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’91 team remembers success

POSTED: March 6, 2013 4:00 a.m.
Michele Hester Dawson Community News/

Angie Hammond Smith, from left, Mardie Townley and Tanya Mabry Porter played when the Lady Tigers made it to the Class A State Champion­ship in 1991.

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Watching the Dawson County Lady Tigers clinch a berth in the Class AAA state championship game brought back a flood of memories for several members of the high school's 1991 state runners-up squad.

"It's been kind of like an emotional roller coaster for me watching them," Mardie Townley said.

Townley attended the Lady Tigers' 66-50 semifinal win over Southwest Macon on March 2 in Savannah with former teammates Tanya Mabry Porter and Tarla Tanner Millar.

"You really can't describe the feeling about being able to relive those memories through those girls," she said.

For Porter, those memories may be even more special as two of her daughters - Hannah, a senior, and Peytan, a freshman - will be playing in the title game against St. Pius X on Saturday in Macon.

"I told Hannah all along what it's like to go to the state championship," Porter said. "I told her I hope after this weekend that she can tell me what it's like to win the state championship, because that's one thing I have no knowledge about.

"That my girls are getting to experience it, that's surreal to me. It thrills me that they'll now have those memories."

It's been more than two decades since the Lady Tigers made it to the state final, but players from that team remember the experience like it was yesterday.

It wasn't necessarily the game that brought tears to Angie Hammond Smith's eyes Monday as she recalled the events of that weekend in March 1991.

"What I remember most, after the game and we had lost, people didn't look at us like they were ashamed. They were just as excited even though we lost," she said.

"This goes back to the community involvement. They loved us for what we had done, whether we won or lost, and that's my greatest memory."

Townley said the community support remains as evident today as it was when they played.

"It was like they were just all proud of us. They were thankful to be able to go as a community and have a team they can support. And I think it's the same way now," she said. "And I think it is great to be able to say I am a former Dawson Countian.

"People that watched us play are some of the same people that are coming to watch these girls. It's just amazing. I think it's great that we still have that and that we're small enough that we support them as a community whether we have a child playing or not."

Superintendent Keith Porter said the community's support of the Lady Tigers has been overwhelming.

"It's something that has truly excited our community," he said. "Being a person who has been here for many years, I was able to attend the 1991 final. And to see our girls back there again with the same coach is extraordinary. I can sense the excitement of our entire community."

Steve Sweat was just a few years into his coaching career when the Lady Tigers' winning streak started in 1990. The program went on to be region champs in 1990, 1991 and 1992, the same years they played in the Class A Final Four.

The 1991 team was the first he took to a state championship game. And while the girls fell 58-53 to Clinch County, Sweat said he has no plans to do anything different than he did then.

"I'm glad that the players get to go. That's my main concern," he said. "It's always great when you get to go to the championships because it doesn't happen often.

"I think it's special because it's a new group. It's been really fun working to get back to the championship game again and now that we're there, we're just going to enjoy it."

Porter said he was surprised by how many Dawson County fans traveled to Savannah last weekend for the semifinals.

"When I walked in and saw the number of people there, it completely floored me," he said. "I thought with the distance it would impact the number that attended. But it should not have surprised me because in years past, all the way back many decades, Dawson County has truly supported their athletics."

The players from 1991 did have some words of advice for the current Lady Tigers.

"First and foremost, take God with you," Townley said. "And second, you've made it this far, you have nothing to be ashamed of if you win or lose. We couldn't be prouder of you."

 

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