JEFFERSON BASEBALL ~ THE EARLY YEARS
JEFFERSON BASEBALL ~ THE EARLY YEARS
By Cecil Buffington
Jefferson, Georgia of the late 1940s and the early 1950s was just a small mill town that afforded its citizens a reasonably safe and comfortable family environment. The 2100 people that called Jefferson their home depended on employment opportunities at Jefferson Mills and various farms or small business ventures to maintain a casual, peaceful, strong christian lifestyle. When Martin Institute went up in flames in 1944, it was obvious that a long path lie ahead until the town would be able to return to the melancholy, easy-going, never-a-worry home-place that made it so special to so many people.
In 1946, the new Jefferson High School was born. One year later the Jefferson High School football team became the new kid on the block. Both of those events provided a unification of the city and enabled the people of Jefferson to move back on track and continue on their path of destiny. But . . . there was another big thing that kept the people, especially the men of Jefferson, as somewhat of a close-knit group. During the early to mid-forties many of the men around town would get together on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at a large meadow owned by Jefferson Mills about a mile from the mill. This adult playground would later become Jefferson Memorial Stadium. The guys would choose up teams and play baseball until almost dark. On several occasions, Mr. Morris Bryan, Senior would walk down from his home, watch a few innings and marvel at the effort and intensity these young men would put into playing the game of baseball.
In May, the Jefferson Mills President announced in the Jackson Herald that organized baseball was coming to the Northeast Georgia area. Jefferson Mills had entered a team in the Georgia - Carolina Industrial Baseball League. Teams involved were Chicopee, Chicopee Mills, Perelot Manufacturing Company of Greenville, S.C., Owen-Washburn of Gainesville, Jefferson Mills, Habersham Mills, Latourneu Manufacturing Company of Toccoa, and Oconee Mills. Each Team would play 28 games. Jefferson Mills won the regular season title with a 19 - 8 record and lost a 4 of 7 series to second place Habersham 4 games to 2 in the playoffs. The Jefferson Mills baseball legacy had begun.
Mr. Alf Anderson, an engineer with the mill would serve as the mill athletic director and head baseball coach. A year later the mill would also sponser its first basketball team. Anderson would also coach an American Legion baseball team that featured young men that attended or had attended Jefferson, Commerce and Braselton High School.
In 1948 - A softball league sponsored by the Jefferson Mills Welfare Association started on Monday, May 10. Jefferson Mills was officially in the "all-ball" business.
From this point the Jefferson baseball momentum, in modern vernacular "went viral" as more and more teams and leagues were formed in and around Jefferson.
Softball games were played on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There were no lights, so games started at 5:30 and consisted of 5 innings or 45 minute time frames.
Jefferson Mills announced on June 7 that Jim Umbricht would be on the Jefferson Mills team. He was a shortstop from Decatur that attended the University of Georgia. Later he would play professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was the first of several big name athletes to play baseball and basketball for the mill team.
On May 26, 1949 - Lights were added at the Jefferson Mills Recreation Field as it was named The Morris M. Bryan Memorial Stadium. The newly named Jefferson football "Dragons" would play their home football games in the stadium starting the following September.
In 1949 - Jefferson fielded its first American Legion baseball team since 1946. They would play fifteen games - winning 9 and losing 6.
Independent League and American Legion baseball was gaining tremendous popularity in the state of Georgia.
In 1950 - The Jefferson Mill baseball team won 16 games and lost 7 in the Georgia Independent League. The American Legion team won 13 and lost 11.
In 1951- The Red Yancey coached American Legion baseball team won 22 games ( 17 in succession ) while losing only 4. They finished the season as District runner up.
On July 8, 1951, J. T. Wilkes, recognized as possibly the best Jefferson area pitcher of the 50s era, pitched two complete 7-inning games for Brockton in the Tri-State League, He allowed 10 hits in a 5 - 3 win in the first game and completed his day with a 6-hit shut-out, 13 - 0 in the second game. Wilkes would win 11 games that season with only 2 losses, both by one run.
In 1951 when Coach John Davis was hired as the Jefferson head football coach and athletic director, he received two mandates from the Morris Bryan, Jr. led Jefferson Board of Education. Those two priorities were to start a baseball team at the high school and develop a track program. Morris Bryan was a former Georgia Tech track star and longed to see a formidable track and field program at Jefferson High School.
In 1952 - On the night of April 11, Jefferson opened their initial baseball season at home with a win over North Habersham 3 - 0 at Memorial Stadium. Members of the team were; P - Luther Wilkes, C - Nelson Tolbert, 1B - Locke Potts, 2B - Jimmy McMullan, SS - Billy Sailors, 3B - Y. D. Maddox, LF - Jimmy McClure, CF - Hugh Blackstock, RF - Marvin Hall.
