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Portals hardwood legacy - Former basketball player recalls trip to finals
030608 PAUL MOORE 1
Paul Moore peruses threw his pictures and newspaper clips from his days as a Portal High School basketball player in 1947 and 1948. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    It was a bittersweet ending for the Portal Panthers basketball team as they lost in overtime, at a Class A semi-final game Thursday in Macon.
    But not many people know that excellence in Portal basketball is as old as the gymnasium.
    Basketball even helped build it.
    From 1947-48, the Panthers basketball team twice made it to the Georgia Class C Final Four, falling short in the 1948 championship game by two points.
    It was truly a different era for Portal basketball though, as evidenced by the high-and-tight haircuts and the high-and-tight shorts. Longtime Portal and Bulloch County resident Paul Moore was a guard on both of those teams. He said even the equipment they had to wear is not necessary in today’s game.
    “Well, you’ll notice (in the team picture) that some of the guys are wearing knee pads. That’s because we played on a dirt court — made of clay,” said Moore. “That clay would eat your knees up.”
    Moore said the current gym, though old, is “a beautiful place. If you don’t think so, you should try it on that clay out there.”
    Players would “get tore up pretty good” if they fell on the dirt court, according to Moore, but other schools in the area suffered the same fate for a while, including Brooklet and ECI.
    In 1947, the community rallied together to get the gym built, even getting help from the students themselves.
    “The families of Portal students would donate trees from their family’s land,” said Moore. “I think my grand dad gave three loads of trees and my uncle gave two loads. It went like that all over the community.”
    He said the team and other students were anxious to get the gymnasium built.
    “We’d stay after school and help carry bricks or help mix mortar or just clean up the job site.” said Moore. “Anything we could do to hurry up the building of the gym.”
    When the gym was finished, the team put on their Converse All-Stars and their wool socks and tried out the new court.
    “We were like jumping-jacks on that hardwood floor,” said Moore.
    There was a real emotional attachment after the gym was built since so much student muscle and sweat went into it. In fact, it even became the priority during a school fire in 1949.
    “When the old school caught fire, I think we may have put more water on the gym than it needed,” said Moore. “We figured the school was old but the gym was brand new.”
    But the threat of fire didn’t prevent Portal from packing the gym. Back in those days it would be standing-room only, with the area between the end of the court and the wall filled with people.
    “You had people crowded up to the line and you just backed up against somebody when you had to throw the ball in,” said Moore.
    Moore said the coach for those teams was A.D. Milford, the agriculture teacher.
    He had never coached basketball before Portal and have never played basketball himself, but since the team thought highly of the ag teacher, they worked hard to become a good team.
    In the 1948 championship, the Panthers lost a close game to the Aztecs of Montezuma, a small town southwest of Macon. Though the Montezuma team was taller than the Portal boys, time and time again the Panthers were able to steal the ball and keep the game close. With the score tied at 25 and less than a minute to play, a long set shot by the Aztecs ultimately decided the game.
    Asked how he thought this year’s team compared to the 1947-48 teams, Moore said, with a sly grin, that there are a few differences.
    “In 1947, we had a bunch of country boys on the team. I think me and my brother had to cut cotton stalks that day before we went to the game,” said Moore. “Most of these fellas were working people.”
    “To tell you the truth, I believe the team now is a right bit faster than us. Now, they wouldn’t have tired us down, but they’re taller than us and might be better athletes, I’m sure.”
    Joe Newsome and Marcelle Thompson were both on the 1948 state runner-up squad. Though they haven’t been able to attend as many games as they’d have liked, they kept a close eye on the progress of this year’s team, especially in the state tournament.
    “We’re one of the smallest schools in the state and the odds are always against us,” said Thompson. “We’re always proud when our boys win.”
    “They had a really good team this year,” said Newsome. “They have nothing to hang their head about.”
    “They’re a mighty good ball team and I sure did want them to beat our record,” said Moore “I was pulling for ’em real hard — they’ve got some good ball players. They can jump and most of ’em can shoot. They came a long way and played their hearts out. I was mighty sad to see them lose. We are real proud of them.”
    “It looked good to see the Portal bunch come back like it used to (to support the team) in the same ol’ gym and fill it up.”


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