Back in the 1960s during the era of segregated schools, Effingham County saw one of its high schools rise to the top and win multiple state championships in basketball. Now, after decades of going largely unmentioned and uncelebrated, it is time to honor the Panthers and Pantherettes of Springfield Central High School.
Springfield Central High School opened in 1956 under the leadership of Principal Clifton Allen Wiggins and was the first consolidated high school for African Americans in Effingham County. For the first few years, the school did not even have a gymnasium yet still fielded a basketball team.
“We played outside on a court,” former Head Coach Marion Dingle said. “When we had games, we would play the other teams outside too.”
During the 1960’s and into the 1970’s, the Springfield Central High men’s and women’s basketball teams established and maintained a proud tradition of excellence.
Springfield Central High captured its first championship in 1963 when the Pantherettes won the State Title. The next season, they won their second. Both teams were coached by Dingle.
In the 1966-67 season, the Panthers won their first State Championship – again coached by Dingle.
They averaged an astounding 101 points per game – the three-point line had not yet been invented.
“Marvin Stevens averaged 29 points per game that season,” Dingle said. “That December (of 1966), Marvin scored 51 points against Emanuel County in Swainsboro. We went on to go undefeated that year.”
The Panthers won the Class A championship that season and won 30 games. Stevens, along with Sam Bartley, Roger Moore and Eugene Brown from Beach High School, were the first African-Americans recruited by Georgia Southern. A few years later, Thomas Palmer and Richard Wallace joined them.
In the 1969-70 season, the Panthers topped their scoring average from the State Title season and averaged 103 points per game. They finished the season as the State Runner Up.
Throughout the years, many players from Springfield Central High have passed away while most others remain living in the area. In January, those players and the State Title winning teams were honored at the State Capitol in Atlanta. Rep. Bill Hitchens and Rep. Jon Burns submitted a resolution to recognize the accomplishments of the Springfield Central High basketball program.
This April, another honor will be bestowed upon the teams as Effingham County commemorates them with “A Celebration of Champions”.
“We’re inviting all of the players back who played on these State Championship teams as honored guests for the evening,” Dr. Franklin Goldwire said. “We’re inviting the public out and we’re going to do a banner unveiling that evening. It will be held at the Springfield Central High School gym.”
The program will take place on April 22.