1964 Men's Basketball Team
With “a bunch of old country boys and a crazy coach,” the 1964 Golden Stallions of ABAC captured the hearts of basketball fans everywhere. Behind an offense which piled up points like cords of firewood, the team stormed through a very talented field to claim the state championship.
The Golden Stallions of Coach Benny Dees entered the 14-team tournament in Statesboro in 1964 as the number three seed after going 14-3 in the league and 15-5 overall during the regular season.
Coach Dees told me they were an interesting bunch. Seeing some of the characters on this team, I would say that is quite an understatement from The Legend.
ABAC beat Armstrong 64-43 in the first round behind 13 points by Gwendell McSwain, 12 points by Cook Holliday, and 10 points by Jimmy Scearce. In the second round game, the Stallions knocked off Augusta 80-72. Gwendell scored 25 to lead an ABAC scoring parade which also included 14 points apiece by Tommy Dial, Jake Popham and Cook. Jimmy added 13 points.
The Legend brought Jake Popham and his brother Russell with him when he left Manor High School to come to ABAC. That was probably a little bit of a culture shock don’t you think?
In the semifinal game, ABAC slipped by second-seeded Young Harris 71-65 as Tommy Dial scorched the cords for 28 points. Gwendell had 16 points, and Jimmy added 12.
The Coach called Jimmy the Guts of That Team!
The Stallions thumped top-seeded Columbus 76-58 in the title game when Tommy Dial hit 11 of 16 shots and added five free throws for 27 points. Jimmy chipped in 14 points.
Tommy Dial was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and Gwendell McSwain and Jimmy Scearce made the all-tournament team. It was the first men’s basketball state title for ABAC since Coach Bruce Gressette’s team won the 1949 state championship.
Tifton just fell in love with the team. Benny Dees was Bobby Knight before there was a Bobby Knight.
“We were just a bunch of old country boys with a crazy coach.” – Tommy Dial
The Legend promised Tommy a full ride scholarship to ABAC. His full ride was that he got up every morning at 5 o’clock and went to the lunchroom to work. That was his scholarship. Seven of the Stallions stayed in a garage apartment. It was so cold in the winter they had to use electric blankets—in the daytime!!
He said the ABAC students went to the Army Surplus Store and bought a bunch of old Army helmets. Then they lined up like a platoon and marched in that little old gym. It was crazy. They had metal trash cans with Coke bottles inside. Think about that.
The Golden Stallions lost to Gulf Coast 85-82 in Tallahassee, Fla., in the first round of the 1964 regional tournament. The season was over but the memories live on forever.
Two of the champs have passed away, Jimmy Scearce and Ronnie Archer. May they score many baskets against Middle Georgia in Heaven!!
The other team members are Tommy Dial, Gwendell McSwain, Cook Holliday, Jake Popham, Russell Popham, N.J. Tippens, Peter Dees, Tyron Spearman, Bill Mathis, Maury Long, Jimmy Fountain, and J.E. Griffis. And The Legend—Coach Benny Dees.
A freshman physical education major from Uzbekistan, Luiza Biktyakova won the national title for the ABAC women’s team at #2 singles in the 2001 National Junior College Athletic Association national tennis tournament. She also teamed with Natalie Drabova to claim the national championship at #1 doubles and lead Coach Margaret Treadway’s team to a fifth place finish in the national tournament. The Golden Fillies also won the 2001 state championship.
Luiza finished the 2001 season with a perfect 24-0 record in singles and a 24-1 record in doubles. She was a First Team NJCAA All-America selection.
Coach Treadway said that Luiza was very technically sound on the court. She had amazing quickness, and she could change direction in no time flat.
In October of 2001, Luiza became the first ABAC female tennis player to win the prestigious Intercollegiate Tennis Association Junior College Women’s Singles championship at the National Small College Tournament in Dallas, Texas.
