GHSA to celebrate 40th Anniversary of Southwest Macon’s historic 1979 season

There was something very special about to take place in the Heart of Georgia. Don “Duck” Richardson had transformed the Southwest Macon basketball program into a powerhouse since stepping in as head coach. He led the program to its first state title during the 1972-73 season and saw the Patriots collect their second championship following the 1974-75 campaign. The program had grown into a winning machine and it was also producing college-ready prospects at an exceptional rate.

Coach Richardson had a passion for excellence and his demand for discipline and hard work was extremely high. His methods were known to be intense, but they were also known for the results they were producing on the court. Fundamentals and team play were indicative of the Patriots’ brand of basketball and their relentless training in the offseason made it second nature by the time the season rolled around. The program went on to reach the state semifinals in 1976, and then fell short in the finals to conclude the 1977 season. It wasn’t until the 1978 season, that the signs of something even greater than expected had begun to show. Led by a trio of outstanding juniors, the Patriots went on to finish the 1978 season with a 26-2 overall record and captured the Class AAAA title.

The hype, expectations and the excitement surrounding the 1979 season were at an all-time high.

Terry Fair, Michael Hunt and Jeff Malone were the trio of returning seniors that the 1979 team would be built around. Fair was a 6-foot-8 McDonald’s All-American that was a man amongst boys in the paint. He’d go on to reach the 1983 Final Four with the University of Georgia and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers. Hunt was a fierce defender that also served as student body president during the 1979 school year, and he picked up coaching after earning a scholarship to play at Furman. As for Malone, his deadly jump shot was feared throughout the Patriots’ 1979 season, as well as Mississippi State where he went on to set the all-time scoring record, and later in the NBA where he averaged 19 ppg game during a 13-year playing career.

Seeing what was at stake, coach Richardson and the team went all-in preparing to take on a schedule that would keep the Patriots in the spotlight all season long. Georgia High School Basketball had never been considered in the top tier nationally, but that did not stop the Patriots from setting their sights on achieving the mythic goal of a national title.

Southwest opened its season against Tennessee High School and was a narrow 58-54 winner after going ahead 34-21 at the half. Murphy High School was pummeled 78-38 in the Patriots’ next outing and then the team got set to play its cross-town rival Northeast Macon at the Macon Coliseum. Northeast gave Southwest its only two losses during the 1978 season and the atmosphere at these games was unequalled. Southwest took the game 78-73, but would have to defeat the Raiders three more times before the season was finished.

After picking up several instate victories, Southwest got set to take on Oak Hill Academy and St. John’s Prep in the Tom Porter Classic. Fair posted 26 points and 20 rebounds as the Patriots toppled Oak Hill 80-59 and they’d go on to defeat St. John’s 55-48 to return home with even more clout.

Southwest’s performances against Atlanta’s top schools added to this ever-growing spotlight. The Patriots also met with Baylor Prep (TN) for a showdown at the old Omni in downtown Atlanta. Southwest led Baylor 43-35 at the half and then dominated the next two quarters to leave with a 94-57 win. At this point, the team was not just entering the national polls, they were aggressively climbing them.

A crowd of 9,000 packed the Coliseum to see Southwest hand Northeast a 71-57 defeat and improve to 19-0 on the year. By the time the Region Tournament arrived, it was clear that Southwest was in reach of its goal of a national title. The pressure was immense, but a 63-54 win over Northeast gave the Patriots a top seed heading into the state tournament.

Southwest defeated Columbus (82-46), Thompkins (104-57) and Heritage (75-58) to reach the finals and set up a state championship showdown with Northeast. The Patriots entered the game with a 27-0 record and were the No. 1 team in the nation. Northeast was 24-4 with three of the losses coming to the Patriots and the other coming to St. John’s. The Coliseum was packed with more than 10,000 fans to witness the historic showdown. Northeast pulled ahead 48-38 early in the second half and led Southwest 53-51 with six minutes left. But in true Patriots’ fashion, Southwest answered with an overwhelming run and closed out a 69-60 victory, perfect season and 1979’s No. 1 National Ranking.

The GHSA is celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Southwest Macon’s 1979 season during half-time of this year’s Boys Class AAAAAAA Finals to honor the Patriots remarkable achievement.

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