" If these walls could talk..."
Many people — educators, community leaders and of course, students — have played a part in shaping the university’s history. You are invited to meet some of them through a series of monthly installments written by Doug Vinson, instructor of journalism at UWG.
In the South, Fall and football go together like grits and ham. In the fall of 1981, students at West Georgia College were even more excited about football because it had been 23 years since the college had fielded a football team. The brand new football team won its first game. In fact, they won every game that season and against all odds, within two years, the team won the NCAA Division III championship.
Under the direction of Coach Bobby Pate, the team continued its remarkable winning ways into the next season and advanced in the first round of playoffs by beating Widener (Pa.) 31-24 in a dramatic triple overtime win. The team completed an undefeated season by beating Augustana 14-0 to win the championship. Four players were named All-Americans: David Archer, Derrick Germaine, Bruce Pritchett, and Anglelo Snipes.
Other UWG sports programs also had success in the '80s. The best years for basketball were 1986, when the team shared the Gulf Coast championship, and 1987 when they won 20 games in a row and at one time were ranked third in the country.
Baseball Coach Archie White, in his 15th year at UWG, won his 400th game. Women’s athletics also had some strong years. The 1980 basketball team had its best season in the history of the school with a 24-5 record and they won the conference in 1989.
On the academic front, the decade of the '80's got off to a strong start with a $2.4 million addition to the library named after the college's first president, Dr. Irvine Ingram. Several members of the original West Georgia faculty attended the ceremony. The college certainly needed a larger facility for scholarly research because graduate students made up a third of the student body when Dr. Jack Jenkins was appointed dean in 1987.
Students gained a better perspective on the stars when an observatory on the west side of the campus opened under the direction of physics professor Dr. Bob Powell. In 1982, the first marching band was formed. In 1985, Dr. Mel Steely, professor of history, was chosen to direct a program preserving the careers of Georgia's political leaders through an innovative videotaping project.
Dr. Chester Gibson, chairman of the mass communication and theatre arts department, was named as one of the top speech and debate educators. During his 25 years at West Georgia, his debate teams competed in the National Debate Tournament 24 consecutive times.
Although “Mama” Kate Harman, manager of the snack bar, had retired, she was still frequently busy preparing meals for students off campus. During a March graduation in 1980, Harman, 90, was honored with a Founders Award.
One of the campus landmarks disappeared during the '80s. The lake in Love Valley was formed in 1948 when a student organization raised money for its construction. Thanks to abundant winter rain, the lake filled quickly, and for several years, it was simply called the “mud hole.” In the '50s the pond was stocked with perch and trout and became a popular place to fish. Students enjoyed getting some fresh air and leisurely lingering around the area on clear days. Unfortunately though, due to a diminished water supply, a decision was made to fill in the pond. An attractive gazebo was built nearby and the area has been a gathering place for various outdoor events ever since.
Creative art exhibits, outstanding plays, and a host of interesting programs kept students involved in campus life. Speakers on campus during this era, ranged from Watergate personality G. Gordon Liddy, to nationally-known poet Nikki Giovanni. A Georgia authors series in 1986 brought Ferrol Sams, Pat Conroy, Olive Ann Burns, the and Lewis Grizzard to campus.
Over the years, West Georgia has been known for the outstanding teachers it has trained. In 1982, the college had the distinction of having 11 graduates named STAR teachers throughout the state.
Individual students made their mark in various endeavors. In 1989, former student Dong Jiam was a finalist in the Metropolitan Opera auditions. UWG student Jamie Price was crowned Miss Georgia, junior Monroe Roark appeared on Jeopardy!, and senior Burton Turner became the first Georgian to win first place in a national finance honors competition.
Books weren't the only thing students were studying. Two students apparently wanted a bird's eye view of some of the sunbathing coeds on the top of the campus dorms. The enterprising students somehow finagled a way to get an airplane and then flew over the women's dorms, but they lost their frequent flier status by getting arrested.
Education is all about creating a lifelong love of learning. It's also great to be true to your school, as the saying goes. In 1985, Steve Voinche epitomized a love of learning and loyalty to UWG by completing 15 years of coursework at West Georgia. He had earned bachelor's degrees in French, speech and theater, and psychology and a master's in psychology.
The '80s came to a close on the West Georgia campus with the dedication of a building that President Maurice Townsend had lobbied for since his early days on campus. In 1989, his efforts were rewarded when the performing arts center opened with much fanfare and a stirring recital by a Metropolitan Opera tenor. Appropriately, in a 1994 ceremony, the facility was named the Townsend Center to honor the President's support of the arts and the 18 years he led the college.