The city of Fort Valley has produced a number of state high school basketball champions through the years.
Fort Valley High School won GHSA championships in 1952, 1954 and 1961, H.A. Hunt High School captured GIA crowns in 1954, 1958 and 1960, and Peach County won a GHSA title in 1978.
Players from all three schools were considered for my top five basketball players from the school bus capital of the world. In my final grouping, you will find three who played at Fort Valley and two from Peach County.
Ed Beck, who led the Fort Valley Green Wave to unbeaten seasons and to state championships in both 1952 and 1954, heads the list.
Fort Valley compiled a 33-0 record during his sophomore season and crushed Sandersville for the Class B title 62-45. Beck had 18 points and 15 rebounds in the championship game. In Beck’s senior season, he led Fort Valley to a 31-0 season and a 62-49 state title game win over Blackshear.
After his Fort Valley career, he went on to Kentucky and was a mainstay on the Wildcats’ “Fiddlin Five” 1958 national championship squad. That season, he was named the SEC defensive player of the year. Beck averaged better than 10 rebounds per game during his career with the Wildcats. He turned down an offer to play in the NBA with the New York Knicks to enter the ministry.
Tee Faircloth was a four-year starter at Fort Valley. As a sophomore, he led Fort Valley to the 1961 Class B championship. In the state final, he had 20 points against Clinch County after having scored 30 and 20 in the first two games. As a senior, Faircloth averaged 26 points per game, but the team was eliminated in the regional finals by Pike County. He played college basketball at Auburn.
Ray Pearson makes the list despite missing most of his senior season as a result of a knee injury.
During his junior season, he and Faircloth led the Green Wave to the Class B championship. Pearson scored 60 points in the state tournament and was named MVP of the event. He had 27 points in the final. In a regular-season game that year against Crawford County, he pumped in 39 points on 18-of-24 shooting from the field.
Pearson also was a standout on Fort Valley’s state championship football team in 1962. He went on to play at Mercer, but recurring knee problems cut his career short after two seasons.
Keaton Sanders, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward, starred at Peach County in the mid-1990s. During his senior season, he averaged 19 points, 9.5 rebounds and four assists per game. He signed a basketball scholarship with Temple. During his Temple career, he appeared in 93 games and was on the Owls’ roster for four straight NCAA tournament appearances. Temple made it to the Elite Eight during the 1998-99 season.
Rounding out the five-man team is Calvin Slaughter, a 6-5 forward who averaged 24 points and 14 rebounds as a sophomore and then 21 points and 10 rebounds in both his junior and senior seasons at Peach County.
After high school, he played at Neosho Junior College in Kansas where he was Jayhawk Conference player of the year as a sophomore after averaging 24.8 points and 10.1 rebounds.
From Neosho, it was on to Jacksonville in 1999-2000, where he averaged 16 points and 6.5 rebounds in his two seasons with the Dolphins. He was named to the A-Sun all-conference team his senior season. Slaughter played professionally in Europe.
There were many other great players who played at Fort Valley, Hunt and Peach.
From Hunt, we looked at Al Beard, Emory Lightfoot Sr,, Calvin Davis, Eddie Fluellen, Charles Wilson, Willie Harris, Calvin Goss, Cecil Porter, Roosevelt Arnold, Joe Coleman, Ben Anderson and John Minor.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a lot of statistical information about the Hunt players. We did learn that Beard played at Norfolk State and in the ABA with the New Jersey Americans.
From Fort Valley, Jim Graham averaged 19 points and 23 rebounds a game on the 1969 team that made it to the state finals, and Jimmy Thomson averaged 17 points on the 1952 title team.
And from Peach County, Brian Moore led the 1978 team to the Class AA title and Steve Terry was a standout in the early 2000s. My apologies to those we failed to mention who may have been deserving.
Contact Bobby Pope at firstname.lastname@example.org