It’s basketball state tournament time and many teams are chasing the dream of a state championship that will be so exciting now and live on to be a cherished memory in years to come. With that in mind I would like to honor the 1963 R.E. Lee Lady Rebels, who captured the AAA State Championship with a perfect 32-0 record. This year marks the 50th anniversary of this significant accomplishment.
Coach Jim Cavan’s squad was made up almost entirely of underclass players, with only one senior on the roster. That senior was team captain Pitta Middlebrooks. Most of this squad had been working together for many years as Coach Cavan has almost hand-picked many of the girls and nurtured them along at the junior hiogh level and onto the high school scene. These ladies were prepared to be good.
In the 1962-63 season, the rules for girls basketball in Georgia called for three forwards on the offensive end of the floor and three guards on the defensive end. No one could cross the center line, so all of the scoring was done by the forwards. When a team scored a field goal, the officials would throw the ball to mid-court where the other team would enter the ball into play on their offensive end. Although this seems archaic today, we didn’t know any other way in 1963.
This alignment didn’t make much difference to Coach Cavan and his girls. If our girls missed a shot and the other team rebounded, our forwards turned into defenders and they could handle this responsibility about as good as anybody’s guards. Our guards were multi-talented also, as they could handle the ball and rebound as well as play lockdown defense. This team really had no weaknesses.
They played in the old Lee gym and if you didn’t get there early you didn’t get a seat. They filled that little ole barn up and kept the place rockin’. The rumor is that the giant crowds came to see the girls’ game and then left before our less-talented boys played. I’m sure some of that may have happened but we had large crowds too, spurred on by a great girls’ team.
This was a dominant team that seldom received a serious challenge. Nineteen of their victories came by 20 points or more. Only seven of their wins came by less than ten points. The closest contest was their season-opening 55-52 victory over Milner High School.
In addition to the state title, these Lady Rebels won the Atlanta Jaycee Invitational Tournament during the Christmas holidays and then easily captured the Region 4AAA championship with a 42-20 victory over Avondale at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum. In winning this title they became the first ladies team to ever play at Tech’s round facility.
The Lady Rebels then journeyed to Valdosta for the AAA state tournament. They defeated Richmond Academy 52-30 in the first round and then beat a very good Warner Robins team, 59-51, in the semi-finals. In the finals the Lee ladies knocked off Cherokee, 69-62, to win the AAA state crown and wrap up a perfect 32-0 season. Wow! What a year!
Joining Middlebrooks at the guard positions were Luanne Daniel and Annette Hammock. The starting forwards were Joannie Cavan, Helen Middlebrooks, and Gwen Murphy. Donna Wilson was the first reserve at both the forward and guard positions.
The rest of the squad consisted of Carol Nelson, Florrie Bellew, Frances Lifsey, Christie Tyler, Sue Holloway, Dorothy Wilkes, Bobbie Whittington, and Barbara Hardeman. Team managers were Marie Vining and Carolyn Mitchell.
Cavan, Murphy, Hammock and Pitta Middlebrooks were named to the AAA All-State team and Helen Middlebrooks was selected as the team’s Most Valuable Player. Cavan led the team in scoring with a 27.3 per game average while Helen Middlebrooks averaged 17 points and Murphy tossed in 11 points per contest.
In celebrating the 50th anniversary of this team’s great season, it is sad to say that some of these wonderful ladies have passed away. My knowledge of the whereabouts of all of these ladies is very limited but I do know that Sue Holloway, Dorothy Wilkes, Florrie Bellew, and Annette Hammock have all passed away. And of course Coach Jim Cavan has passed away as well.
As a 10th grade member of the 1963 R.E. Lee boys basketball team, I was privileged to see this team play almost every game. I traveled with them on the bus to out-of-town games and saw the confidence, determination, and concentration that they possessed that combined with their superior skills to make them successful. They just had the confidence that no one could beat them and that they would do whatever they needed to do to win a game. They always played very hard and were very, very special!
As a young and inexperienced player, I was amazed at how this group handled their challenges and their success. They had supreme respect and love for Coach Cavan and, believe me, he was a superior basketball coach. There was no better girls’ basketball coach in Georgia than Jim Cavan.
I was in awe of these girls in 1963 and I truly respect these ladies today. They always supported the boys team and were some of our biggest fans. I’ll always remember that!
I am proud and privileged to call all of these ladies my friends today. They were a special group of girls who brought great honor to our community and did it with dignity and pride.