By R. Alan Richardson
Beginning with the 1973-74 basketball campaign and continuing on into 1975 fans had the pleasure of watching two seasons of some of the finest play in Morgan County history. Going back through the facts and pulling up memories from the old memory bank, it was a two season stretch in which the Lady Dogs made it deep into the playoffs, won two straight region championships, and sported three college signees. Charlene McWhorter, Varnell Porter, and Lindy Veasley all went on to play together at Albany State on some fantastic teams there after high school. McWhorter also played in the early years of the Women’s NBA and was the leading scorer in the league as well as the All-Star game’s MVP.
Coach Nathan Carter was in charge of the program those two seasons and did an outstanding job putting the pieces together and guiding the team during what I would describe as by far the best at the time Morgan’s fans had ever seen. Basketball was at an all-time fever pitch during that time. Football was king and the hardcourt players usually took second fiddle to the pigskin. However, not only were the girls having a lot of success, but so were the boys. In 1975, the Dogs were the first team in Morgan’s basketball history to go to the final eight. They lost a one point heartbreaker that would have put them squarely in the final four.
It is the girls’ 1973-74 season that needs to be revisited here. In what many would call one of the biggest travesties and senseless rulings ever handed down by the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) our girls were deprived (maybe even cheated) out of a chance to go to the Final Four. For those of you who were around to remember it, the details may be a little cloudy.
The Lady Dogs were pitted against Miller County in the quarterfinals and they were a formidable foe. Morgan trailed at the half by 15 points, but made a furious rally to come back in the final 16 minutes. In those days, it was not five-on-five full-court basketball. The teams each had five players on the court, but only two from each team were allowed to cross half-court. Those two were called rovers. You had three players on each squad who only played offense or defense. It’s a far cry from what you see today.
Donna Barrett Joseph was exclusively an offensive player who played point guard and wore jersey number 10 on that team. She said, “My job was to take care of and get the ball into Toy’s hands (McWhorter’s nickname) at the low block.” Barrett scored occasionally and in this particular state playoff game she got a bucket in the second half. The problem was that both the official scorer and clock keeper awarded that basket to number 10 of the opposing squad. The final score showed Morgan losing by one point when they actually won the game by one point. The GHSA reviewed the game and decided that there was a mistake that cost them the win. Instead of giving Morgan the win, they ruled that the second half should be played over. Are you kidding me? The girls won the game fair and square, but now they have to come back from a 15 point deficit again. Morgan could not overcome it and were deprived a chance at a possible state championship. By the way, I was there and saw it unfold.
Coach Carter was quoted in the Madisonian as saying, “We got robbed!” He was exactly right. Barrett Joseph told us this in an interview, “It’s still a big deal to me 40 years later. We should never have agreed to play that second half over. I don’t know who was involved in that decision, whether it was the principal, athletic director, or who, but they didn’t seem to fight hard enough for us.” Donna talked about the reasoning behind why Miller County might have won their case saying, “Their argument was that they would have played the game differently if they had known they were down by one point instead of up one point. It was wrong. Having to play from 15 down again from the half was tough. We were tired and had to go back to Macon after spending a half day in school and just never got cranked back up.” She mentioned a number of teammates on that team that included Bertie Mae Wilson, Beth Carter, Jean Morris, Pam Hawk, Elaine Bond, and Hattie Johnson that suffered through that devastating ruling. She told us, “Coach Carter signed my yearbook with this, “P.S. We really were the best. State Champs 1973-74.”