Half a century ago the Taylor County Lady Vikings basketball team was putting a bow on one of the most incredible runs in sports history. Their streak of 132 straight victories over five years still stands in the state record books. “There Was Once a Team”…and this is their story.
If you listen closely, there’s a familiar echo coming from the small town of Butler in Taylor County, GA. The sound can be traced to a nostalgic gymnasium still in use on school grounds not far from the town square.
A peak inside the unique arched entrance reveals a basketball court with a history as rich as the surrounding farm land. This was the home court of the vaunted Lady Vikings of Taylor County High School. During a five-year stretch from 1967-1972, they never lost a game on this floor. Just imagine the countless cheers soaked up by the gym walls as those Lady Vikings reeled off a state record 132 consecutive wins on their way to five straight state championships.
The scoreboard that illuminated their margins of victory is frozen in time. The original goals, a fond reminder of the thousands of points that swished the nets. The original wooden bleachers still stand watch over the court, notched with the names from 50 years ago.
One of the former players from that era feels right at home in this old gym. Bunny Fuller Harris has written a book about the Lady Vikings’ remarkable run with the help of her daughter, Katie Harris Dodrill. It’s simply titled: “There Was Once a Team.”
When asked how they did it, Bunny says, “We had a spectacular coach. We had a run of good players. We had people who really cared about playing basketball motivated by Coach Carter. We had a strategy, and we had some luck along the way, too.”
The coach she’s referring to is Norman Carter. He’s 83 years old and lives in Carrollton, GA. Carter got a basketball scholarship to Clemson after graduating from Talbot County High School in 1955. He says, “I transferred to Mercer in Macon and I started there for two years and was the leading scorer for both years.”
After receiving his degree from Mercer, Carter came back home to Taylor County to coach the game he loved. Through the first six years he led both the boys and girls programs to state championships.
In 1967 he was appointed principal of Taylor County High School, giving up the boys team to just coach the girls. The next year he was elected school superintendent. “When I came in, we had a winning streak of maybe 55 games,” Coach recalls. “So I asked the Board of Education if it would be permissible for me to coach until we lost. And so, three years later I finally got to quit.”
But not before leading the Lady Vikings on a winning streak that still stands in the record books 50 years later.
When it comes to Coach Carter’s coaching style, Bunny says the girls had a healthy fear of him. “He was strict but yet you knew he cared for you deeply. He was just a great motivator in that he could bring out the best in you. He gave you self-confidence as a young adolescent girl.”
Coach Carter admits, “I was not a lovable coach. I was a respected coach, and I don’t think you can be both. I was blessed to have a lot of girls that were good students. They had a lot of character, and they just happened to be good athletes.”
Bunny was among the very best. Carter calls her the greatest player he ever coached. Bunny averaged 22 points a game during her high school career, scoring more than 2200 points. Her sophomore year she averaged almost 30 points per game.
Bunny says, “I was a competitor and Coach Carter likes to laugh and say that I wasn’t really spectacular in practice. But let me get out there in a game and I became competitive and aggressive and wanted to win.”
The Lady Vikings overcame some incredible obstacles on their historic journey. First of all, the game itself changed. When their winning streak started in 1967, girls played three-on-three…the forwards who shot the ball on one end of the court and the guards on the other. Neither could cross the center line.
The game then transitioned to a “rover” style of play which allowed each team to have a rover who was allowed to play full court. That eventually gave way to five players per team playing full court.
Another huge challenge arose with integration during the 1970-71 school year. Coach Carter says, “We had three girls that came over from the black school that were tremendous kids and great athletes. The first game we played, those three girls started. I had a board member’s daughter who was supposed to start, but she wasn’t good enough.”
As for Bunny, she says “it was not the terrible time that other schools had with integration, I didn’t feel like. Now maybe I was isolated from some of it, but I just knew the individual day-to-day, and I knew that those girls were important friends to me and good basketball teammates.”
In their first game after integration, Coach Carter recalls, “In the first quarter my best black girl, and she was a terrific player, turns her ankle. So I go out on the court. I pick her up myself and carry her off that court. And I did it because I wanted people to know that we were united now.”
And what the Lady Vikings did on the court that season proved it. They won all 30 of their games, keeping the winning streak intact.
“Even though keeping the winning streak going was in the back of our minds,” according to Bunny, “it wasn’t our most important goal. Every year our most important goal was to win the state.”
Coach says, “I didn’t want them to get discouraged if the streak ended. I wanted them to go on and realize that’s not our ultimate goal.”
Heading into Bunny’s senior year, the girls had won 124 games in a row. They started off the season with eight wins to reach 132 consecutive victories. Then came January 4, 1972.
Bunny recalls, “We played Perry earlier in the season in our gym. It was packed to the rafters and we barely won that game. Then the first game after Christmas in 1972 we went to Perry to play. And things didn’t go our way in that game.”
The Lady Vikings saw their comfortable halftime lead dwindle in the second half. “You can always make excuses for anything,” according to Coach. “But Bunny fouled out. And then Shirley, my other great forward, fouled out.”
Perry pulled off the biggest upset in school history, coming from behind to knock off the Lady Vikings 53-48 and end the streak.
Bunny remembers, “We went immediately to the dressing room and I just remember being numb, like, what has happened? And I still get emotional. I don’t know why with it being 50 years ago. But it was a moment in my life that had never happened before, but very important to me. I wanted to be one of the ones that never lost a game, but that didn’t happen.”
Coach Carter recalls what he told the team after that gut-wrenching loss. “I said we won like champions. We’re going to lose like a champion.”
Bunny says Coach then said, “Would you like to go over to the other dressing room and congratulate those girls? And we said yes.”
“So, we lived through it.” And Bunny says the team then decided they were going to continue on and win the state championship…and they did! “A lesser team probably would have folded, but we didn’t let that happen.”
Coach Carter was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. His collection donated to the Museum included two jerseys…one of those belonged to Bunny.
In thinking back on that day, Coach recalls, “I made the statement and I still believe it. I was a pretty good coach, but I was a better judge of character.”
To order a copy of “There Was Once a Team,” you can find it on Amazon. Or you can contact Bunny Fuller Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org for an autographed copy.