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When GHS almost lost its Red Elephants

POSTED: April 27, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Gainesville High School has a long tradition of championship sports teams. Could you imagine the school without any athletics program at all? It happened, though briefly, in 1933.

Several things were going on. The nation was in the middle of a depression, the city school board was pinching pennies, and the school's basketball team had to withdraw from state playoffs because of an overaged player.

In addition there apparently was sharp division on a school board that featured such heavyweights as Ed Dunlap Sr., A.C. Wheeler, G.W. Moore, G.E. Pilgrim, R.W. Smith, J.R. Reed and T.H. Robertson, president.

As 1932 ended, the school board didn't have enough cash to pay teachers, issuing them written promises instead. It was borrowing money to pay off a $16,000 loan from Citizens Bank. It cut pay for teachers and other personnel by 10 percent. It eliminated group insurance and laid off staff, including some teachers. State aid was miserly, only a couple of hundred dollars a month.

The board wasn't happy with Gainesville High School Athletic Association's handling of its funds. A committee investigated the problem, putting revered Coach J.H. ("Coach Pitt") Pittard on the hot seat.
The district basketball tournament aggravated the situation. Gainesville was to be in the finals against Canton, but Braselton went to court to stop the game, accusing GHS of using an overaged player. That eliminated the team from state playoffs. It had to return whatever trophy it won in the district tournament.

By May 1933, the pot really boiled. The school board voted to discontinue athletics and home economics at the high school. Teams were to turn in all equipment and withdraw from all athletic association events. Three students were placed on probation for unspecified reasons, and an audit was to be performed on the athletic association funds.

In a statement in the Gainesville News, Robertson said, "Plans are being worked out looking toward the elimination of all objectionable features of athletics in school activities ..."

But the blockbuster was the nonrenewal of Coach Pitt's contract for 1933-34. A school board meeting later that month must have been a doozy. Members defeated a motion not to employ married teachers without dependents. Other teachers would be paid, contingent on available funds.

A motion to adjourn the meeting just after it started failed, as well as one to table the controversial items on the agenda. Robertson, president of the board and 23-year member, announced his retirement, but would stay until the controversy over athletics was resolved. The board eventually appointed a new committee to look into the situation.

Meanwhile, much of the community apparently was rebelling over the rejection of Coach Pitt and the moratorium on sports at Gainesville High. Petitions circulated, and the park and recreation board even got into the act by urging the school board to retain the coach and to continue its athletics program.

At a June called meeting, the board voted to restore sports for the 1933-34 school year on a probationary basis. But it wasn't until August, just three weeks before the football season was to start, that the board rehired Coach Pitt.

In executive session, board members agreed not to retain W.P. Martin as school superintendent. But Martin, who was in his 10th year, got the jump on them, perhaps learning of their decision and resigning before they had a chance to formally act.

While the controversy had the community in an uproar, the turmoil didn't faze the football team during its 1933 season. Gainesville High allowed only one touchdown that year, coming in its only loss, 7-6 to Marist. Gainesville blew out most of the other teams on the schedule, ending up tied for second place with Decatur, whom it defeated, in the North Georgia Interscholastic Conference.

Coach Pitt left Gainesville after that season, compiling a 91-15 football record starting in 1923. In his first three years as coach, his GHS teams outscored their opponents 1,200-63.

It is no wonder Gainesville football fans besieged the school board when it failed to renew his contract.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published March 2, 2008.



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