During her sophomore season at ABAC, Luiza led the women’s tennis team of Coach Alton Hudgins to its eighth straight state championship. She was named the Most Valuable Player of the state tournament. The Golden Fillies wound up sixth in the 2002 national tournament.
Luiza spent her final two years of eligibility as a member of the Georgia College and State University women’s tennis team. She earned ITA All-America status and All-Peach Belt Conference honors in each of her two seasons there.
A member of the Peach Belt Conference champions in 2003, Luiza was the ITA/Rolex Region Doubles Champion twice with two different partners. She paired with Mia Paavilainen to finish second in the 2002 NCAA Division II national tournament.
In 2003, Luiza was selected as the recipient of the ITA National Arthur Ashe Leadership and Sportsmanship award. Named after the tennis legend, the award recognizes outstanding individuals in all divisions at the regional and national level for their skills in leadership and sportsmanship.
As a junior at Georgia College, Luiza was 20-5 in singles and 17-ll in doubles. As a senior, she rolled up an 18-10 record in singles and was 26-9 mark in doubles. Luiza was named to the Georgia College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.
A former professional golfer who was twice named First Team All-America at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College has been selected as a member of the 2017 class of the ABAC Athletics Hall of Fame. Joey Dixon, who led the Golden Stallions of Coach Wayne Cooper to back-to-back state titles in 1984 and 1985, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on April 7.
Dixon is a Pierce County High School graduate who had several college opportunities to play golf when his career ended with the Bears. He’s glad he chose ABAC.
“I felt like ABAC was the best place for me,” Dixon, now 51, said. “I think the world of Coach Wayne Cooper. ABAC was a very cozy place. It was probably the best two years of my life up to that point from a growing-up standpoint. Everybody looked out for everybody else.”
In his freshman year at ABAC, Dixon won the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association individual title at the University of Georgia course in Athens despite a shaky start.
“Through the first few holes, I was one over par,” Dixon remembered with a chuckle. “Coach Cooper always threw his hands up in the air so we could signal to him how close we were to par. When I signaled to him that I was one over, he about went crazy. Then I had two eagles and a birdie and won the tournament by five shots.”
ABAC finished fourth in the national tournament that year behind the outstanding play of Dixon, who wound up 10th in the individual competition. In 1985, the Stallions recorded an eighth place finish in the national tournament after winning yet another state title. Dixon was a first team All-America selection both years.
Dixon’s heroics on the golf course earned him a scholarship to Georgia Tech. In 1986, the Yellow Jackets were the preseason number one college golf team in America.
“I went up there with great dreams,” Dixon said. “In fact, I won the first qualifying tournament we played in by 11 shots. But I found it hard to balance the tough academics at Tech against the schedule we had as golfers. I was out of sorts.”
Dixon became a professional golfer in 1987. He began by playing the Space Coast mini-tour before traveling to South Africa in 1989 and 1990 to tackle the South Africa Professional Golfers Association tour.
“I played against some Hall of Famers over there,” Dixon said. “Nick Price and John Daly were playing over there and many others. In my first four-day event, I shot 10 under par. I felt good about my score except that I still lost by 11 shots.
“I called my dad and told him that I was playing better than I knew how to play but I had a problem because as good as I was playing, I still lost by 11 shots. I told him I needed to get a job.”
Dixon did set one tournament record when he shot seven under par on the front nine in the first round of the South African Masters. That was after a practice ball he hit landed in the middle of a caddy’s head and knocked him out cold. In an extraordinary effort of concentration, Dixon erased the episode from his mind and started making birdies on every hole.
“I just turned off my consciousness and started playing unconscious,” Dixon said. “I later took my wife over there and showed her some of the places I played.”
Dixon married Kelly Ann Sullivan in 1993. She’s not a golfer but they did meet on a driving range in Marietta.
“Her dad had told her that all the nice guys played golf,” Dixon said with a laugh. “That was the first and only time she went to the driving range.”
