Fifty years ago, the Quitman Panthers made school history: they played a perfect season and won the championship.
It was the first football season after the schools integrated, and the football team worked flawlessly together to accomplish their goal to win.
“This was the first year we played after the schools integrated. There were a lot of questions on what we were going to do on becoming a team and working together,” stated Eddie Cotten, quarterback for the team. “From the very beginning, everybody was there for each other. Some people were best friends on and off the field. When we got on the football field, we were all committed to playing the role we were supposed to play, whether it was offensive lineman or defensive back. We played our role and practiced hard, and we were committed to winning. We were committed to playing as a team.”
The unity went far beyond the team. In fact, despite the strife in other areas of the country during desegregation, the Panthers helped create unity throughout the Clarke County community.
“The community, team, and school came together in the first year of desegregation to have the success it had,” said Alton McRee, one of the players. “There was no division or strife. There was just unity, and that was memorable to accomplish that.”
The unity that the team portrayed was encouraged and helped by the amazing group of coaches that they were under. The head coach was Coach Benson Holland; the other amazing coaches that year were Robert Pepper, Doug Fowler, Melvin Davis, and Berlin Ladner.
Coach Davis had been the head coach for what was the black high school, Shirley Owen, and he transferred over to be one of the assistant coaches for Coach Benson. The two worked well together and made an amazing team, gathering equal respect from each member of the team.
“We had some really good coaches,” stated Gary Cranford, a member of the team. “I really like Coach Davis. He did a great job, and everyone respected him.”
Coach Benson made sure that his football team was the highest on every level and made sure to give the players a clear vision to follow.
“I have to give Coach Benson Holland the credit as head coach of the team for providing the leadership and direction for us all to follow,” said McRee. “He was truly key to leading our success.”
Although the players believe that the leadership they were under was a key part of their success in the 1970 football season, Coach Benson vividly remembers his team and fellow coaches as an integral part of the success.
“We had some of the best players on and off the field. They worked hard to keep their grades up and practiced hard every day. The players bought into our system and worked hard,” explained Head Coach Benson Holland. “I cannot say enough about our Associate Coaches. They were good men and responsible for our success.”
The coaches had the respect of the entire team, and that helped the team progress and succeed throughout the season.
“We went by the rules, and we minded our coaches,” stated Grover Ezell, defensive end for the team. “When coach told us to do something, we did it.”
Aside from the coaches, one of the biggest reasons for their successful season was simply how well the team worked together.
“We were a team. Coach Holland made sure of that. We didn’t have any superstars,” stated Bill Ford, a team player. “We were aggressive and played hard because we didn’t want to lose. It was the first year we played football together after we integrated, and we just got along real good and played good. We had a good team with great coaches.”
The only other thing that helped contribute to such a great football season was the overwhelming support that the team had.
“Another thing that was important to us was the support of the community. We had standing room only,” recalled Gary Cranford. “The fan base was a big part of it. We had the support of the whole county, and they displayed that support. That motivated us a lot.”
The coach also recognized the importance of support from both the school and the community.
“Our school administration, teachers, band, and students were the best,” bragged Coach Holland. “Our Clarke County fans were unbelievable. On a lot of away games, we would have more fans than the home team. The Sanders family and the Albritton clan would be the first to get to the games.”
Naturally, the team doesn’t only remember what made them so successful; they can easily remember the details of the different games they played in that historic season.
They played 10 games that seasons including Waynesboro-Central on September 4, Newton on September 11, Southeast Lauderdale on September 18, Neshoba Central on September 25, Northeast Jones on October 2, Union on October 9, Philadelphia on October 16, Louisville on October 23, Carthage on October 30, and Kosciusko on November 6.
“I can remember one play that was a touchdown pass that Pete Albritton caught,” reminisced Cotten. “It was a pass play we ran, but we never threw it to Pete as a tight end on that play. At the time, everybody was covered, but Pete was wide open. He caught the ball and ran and scored a touchdown.”
Out of all the games they played, one game in particular stands out in the minds of each member of the 1970 team: Louisville.
“I remember the Louisville game being at Quitman. There was just standing room only in the stadium. It was a real exciting time because the community really showed its support in a significant way. The game was very close and was hard fought,” remembered McRee. “Grover Ezell was the star of that game because he stopped a Louisville runner on the one yard line. Grover was known to be the fastest player on the Quitman team and was able to run him down and pull him back to keep him from crossing the line into the end zone. That was certainly a pivotal play in the game and helped preserve the victory.”
Grover remembers the moment well and attributes his success to what his coaches taught him.
“There was something the coach told me the year before we integrated that I always remembered, and that saved the Louisville game and the championship for us,” recalled Grover. “My coaches told me that when the quarterback gets the ball to punt, then you take off as soon as you see them let the ball go. I was able to take off and go clear across the field and catch up with the guy because I left as soon as the ball came out.”
The 1970 Quitman Panthers are the only group from Quitman to successfully win every game of the season to acquire the championship. The memories and lessons learned through the season are something that every player and coach will always remember.
The players from the historic season are Grover Ezell, Eddie Cotten, Bill Ford, Carl Graham, Gary Cranford, Danny Culpepper, Donald Evans, Rickey Terral, Alton McRee, Fred Clark, Billy Brown, Ken Taylor, Stan Majure, Billy Owen, John Campbell, David Culpepper, Bobby Elmore, Mike Johnson, Larry Campbell, Arville Satcher, Slim Jasper, Dale Collins, Tommy McDonald, Lannis May, Ches Brewer, Charles Pugh, Mel Sanders, Rick Barry, Jerry Satcher, Randell Kelly, Robert Lindsey, Jerry Price, Ralph Staten, Pete Albritton, Jimmy Duvall, Robert Vickers, Phil Seymer, and Willie Moore.
In the first year with an integrated football team, Quitman managed to create unity with those around them and brought about a record season all around so that everyone could remember the Panthers.