Coach Davis also made good on the second school board priority as his initial track squad, anchored by all-time Jefferson athletic great Donald Cole, finished number 5 in the state.
The baseball team lost to Clayton 3 - 0, beat South Habersham 6 - 0 with Wilkes again on the mound. The Jefferson team beat Commerce 5 - 1 to close out their regular season as Hugh Blackstock had three hits and Wilkes pitched a three hit complete game.
In the Ninth District Baseball tournament at Memorial Field, Jefferson went out in two games, losing to Dahlonega 5 -3 and Winder 8 - 4.
Billy Sailors was chosen to play in the third annual Lighthouse All-Star Game at Ponce De Leon Park in Atlanta on June 19. Sailors started at shortstop and had two hits in the 6 - 4 North team win. Two weeks later he played in the B-C all-star game held at Georgia Tech.
Billy Sailors enrolled at Georgia Tech where he walked on in baseball, eventually received a full scholarship and completed a successful college baseball career.
In 1953 - The Jefferson baseball team was; Wayne Wages, Charles Middlebrooks, Tommy Henderson, Davis Roberts, Bucky Johnson, Dale Murphy, Ed Stancil, Al Jennings, Howard Langford, Locke Potts, Jimmy McMullan, Lester Toney, Y. D. Maddox, and Marvin Hall.
This same year a Jackson County community baseball League was established with four teams. Those teams were: Jefferson, Brockton, Commerce, and Talmo.
Jefferson Mills also had a team in the Tri-County Industrial League that saw many of these Community League players forming the nucleus of the team.
All games for Jefferson teams and Jefferson Mills were played at Memorial Stadium. The Jefferson Giants also played their home games at Memorial Stadium. It seemed that almost every day during the spring and summer months some type of softball or baseball game was being played during the evening hours at the Memorial Stadium baseball/softball field.
The Games were played in the Community League on Wednesday nights.
Jefferson Players were; Carol Buford - 2B, Tom Henderson - CF, Henry Robinson - CF, Billy Sailors - SS, Fuzzy Hoard - RF, Locke Potts - 1B, Charlie Cox - 3B, John Godfrey - LF, Bucky Johnson - C, and Marvin Hall - P.
In August a St. Louis Cardinal try-out camp was held at Memorial stadium. Over 60 aspiring major leaguers attended the tryouts. There were not any signings from the camp.
In 1956 - The Jefferson Baseball team lost only one game during the season. A 12 - 6 loss to Buford. They defeated them in a return game 8 - 2. They closed out the season with three strong wins over Commerce 6 - 4, over Maysville 27 - 1, and over Winder 6 - 3.
They would meet Buford in a region playoff game and fall 7 - 3 to close out their season.
The 1956 baseball team members were; Wayne Wages, Daniel Gasaway, Milton Arnold, Melvin Tolbert, Edwin McClure, John Kesler, Benny Tompkins, Lewis Gaily, Gary Duke, Al Venable, Charlie Gilbert, Ronald Ferguson, Billy Ricks, Omer Whitmire, Wendell Finch, Jerry “Ace” Adams and Johnny Melvin.
In 1957, pitching for the Jefferson Mills team, J. T. Wilkes pitched all 18 innings as The Mill team downed White Hall 4 - 3. It remained the longest single game in Jefferson Memorial Stadium history upon its closing in 1969 as a baseball venue. The win pushed Jefferson Mills to a league leading 7 - 0 record. Wilkes gave up 7 hits in the game. Other teams in the league were Athens, Berea, White Hall, Nicholson, Drain Hill, Commerce, Dogsboro and Madison. Jefferson would complete the season with a record of 16 - 0 and win the North Georgia Independent League Championship. Wilkes won 13 of the 16 games for Jefferson.
As the 60s approached, the independent leagues began to dis-band. Hugh Lee Culpepper managed the last mill team in 1958 and put together several good teams in an independent league into the early 60s. As interest in recreational baseball waned, the diamond impetus became more on softball, little league, junior league and high school baseball. By 1963, all remnants of a weekend or independent league had vanished from the Jefferson area. The old-time heroes like the Wilkes Bros. ( J. T. and Luther ), Billy Sailors, Curtis Segars, Nelson Tolbert, Locke Potts, Billy Ricks, Charlie Cox, Fuzzy Hoard, Henry Robinson, Hugh Lee Culpepper, Otis Berry, and John Godfrey became just fun memories for their amazing accomplishments on various Jefferson baseball teams. I was fortunate to play left field on one of those last independent teams as a 14-year old eighth-grader in 1958. The memories will never be forgotten, nor should they be, by those that lived through, watched, played on a team and cherished those early years of Jefferson baseball.
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