Perry’s Staples was more than a top basketball coach

sports@macon.comJune 17, 2013 

When I hear the name Eric Staples, I immediately think of high school basketball at Perry.

While I never saw one of his teams play, I am very familiar with the unparalleled success his teams had during his tenure as the Panthers’ head coach, which ran from 1933 until 1965. Much of what I know came from Billy Powell’s book, “Pride of the Panthers,” which was published in 2006. It’s a good read and provides a lot of interesting tidbits about the legendary coach.

“Fessor” (short for professor) Staples, as he was known to his players, coached the Panthers for 1,122 boys games, with 924 victories and just 198 losses for an .824 winning percentage. Included in those totals are eight state championships and six runner-up finishes, as well as 25 district and region titles.

While he is not Georgia’s winningest head coach, he is right there among the best. Ron Bradley, who coached at Newton County and several others schools in that area during a 50-year career, is the all-time wins leader with 1,019. Bradley lost 322, giving him an .813 winning percentage.

Staples’ 1962 team, which was led by arguably his two best players of all time, Lee Martin and Dwayne Powell, finished with a 28-0 record. Both Martin and Powell went on to become starting guards at Georgia. Powell averaged 14.2 points per game during the 1964-65 season, while Martin averaged 7.2 during the 1965-66 campaign. Martin scored the first varsity basket in Stegeman Coliseum in 1964. That arena celebrates its 50th anniversary during the upcoming 2013-14 season.

Perry more than held its own against higher classification teams. During that unbeaten 1962 season, the Panthers routed Lanier 78-47. The 1956, 1959 and 1964 state championship teams all beat the Poets twice.

Staples’ coaching prowess was not limited to basketball. While not getting the recognition he achieved on the hardwood, he coached Perry to eight state golf championships in an 11-year period. Sam Nunn, a two-time all-state basketball player who led the Panthers to the 1956 Class B basketball crown, was the star of the golf team in that squad’s first title run, as well. The future U.S. senator was medalist at the state tournament with a 158 score.

That first championship golf team consisted of Nunn, Ed Beckham, Jo Neal Lee and Kenneth Abney. Beckham, who was the medalist in the 1956 state tournament, and Abney played on three Perry state golf championship teams.

Norman Parker led the Perry golf team to state titles in 1959, 1960 and 1961. He shared medalist honors with Fort Valley’s Bud Haslam in 1959 and took the honor outright in both 1960 and 1961. Aldene Lasseter also was on all three of those title teams.

The Panthers won their final two state golf titles under Staples in 1963 and 1965, with Edgar Barfield leading the way. He was medalist in both of those years, as well as 1964, when Dublin won the team title.

Perry has won one state title (1995) since then.

Staples was in the second class of inductees chosen for the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, going into the shrine in 1957. He died of cancer in 1984 at the age of 79.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at

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