Macon has produced some outstanding basketball teams through the years.
As an example, the former Lanier High School won 11 state championships under the tutelage of legendary head coach Selby Buck. Then you have Butch Clifton and Mark Smiths state championship in 1969, Don Richardsons success with the Southwest program, a run that included six state titles and a mythical national championship in 1979, Mercers NCAA tournament appearances under Bill Bibb in 1981 and 1985 and, more recently, Bob Hoffmans Mercer school record 27 wins and a CollegeInsider.com tournament championship with the Bears last year and a trip to the NIT this year.
And not to be forgotten is the Cheshire Cats history between 1960-68. During that period, the Cats were one of the dominant AAU teams in Georgia, winning state titles in 1964, 1965, and 1968. They were runners-up in 1966 and 1967.
When you hear AAU today, you immediately think of top high school basketball players. There are more than 3,000 AAU teams for those 17 and under in the Southeast alone.
The Cats were at the other end of the spectrum. They were a group of post-college standouts who banded together to create an outstanding team.
To give you a little background, they were formed in 1960 and got their name from their sponsor, the Cheshire Typewriter Company, owned by Jimmy Cheshire. One of Cheshires employees, Sonny Vaughn, acted as team general manager and assistant coach. Former Mercer basketball great Tommy Mixon was the teams head coach for the majority of its existence.
The team started out with most of their players coming from Mercer, but it later expanded to take in former college players who lived and worked in the Middle Georgia area or players from other parts of Georgia who would drive in for games.
The original team, known as the Cheshire All-Stars, consisted of Jack Lassiter, Bill Fickling Jr, Coot Veal, Jimmy Holton, Richard Reid, Mixon, Vaughn and Cheshire. In future years, the Mercer contingent included Donnie Veal, Butch Clifton, Don Baxter, Tommy Day Wilcox, Steve Moody, Doug Harris and Jim Hearn. I am sure there were more Bears players who took part on occasion.
Others who dotted the Cats roster during the eight-year run were Carson-Newman All American Chris Jones, who was in a league of his own, former Georgia greats Allen Johnson, Jerry Waller, Dwayne Powell, Lee Martin and Ray Jeffords, Georgia Southerns Roger Moore, Stetson standouts Lamar Deaver and Charlie Warren, Mississippis Bill Bolton and Don Flatt of Ohio State, to mention a few.
The Cats played the majority of their home games at McAuley Hall on the Mount de Sales campus and also in a number of small Middle Georgia towns. At Mount de Sales, it was not unusual for crowds to top the 2,000 mark, while games in the smaller communities drew between 1,000 and 1500.
The gym at Mount de Sales took a beating from the Cats. During the 1968 season the team busted three glass backboards and wound up using wooden ones in a couple of their games.
The success of the Cats is credited with helping to attract the national AAU tournament to Macon and the Macon Coliseum in 1969. The U.S. Army All-Stars defeated the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots 62-45 in the championship. The AAU championships had been held in Denver from 1935 until 1968, with the only exception coming in 1949 when it was played in Oklahoma City. AAU mens basketball rivaled the pro and college game in the 1960s but soon began a steady decline, and it is nowhere close to what it once was.
During the Cheshire Cats history in the 1960s, basketball didnt get much better.
Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org