Special to the Times
On the evening of Sept. 5, the 1963 Class A-4A State Champion Pinevale Tigers gathered at their alma mater in reflection of the fiftieth anniversary of their title.
Players from all over the United States returned to Valdosta to reminisce and celebrate their accomplishments.
The Pinevale gymnasium rocked to sounds of the '60's, including Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” Martha & the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.”
Program emcee Donald “Butch” Williams took everyone through a voyage of the unforgettable season which included speeches from teammates, faculty members, and others.
“Fifty years ago, we won our championship,” Williams said. “We had plenty of good teams (in the past), but there would always be something that would trip us up. We were finally able to get over that hurdle, and that is something that we should all be proud of for the rest of our lives.”
The program was highlighted by esteemed guest Charles C. Hall, who served as Pinevale’s principal during the Tigers’ title campaign.
“Truly this is a great occasion,” Hall said. “From the time the doors (of Pinevale High) opened, we hoped and prayed for a state title. It is a privilege to look at all of these faces that made it possible.”
Under the leadership of head coach Edward Jones, the Tigers finished their season undefeated and captured the only state title in the history of the school. Remarkable victories over Liberty County (39-0), Monitor (66-0), and Washington Street (40-0) highlighted what would be one of the school’s finest seasons.
A 27-13 victory over the Lemon Street Hornets in the championship game solidified the Tigers’ place in history.
Everyone in attendance was treated to the soulful sounds of the Sharper Boys, under the direction of State Rep. Dexter Sharper, Sr. The group serenaded the audience with renditions of various selections, including The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” and G.C. Cameron’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.”
“It was great being there and seeing everyone in attendance,” Sharper said. “It was amazing to hear about all of the triumphs that these men faced on and off the field. (Before the reunion) I was unaware any of this had even happened.”
During the ceremony, a special moment of silence was taken to honor the lives of 19 deceased players, trainers and coaches from the championship team. Among those players was star guard and linebacker Horace Hampton, who tragically lost his life while serving his country in the Army during the Vietnam War.
“(Horace) was a tremendous leader on and off the field,” Williams said. “He led by voice and example and his legacy is a part of all of us.”
Pinevale’s gymnasium sits adjacent to the school, which will be torn down upon the completion and opening of the new Pinevale Elementary School. Plans are in effect to convert the gymnasium into a museum which will enshrine memorabilia from the school’s history.
During the announcement, Williams announced to the room that the museum would be named after the former high school principal.
“As students, we didn’t know the things that (Mr. Hall) went through on our behalf,” Williams said. “We want your name across this building to honor all of the time and effort that you put into enriching our lives.”
Valdosta High School was fully integrated in 1969. Prior to integration, Pinevale was the high school that most African American students attended.
At the conclusion of the event, Jeanne Cyriaque, African American Programs Coordinator of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, spoke to the audience about the importance of maintaining Pinevale’s legacy.
“We need to preserve places of African American history and heritage,” Cyriaque said. “Pinevale (High School) is an important part of Georgia’s history, and without our efforts, many of these places may be overlooked.”
After the occasion, the players and trainers in attendance proudly stood in front of a commemorative banner for a team photo.
The following night, they were the recipients of a standing ovation during a special ceremony prior to the kickoff of the Valdosta Wildcats’ 50-20 victory over the Brooks County Trojans.
“We felt that people needed to know about the accomplishments of Pinevale High. We were an integral part of the ‘Winnersville’ tradition and it is something that everyone should be aware of. I am honored that we had such a successful turnout," said Williams.