Bobby Pope

Talent was abundant at River North

Mercer baseball head coach Craig Gibson was a player at River North.
Mercer baseball head coach Craig Gibson was a player at River North.

During the past 40 or so years we have seen a lot of private schools come and go in Middle Georgia.

You may remember some of them like Beechwood Academy in Marshallville, Gordon Ivey in Gordon, Jonesco Academy in Gray, Monroe Academy in Forsyth, Barnesville Academy, Baker Academy in Hawkinsville, Cross Key Christian and Chapel Hill Academy in Macon and River North Academy in Jones County, and all had pretty good athletics programs. Monroe Academy existed for 43 years and produced 10 state championship teams. Gordon Ivey won five boys track titles between 1973 and 1977. Jonesco won four state titles during its 17-year history. Barnesville Academy won a couple of golf crowns in 16 years, Baker Academy, which also operated for 16 years, won a state in football in 1987.

River North, an off shoot of Tattnall Square, was in business for only eight years and had one football state title and four in baseball.

But baseball is where the Gators really excelled under former major league pitcher Bobby Hendley. Hendley is best remembered for pitching a one-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers, only to lose to LA ace Sandy Koufax who tossed a no-hitter in the same game in a 1-0 decision.

River North opened for the 1974-75 school year, and the Gators baseball team won its first state crown in the spring of 1975. The Gators repeated in 1977 and won back-to-back titles in 1981 and 1982. When the school closed in 1982, the baseball team was on a 33-game winning streak, which included an unbeaten season in 1982.

Hendley, who moved to Stratford when River North closed, was part of five more state championship teams with the Eagles. He credits much of his success at River North to Hugh Vickers, who helped him coach the 1975 team and M.L. Clark, who joined him in 1976 and was his assistant until the school shut down.

Talent was never a problem for the Gators. Among their top players were Lowery Robinson, who went on to play at Chattahoochee Community College and West Georgia before signing a free agent contract with the New York Mets; Tommy Campbell, who played at Chattahoochee and Mercer, as well as with the Macon Peaches; Tim Greene, who played at Middle Georgia and Georgia and was a second-round draft choice of the Minnesota Twins; Craig Gibson, who is the head baseball coach at Mercer, where he was ASUN Player of the Year in 1985; Chris Collins, who played at Georgia Tech and Mercer before signing professionally with the California Angels organization; Roger Kinard, who played at Georgia Tech; and Robby Stroud, who went on to play at Georgia College.

At River North, Collins went 10-0 with a 0.92 ERA as a junior and 11-0 as a senior with a 0.60 ERA. Kindard was 6-2 as a junior with a 2.00 ERA and 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA as a senior. As a senior, Gibson hit .367 with five home runs using wooden bats. There were numerous other outstanding baseball players for the Gators, but the ones mentioned continued playing after high school.

Hendley said his teams at River North were talented but also had great chemistry and were very unselfish, loved practice and had a passion for the game.

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