After battling Parkinson’s Disease for five years, Dixon retired in 2016 from his 20-year career as a manufacturer’s representative in the golf industry. The Dixons live in Greensboro at Reynolds Plantation. He’s looking forward to returning to Tifton for the Hall of Fame ceremony.
“It’s nice to acknowledged,” Dixon said. “I have led a life of practice and effort and sacrifice. I had a great career at ABAC, and I really enjoyed it. This is quite an honor.”
The Most Valuable Player on the Golden Stallions’ basketball team in 1973 and 1974 has been selected for the 2017 class of the Athletics Hall of Fame at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Worth Hartry, who averaged 23.1 points and 18.6 rebounds for ABAC during his freshman year, was honored at the induction ceremony on April 7.
“When Coach Lowell Mulkey contacted me, I didn’t even know ABAC existed,” Hartry, now 63, admitted. “But going to ABAC was a great experience for me. We had the biggest gym of all the junior colleges. I had a good time down there.”
Hartry said a Golden Stallions’ trip to Panama to play two games was one of the highlights of his ABAC career.
“We drove the big ABAC bus down to Miami to get on the plane,” Hartry said. “I had never been on an airplane before. We played by international rules down there, and they beat us twice. It was really hot. Our uniforms were soaking wet. They took us to a horse race while we were there.”
Hartry said the trip came about because ABAC enrolled a lot of students from Panama at the time including Steve Pierre, who was a top tennis player for Coach Norman “Red” Hill.
“Steve and I played checkers every day in the student center,” Hartry said. “He was a great guy. I will never forget those days there.”
Hartry led the Golden Stallions to an 18-14 record during his freshman campaign. ABAC lost to Alexander City (Ala.) 78-74 in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association tournament to wind up the season. Hartry was selected for All-State and All-Region honors.
In the season opener of his sophomore year, the Golden Stallions traveled to Hartry’s hometown of Milledgeville where the 6-foot-5 graduate of Baldwin High School torched Georgia Military College for 36 points and pulled down 20 rebounds. ABAC lost to Truett-McConnell 79-61 in the first round of the state tournament that season.
“Middle Georgia was our rival but Truett-McConnell was tough too,” Hartry said. “Students really turned out for the games but a lot of people from the community came to see us play.”
Hartry took his skills to Piedmont College in Demorest for his final two years of eligibility where he was a standout player for the Lions.
Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College honored the memory of a five-time Coach of the Year on April 7 when the late Alton Hudgins became a posthumous member of the 2017 class of the Athletics Hall of Fame.
Hudgins, a 1975 ABAC graduate, joined the ABAC staff in 1993 as the intramural sports director. A graduate of the University of Georgia and Eastern Kentucky University, he also coached ABAC’s only intercollegiate volleyball team for four years from 1995-98. The Fillies finished second in Region XVII of the National Junior College Athletic Association three times before winning the state championship in 1998. Hudgins was named the 1998 Coach of the Year.
Hudgins then coached the ABAC women’s tennis team for four years from 2002-05, chalking up a 35-26 record. The Fillies won the state championship each of those years, and Hudgins was named Coach of the Year each time. The Fillies finished seventh in the national tournament in 2002 and fifth nationally in 2003. ABAC did not participate in the national tournament in 2004 despite winning the state tournament. The Fillies finished 10th in the 2005 national tournament.
Ironically, Hudgins was the coach for another Hall of Fame inductee. Biktyakova anchored his 2002 team when she won the Most Valuable Player award at the state tournament. Hudgins passed away on Nov. 16, 2012. ABAC held a memorial service in his honor in the Chapel of All Faiths on the campus.
Lacy Whatley Kennon
For Lacy Whatley, the numbers do the talking.
During her career as a member of the Golden Fillies’ softball team at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, Whatley led ABAC to the national championship in 1991 and to a second place finish in the national tournament in 1992. She compiled a .486 batting average in 1992 and became the career leader for ABAC in runs scored with 161, hits with 201, triples with 15, and at-bats with 392.
