1980 — A Good Year to be a Panther

By Jackie Hunt
Contributing Writer
One of the more interesting and informative times of researching and developing articles for When Marion Played Sports was a long conversation I had with Mr. Malcom George, the long-time multi-sport coach at Marion High.

As the old ball coach and I sat on his patio, he showed me detailed notes for a book he one day hopes to publish and relived his days at Marion. His stories, like his notes for his book, were colorful and humorous tales of the boys and girls he mentored on the basketball courts and baseball fields.
The vast majority of his material centered around his time with Bobby Joe Douglas, the national high school basketball scoring king, but he recalled other outstanding athletes as well. Over his 20 plus years of leading Marion squads he had some rare talent, many of whom went on to play college ball and achieve great things in life. Of all the years, though, the one that has to stand out most is 1980.
That was the year Douglas posted 54 points a game to set the national record. The sleek guard had averaged 35 per game as a junior, so there was already the promise of big things to come. The coach fondly reminiscences the nights of Bobby Joe putting up big numbers including 93 against Ouachita Christian. He had over 70 on two other nights.
There was another story from 1980 that turned out to be a big deal. That story is about Gary Wayne, maybe the best athlete of that time and another product of Mount Union Hill. Wayne was a 6 ft, solidly built young man with whom Coach George did not always see eye to eye. He relates an incident during baseball season of Wayne’s junior year that challenged both coach and player.
It seems that Gary, THE star player on the baseball team had been less than respectful to a teacher and showed little remorse when approached by the coach. George says he dismissed Wayne from the team and told him he would “Never play sports for Marion High again.” This was a tough decision as Wayne was also the second best player on the basketball team.
It was only after the 1978-79 school year ended and the students returned in the Fall that the situation fully played itself out. George remembers Wayne entering a basketball team meeting and telling him that he wanted to be a part of the team again and that he was sorry for his previous behavior. The self-described “stubborn” coach ignored the pleas of the student-athlete and told him to go away. The coach recalls the looks of his team after he sent Wayne away. “Their faces showed me they wanted him, and we needed him,” he says, “so, I relented and let him come back.”
The rest is part of Marion High’s storied history. As Bobby Joe over-worked scorekeepers on game nights, Gary Wayne, went to work as the team big man. He added 20 points per game (mostly from hard work down low) and did battle against the likes of Carl Malone, always holding his own. The coach recalls playing against Malone’s Summerfield High School Rebels five times in 1979-80, including a first round playoff match up that sent Summerfield on to the state title. The two squads split four regular season games before Malone and company prevailed in the play-offs. The Panthers matched up well with the state champs who had several players taller than any on Marion’s squad with Wayne as the primary big man.
When Spring rolled around, Coach George and Bobby Joe had begun a whirl-wind tour of colleges who were on the scoring champs recruiting trail. That trail almost saw Douglas land at the University of Georgia with another talented freshman…Dominique Wilkins. His desire to remain close to home eventually landed him in Monroe at Northeast Louisiana University.
Bobby Joe settled into a very nice All-State year in baseball as well. But it was now Gary Wayne time. The stud catcher hit .475 with power, launching over a dozen homers, while throwing out runners at all bases. He was having one of those type games, picking runners off both first and third base and delivering the game winning homer in a 2-0 win over St. Fredricks in Monroe without knowing he had a special audience. In the crowd and looking specifically at him was the legendary scout and Negro League player, Buck O’Neil. O’Neil was now scouting for the Chicago Cubs system and had been given a heads-up to look at Wayne. He liked what he saw and the catcher was signed to a minor league by the Cubs. Gary stayed in the Cubs organization for three years, playing in both Sarasota, Fla and Arizona.
With one graduating senior leaving with the national high school scoring record and another on the payroll of a professional team, 1980 was a good year to be a Panther.

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