Georgia Magazine - December 2009 - (Page 25)

Basketball buddy farewell BY ROY MITCHELL M y father, Morris Mitchell, passed away in 2006. Decades earlier, this Georgia gymnasium giant had instilled in me the love of basketball. Ever since preschool pass-arounds with Pop, I’ve heard the “poing” of that bouncing ball. In the mid-1950s at Murphy High School in Atlanta, basketball introduced my father to John Guthrie, a small, but stout transfer. Dad was an automatic to make the high school team. John, though, had to lure the coach with his left-handed lay-ups to make the squad. By 1958, Dad, John, and teammates Melvin Clay and Bobby “D.” Dalgleish would lead Murphy High to the state championship. Dad averaged 20 rebounds a game, made the championship winning shot and donned the tournament MVP honors. After graduation, John, Dad and Bobby D. took their talents to Oglethorpe University. Blending their skills with Coach Garland Pinholster’s In November 2006, former teammates John Guthrie, standing, and Morris Mitchell reminisce about their basketball days at Murphy High School and Oglethorpe University. Guthrie was the men’s head basketball coach at the University of Georgia in the early 1970s. December 2009 will, the team put Oglethorpe on basketball’s national map in the early 1960s. After leaving Oglethorpe, Dad’s basketball career simmered into memories. For a few years, he coached high school ball and played on various traveling teams. Dad married Mom (Melba Wilson Mitchell) and started teaching driver’s education at Georgia School for the Deaf. At the dawn of the 1980s, he taught me and my brother Steve how to fish and play basketball. In the 1990s, he took the title of “Grandpa,” and miniature Mitchells helped him harvest watermelons. By fall 2006, cancer struck. By December, Dad’s body had thinned to matchstick proportions. Muscular legs that used to propel his hands above the rim now were paralyzed. On Dec. 11, we learned his death would most likely come within the week. At the first sign of Dad’s illness, gentlemen in their 60s, some balding and most with gray hair, left their businesses or retirement to visit my father. I could see in some faces the disbelief at their old friend’s decrepit state. Yet, this group started telling stories, cutting up, laughing hysterically and acting like boys. They chortled at memories of Dad throwing John’s textbooks out a moving car’s window. Some recalled the best-looking girls at old Murphy High. Darrell exposed the adventurous few who slipped out of the Oglethorpe dorm after curfew, while Ray Thomas ribbed Bob Nance, whose arm was in a sling, that all The 1960-61 Oglethorpe University team, including Morris Mitchell, back row, second from bottom, boards a plane to Kansas City for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament. those years of shooting the ball had finally caught up to him. Melvin and John detailed with pride the ’58 state championship. Dad even weakly uttered a few stories of his own. For a few hours at Redmond Regional Medical Center in Rome, cancer lost its victim to a more enduring force—the memories of youth. Dad died on Dec. 16. The unbreakable bonds created by a child’s game steered even more old teammates to the funeral. Former players and coaches, the honorary pallbearers, took up three pews. That very basketball season, the city of Atlanta, the origins of my father’s basketball friendships, played host to the NCAA national championship. While the University of Florida’s team won their title, the older men from Atlanta achieved something even more important. The most enduring group accomplishment that season occurred during a Georgia December in hospital room 513, where icons of Atlanta’s oldschool basketball, reunited to lighten the load of their dying teammate. Roy Mitchell teaches English and recently coached basketball at Coosa Middle School in Rome. He also writes for The Post, a local newspaper. If you have a meaningful Georgia experience to share, see page 6 for submission information. 25

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - December 2009

Georgia Magazine - December 2009
Picture This?
Georgia News
A Victorian Christmas
It’s a holiday tradition!
Around Georgia
My Georgia
Georgia Gardens
Georgia Cooks

Georgia Magazine - December 2009