Those numbers have earned her a spot in the 2017 class of the ABAC Athletics Hall of Fame.
“I am still in shock,” Whatley, now married to Ted Kennon, said from her home in Middlebury, Conn., upon being notified of the honor. “There are a lot of great players out there. This is quite an honor for me. ABAC is a great place that allowed me to have time for personal growth and gaining confidence in myself. The professors and the staff just provided so much support it was unbelievable.”
A mechanical engineering major from Chula, Whatley had no problem making the transition from Tift County High School softball to ABAC softball. Playing for Coach Nancy Anderson, Whatley was a member of three consecutive state championship teams during her sophomore, junior, and senior years at TCHS.
“We should have won it when I was a freshman as well,” Whatley remembered.
Whatley said she chose ABAC because Fillies’ Coach Ellen Vickers, and her husband, Vic, were a part of her extended family growing up.
“They were always so supportive of everything I did on the softball field,” Whatley said. “When we won the national championship, Mr. Vickers had promised that he would shave his head. And he did, he got a buzz cut. I remember champagne being squirted up in the air. It was a great feeling.”
The 1991 Fillies compiled a record of 43-7 and became the first Georgia team to win the NJCAA national championship. ABAC beat Lake City (Fla.) for the title, dethroning the two-time defending national champions. The 1992 Fillies recorded a school record 53 victories and finished second in the nation.
Days after walking off the softball field from her position in center field, Whatley walked into the graduation line at ABAC on June 13, 1992 where she received the prestigious George P. Donaldson Award, presented to the top graduate participating in the ceremony. She compiled a sparkling 3.84 grade point average at ABAC before enrolling at Georgia Tech to complete her degree.
“ABAC provided me with a very good foundation,” Whatley said. “Georgia Tech was still a little bit of a shock but I learned to rise up and meet the challenge. I think I got that from going to ABAC and playing softball."
Whatley graduated from Georgia Tech in 1995 and began a four-year career with Southwire as a mechanical engineer. She and her husband, Ted, married in 1999 and moved to Middlebury, where he is an orthopedic surgeon. They have two children, Alex and Kate.
In a 33-year career with the Tift County Recreation Department, Craig Sowell has done everything from cleaning the commodes to balancing a very difficult budget presentation. He knows what it takes to make the Department run smoothly, and thousands upon thousands of local residents have enjoyed the Department’s programs.
After graduating from Calvary Baptist in Savannah in 1980, Craig knew he wanted a college education that would prepare him for a career in recreation. When his dad was relocated to Tifton by Union Camp, ABAC seemed like a perfect starting line.
As an ABAC student, he helped future Hall of Famers Sarge Dorsey in intramurals, Coach Wayne Cooper around the driving range, and Coach Norman Hill around the tennis courts. Craig even danced on the stage at the Sunbelt Expo as a member of the ABAC Travelin’ Stallion square dance troupe of Dr. Fred Reuter and Ed Hawkins.
After completing his ABAC academic requirements, Craig finished his bachelor’s degree in recreation from Georgia Southern. He returned to Tifton in March of 1984 for an internship with the recreation department. In August of that year, he was hired to a full time position with the recreation department as a program assistant. In 1993, he was appointed the director of the department.
Craig helps to build a more productive community by involving more than 2,000 people a year in baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, tackle football, cheerleading, swimming, and tennis opportunities with the recreation department.
Craig and the recreation department assisted with the birth of the ABAC soccer program in 2006 when the Golden Fillies of Coach Jimmy Ballenger played at a recreation department field during their first year of existence before moving to their on-campus field in 2007.
When Hall of Famer Alton Hudgins was directing the ABAC intramurals program, he and Craig worked closely on several projects. Craig has also served on an ABAC athletics advisory committee and has been a visiting instructor for the ABAC rural studies program, focusing on recreation and community development. Craig and the recreation department also helped with the implementation of the women’s softball program at ABAC and hosted the state and national softball tournaments for a number of years.