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The original 'Black and Gold'

Shirley Says

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POSTED: April 15, 2010 10:05 p.m.
Photo by Richard Bates/

Ivey Spence, Barnie Harris, Theron Darieng, Dale Mitchum, Bobby Carpenter, Buddy Ogle and Richard Davis.

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One might not know it from a casual glance, but history played an important part in naming Ways High School’s basketball team (later known as Richmond Hill High School). The team became known as the Wildcats, despite the fact there were no wildcats around. Could it have been because the name "Wildcats" conveyed the fighting spirit, alertness and skill of the animal in defeating its opposition?
Wildcat players as far back as the early 1940s don’t know the origin of the team’s name. Whoever was responsible for naming the team surely must have been a visionary. The name fits. They have hustled, scrapped and clawed their way to many victories over the past 75 years; in heartbreaking defeat they make an impressive graceful retreat.
Barnie Harris, an 85-year-old Wildcat, played for Ways Hill High School from 1940-1942. They played on a primitive dirt court coached by Mr. Ben Hodges. He recalls, “That old gritty sand would eat you up, if you fell!” Although they had no gymnasium in which to play, that didn’t squelch their love for the game! (The old dirt court was located on the present site of the Richmond Hill Elementary School’s back playground.) The gym was built in 1948.
My Aunt, Allene Davis Butler, remembers playing on the old court, “I don’t know where the team’s name came from either, but I won’t ever forget those days…I was No. 32. We had a time on that dirt back there near the woods.” Her younger brother Joe Davis, a Wildcat player, also remembers, “I still have very fond memories of my playing days, wearing black and gold No. 50. I would not trade those precious minutes for anything. The greatest thrill of all came when we beat Pembroke. Go Cats!”
When scheduling basketball games with the Wildcats, visiting teams knew they would be playing only in daylight hours on a dirt court! Richmond Hill wasn’t the only school with a dirt court; many of the local schools had them. Hinesville and Darien were the only schools that had a gym.
Like the Wildcat, the colors for RHHS have always been black and gold. In 1940 the team got their first black and gold uniforms. Barnie was proud he was allowed to keep his when he graduated and he held on to it for many years. Later, he donated the beautiful reminder of his Wildcat days to the Richmond Hill Historical Society.
Before Barnie became a Wildcat player, he was one of the team’s cheerleaders. He explains, “I wasn’t old enough or maybe I just wasn’t good enough yet to be on the team.” Nevertheless, his cheerleading days mattered…he was in the Wildcat’s den! The team had four cheerleaders: Dora Gregory Parker, Brunnell Smith, Victor Wise and Barnie Harris. When asked if he remembered how the treasured cheerleader positions were filled, he said, “We were elected. I think maybe it was because we talked louder than the others!” (Barnie is the only one left of the four.)
There are still some ‘old Cats’ around. To name a few, Dale Mitchum, Ivey Spence, Buddy Ogle, Theron Darieng, Richard Davis, Tommy Darieng and Bobby Carpenter. Tommy talks about the year he graduated (1945) and the only ‘away’ game they had, “It was during the war and gas was rationed. The only trip we took was to Pembroke.”  
When the ‘old Cats’ got together recently, they reminisced about the early days on the dirt court. Richard Davis commented with a familiar laugh, “When the ball got away from us and went into the woods, we had to call time out!” This triggered one of Bobby Carpenter’s memories, “Lime was used to outline the court’s boundaries. When the boundaries got rubbed out from so much jumping around on the edges, we had to call time out and re-lime them.”  
Richmond Hill Wildcats are legendary, with something almost ‘clannish’ about them. Their spirits are indelibly lined with black and gold and they live by the unwritten creed: “Once a Wildcat, Always a Wildcat! I understand this well…I am a Wildcat player from The Sixties.
 

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