Tippens a basketball hero at every level
by Marguerite Cline
Columnist
January 04, 2013 12:13 AM | 1219 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the deadline came for nominating athletes for the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame, I found myself thinking of those who have already been inducted like Joe Thomas, George “Cotton” Frady and Beverly Pitts.

That was followed by thoughts of others in our community who have played a tremendous role in sports and are worthy of the honor.

One of the many in that category is Neal Joseph (N. J.) Tippens. His involvement with organized sports began when he was in the sixth grade at what was then North Canton Elementary.

Some of you may not know that before middle schools became a part of the organizational pattern of the school system, Cherokee County elementary schools housed grades K-8 and high schools 9-12.

Every elementary school had both a girls and boys basketball team. The competition among the elementary schools was fierce.

For many years, Fred Perkins was the coach of both teams at North Canton Elementary. He was an excellent coach and his boys or girls teams often won the elementary schools tournament.

That was the case when N. J. Tippens was on the team. Others playing for North Canton at the time were local greats like Robert Brackett, Robert Fowler, Jimmy Turner and Butch Cronan.

The system fed well-trained and experienced talent into Cherokee High School. When the players entered Cherokee High, Coach Harold Scott and other basketball coaches had the best. In most cases, the players entering ninth grade already had at least two years of playing competitively before large groups of fans.

At Cherokee High School, N. J. played on the freshman team and had begun playing on the sophomore team when he was called up to the varsity squad.

During his junior and senior years, he started every game. During his senior year the team was ranked sixth in the region and caused a major upset by winning the region and advancing to the state tournament.

With players like Donald Haley, Lamar Moody, Butch Cronan, Jimmy Turner, Kenneth Beavers and N. J., Cherokee High was a powerhouse.

It was not unusual for college representatives to be on hand when Cherokee was playing. They were recruiting for their college teams.

After high school, the teams would be broken up as they went their separate ways. Often on basketball scholarships, many excelled in the college of their choice. One of those was Robert Jordan, who attended Georgia Southern and scored 51 points in one game.

Coach Benny Dees of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College was of those who had scouted the CHS team. He had talked with N. J. about going to ABAC on a full scholarship. After Coach Dees discussed it with N. J.’s parents, they gave their permission.

At the time, ABAC was a junior college. During his two years there, N. J. was on the starting team. As it had been in high school, his average of points scored per game at ABAC was in the mid-teens.

His strong suit was hitting long-range shots. One game had gone into three overtimes before N. J., with only a few seconds remaining, scored one of those long-range, seemingly impossible shots and cinched the victory for ABAC.

Interestingly, Cherokee County native Kenneth Wynn was sports director of a newspaper there. He wrote about N. J. scoring his 100th point at ABAC.

After his college years, N. J. returned to Cherokee County. He and his wife, Susan, had two children.

For years he worked as a volunteer coach and manager of youth sports.

At the same time, N. J. was seeing Cherokee County sports from another vantage point. Working as a broadcaster at radio station WCHK, he was the sports director.

He did play-by-play announcing on the air at all CHS football and basketball games included the week-long basketball state tournament in Thomaston.

And when the time for the elementary schools tournament came, N. J. was in the CHS sports booth broadcasting those games, too.

Many of us have participated in sports at different levels. Some like N. J., Billy Joe Groover, Debbie Buckner and Sue Malone were outstanding.

Others, like me, just enjoyed the games. But, most likely, all of us gained from it.

Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.
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