Good News: Savannah's first integrated basketball game

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - There were a lot of important games played in Savannah during the 1966-67 high school basketball season when Beach High won Georgia's first integrated state championship.

The most important of those games was between Tompkins High School and Benedictine - a piece of Savannah history that is still remembered and recognized.

50 years ago, Gator Rivers and Mike Dillon were on different teams, but the same side.

"We were excited. We were looking forward to the opportunity to compete against the white kids, and people didn't know, the white kids were looking forward to competing against us," said Larry "Gator" Rivers, member of Beach High's 1966-67 State Champions.

The one-time opponents reunited Tuesday to share their memories of when Rivers watch the Tompkins' team and Dillon's Benedictine team played Savannah's first integrated basketball game on Dec. 1, 1966 - a moment that at the time meant more to the city than the players.

"For us as athletes, there was no historical aspect to it at all. It was a game and we just wanted to prove to each other," said Mike Dillon, member of BC 1966-67 basketball team.

Rivers and Dillon later realized the impact of that at BC's gym, and told the story to BC students so that they can understand how different things were 50 years ago.

"It was pretty interesting seeing how the blacks and whites came together, not just because of sports but because they saw a lot of conflict around the world, they thought it was better to come as a community and not have problems throughout," said Raquez Martin, Benedictine, Junior.

"I thought it was pretty cool how a lot of it started here and how different it used to be. I've grown up playing with all the different types of kids and I just can't imagine how it used to be back then," said Bennett Stroop, Benedictine, Junior.

Fortunately, the men that were there were willing to tell how one game was the first step to change in Savannah.

"After that, Savannah took on a totally different light to me in that we were finally together, we were together man," Rivers said.

"This gave us, and athletics in general, I think pulled this community together and helped this community not to have the riots many communities had in 1968," Dillon said.

It's a message as timely today as it was 50 years ago.

"We're doing this so our young people can understand the importance of diversity. We've got to come together. We've got to stop all this violence," Rivers said.

The Tompkins Wolverines rallied from 10 points behind with eight minutes to beat Benedictine in that first integrated game, giving the Cadets their first loss in that 1966-67 season.

Copyright 2018 WTOC. All rights reserved.