Back in the days when Harlem High School basketball players sported short hair and tight shorts, the Bulldogs were local heroes and their leader was forging a winning tradition.
From 1956 through 1965, Tom Whitfield coached the Harlem basketball team to new heights, and while decades have passed, former Bulldog James Anderson can still look in the rear-view mirror and smile.
"Now Harlem is known for baseball, with (coach) Jimmie Lewis, but before that it was basketball," Anderson said. "People don't remember that. It was a time when Harlem was a powerhouse, and he was a coach all those years."
Anderson and a group of former Harlem players are leading an effort to honor their basketball coach with a banquet Aug. 23 at the Harlem High School gymnasium.
"We almost waited too long," Anderson says. "A lot of people that used to go to the games aren't living ... we just felt like it was time, or past time, to honor Coach Whitfield."
Anderson, who played forward for the Dogs in the early 1960s, has been studying old press clippings to nail down Whitfield's overall win-loss record, but there are some things that numbers can't explain.
Harlem High School basketball coach Tom Whitfield (right) and Georgia Tech basketball coach John "Whack" Hyder watch star Bulldogs player James Thomas sign with Tech in this April 1963 photo. Whitfield's former players are organizing a tribute to their legendary coach.
"It was a time most of us look back at and say, those were some of the best years of our lives, playing high school basketball at Harlem," Anderson said. "Do you remember the movie Hoosiers? At that point in time, Coach Whitfield pretty much created an atmosphere like that."
E.G. Meybohm played under Whitfield, and took over as Harlem basketball coach when Whitfield stepped down after a great 10-year run. Meybohm is helping coordinate the banquet for Whitfield, and says the honor is well-deserved.
"Tom did a great job of promoting basketball. He created a lot of interest," Meybohm said. "He was a mentor to not only the people he coached, he was a mentor to other students at Harlem. He was always involved with everything that was going on in school."
After retiring from teaching and coaching, Whitfield also was elected to one term as Columbia County sheriff, serving from 1980-84.
The banquet is open to the public, and anyone who played for Whitfield, or was involved with the program during Whitfield's tenure, is encouraged to attend the event.
Harlem basketball players from the years 1956 through 1965 are asked to contact Anderson at 541-2398 or 799-9474.
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