for his outstanding contributions to athletes and athletics in Thomaston-Upson County. Bill was a wonderful man and a true friend to all players and coaches in our community.
As you can see, we have a great 2013 class and it will be a great night as these wonderful athletes and coaches enter the Hall. You don’t want to miss it!