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Posted: March 16, 2013 5:53 p.m.

So close, so great

Reflections of '63 Lady Rams hoops

History often remembers the best teams, and the best teams are often the closest knit.

The 1963 Newton girls’ basketball team was both, ranking among the greatest in the county’s history of legendary hoops teams, and, still to this day — 50 years later — is a family group.

The Lady Rams of 1963 went unbeaten in 33 games, boasting several All-State and All-Region players, reaching the state’s AA championship before falling to Hart County in the state title game. It was a team built from players who competed against one another in each of Newton County’s elementary schools before coming together inhigh school and working toward the ultimate goal of the state championship.

In the early ’60s, the team trained together throughout summers in the sweltering Sharp Gymnasium, maintained camaraderie on the road, sharing meals together and helping each other with their studies. In the years after, the Lady Rams kept those relationships that far exceeded the pick-and-roll and give-and-go combinations on the court, and the annual reunions that are typical of a graduated class.

By their sides
When Day (Morcock) Kinnon, Carol George, Rosemary (Laster) Needham and Jordye Bailey were diagnosed with cancer, the teammates came to each other’s support, helping them each get through their toughest times. When George and Bailey succumbed to the disease, the teammates mourned and remembered, and were at George’s side in California three weeks before her passing. Even after George’s passing, Kinnon still kept a connection with her through her daughters who became part of the special bond formed by the Newton basketball teammates.

“I feel really close to her daughter because of who her mom was,” Kinnon said. “(The 1963 team) stayed very closely in touch.”

While that bond is strong now, it wasn’t always so inseparable looking back to the building of that great squad.

The county’s best becoming a unit

Prior to the 1963 team entering high school, many of the future state-runners-up were “very much enemies,” according to Kinnon, attending different elementary schools and playing on different teams. The ’63 Lady Rams came from Livingston, Porterdale, Palmerstone and Fiquette elementary schools, all funneling into one of the state’s best basketball schools in Newton County High School.

Newton County had gained a reputation as one of the nation’s best boys’ basketball teams under the direction of Coach Ron Bradley, with its gymnasium filled to capacity and coaches across the county eager to share their hoops knowledge. Coaches such as Bradley, Billy Crowell, Stone Cooper and others helped each and every one of the young Lady Rams get ready to carry that strong basketball tradition onto the girls’ side at an early age.

“It all started for me and Betty Faith (Jaynes) at the Porterdale Gymnasium with coach B.C. Crowell,” Powell said. “He took us when we were fifth graders and started teaching us how to handle the ball and how to do dribble exercises and running exercises and started grooming us for a championship.”

Crowell gave Powell her first basketball, a leather one, which she often carried and even took along with her when trespassing into the Porterdale Gymnasium.

“When I couldn’t get in and the doors were locked, I went around the back of the gym to find a window open to shoot hoops,” Powell said. “I had to go through the dark girls’ locker room to go to the court, and I was kind of scared, but Billy Crowell told me to get better I had to (continuously play).”

When the girls reached ninth grade, old rivalries were almost instantly erased and the team set a plan.

“When we became ninth graders, we sort of got together and banded together and wanted to be able to one day all start and then get a state championship,” Jaynes said. “We sort of committed ourselves to each other that this is what we would do as ninth graders.”

The Lady Rams improved each year since then, and the summer before 12th grade, they knew 1963 would be the year. Newton had its six seniors set to start, carrying all that experience of the previous four years and beyond, including having Jaynes and George start since their freshman seasons.

Chasing a championship

Jaynes, George and Sandra (Lester) Needham were the starting guards on the 33-1 team, making up the state’s top defensive unit, while Powell, Needham and Bailey were the forwards, with Bailey being the Lady Rams’ top scorer.

That lineup dominated opposing teams — George and Jaynes were among the state’s best and Bailey was a scoring force and Powell was a threat in the post. The winning ways went up through the region tournament, where Newton met another very talented team in Hart County.

The Lady Rams came away the winners, 53-50 on Feb. 23, 1963, facing their biggest rivals and one of the state’s best players in Melba Yeargin.

“They were always the big rivals,” Powell said. “They were mean and played dirty and played hard. That was always our goal, to beat Hart County.”

The Lady Rams overcame the tough play of Hart County, and the aggressive play of other teams trying to knock off the state’s best. Newton was always regarded as the state’s best due to its boys’ basketball teams success, but the girls’ team managed to stay grounded. It also managed to stay out of trouble, thanks in part to coach Stone Cooper.

Cooper came to Newton after serving with the Navy SEALS and took on the girls’ coaching job for a little extra cash. He was a serious coach but joked around with the team, especially who Kinnon called a comedian in Jaynes. If anyone was trying to get after the Lady Rams, Cooper was there to protect them.

When the girls’ team was sitting in the stands while the Newton boys’ team played, they would be right in the line of fire of the fans having to face some confrontations.

“Some of those fans could get very mean, especially at the tournaments because we won so much,” Powell said. “All that anger and frustration of the other team would spill over to us sometimes.

One time, one of the parents on the opposing team jerked a sing out of (a Newton fan’s) hands and Coach Cooper stepped in real quick and got that shut down.”

Disappointment

Opponents remained unable to shut down Newton on the basketball court as they won a state tournament game, and then the semifinals against Calhoun. The Lady Rams defeated Calhoun 38-29 but were handed a loss that would prove devastating. Cooper had been scoring around 30 points per game, according to Jaynes and was Newton’s best pure shooter. Against Calhoun, she was struck in the thigh by an opposing players knee and went into the following day’s championship game, against rival Hart County injured and far from 100 percent.

With Cooper unable to perform at her usual level, scoring just 12 points, Hart County took advantage of Newton’s scoring inefficiency and took home the title with a 50-39 victory.

“You can’t take away 30-plus points from us and expect us to win,” Jaynes said. “It was very disappointing but unfortunately that’s the way the game was. The other girls coming in tried to make up the difference and justweren’t ready for it.

“It was sad to have gone through 30-something games and go to the state championship and lose. If we would have been full force it wouldn’t have hurt as bad.”

While the team suffered, crying after the game and on the bus ride back, the town still supported another one of its great basketball teams, showing up in force when the Lady Rams arrived back at the Newton gym.

“I think the whole town showed up after we came back,” Jaynes said. “(At the gym everybody was) waiting for us to come back and show us how proud they were and how far we’d gone. That made us feel good.”

What was and what could have been

Just seven weeks after returning from the devastating loss, the six Newton starters graduated from high school and went their separate ways. Jaynes, George and Kinnon were the only three to go to college at Georgia Women’s College, Weslyan and Agnes Scott, respectively, and the others started jobs and/or families.

Throughout the years, each have gone on to success in their own ways, but one of their biggest achievements will always be the 33-1 season of 1963.

“I always think all the time about what should have been and what could have been,” Powell said.
In a few months, the team will get together once again for the class of 1963’s 50-year reunion and will once again tell the stories and keep the memories alive for both themselves and the generations of Newton fans moving forward.

“We all get together for luncheons or tea and most everybody is married with children or grandchildren and all those kids listen to our stories,” Jaynes said.

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