Turn your calendars back to early 1973 at a time that the Dalton Junior College men’s basketball team was running rampant against nearly all opponents.
A Roadrunner had just gone crashing into the stands for a loose ball, which caused a woman to scream, “Tony, don’t do that. You’re going to kill yourself!”
She directed her concern for safety toward guard Tony Ingle, who always played fearlessly.
That particular game in Birmingham, Ala., matched the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association champion Roadrunners against Alabama’s title-winners. The reward was a berth in the annual National Junior College Tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.
But for Ingle, it wouldn’t have mattered if it was a team scrimmage. That total effort every minute personified him.
When Ingle graduated from North Whitfield High, he had exactly one college basketball offer — to Dalton Junior College. Despite an excellent prep career, scouts looked at his mere 5-foot-9-inch frame. He also seemed a little slow.
“Tony had the natural ability to get people to follow him,” said his former North Whitfield coach, Brady Creel, while attending Thursday’s news conference that officially welcomed Ingle as coach of the relaunched basketball program at Dalton State College — formerly DJC.
“As the point guard, everybody wanted to be on his side. For the last three years, he was my point guard. We won more games each year, winning 21 the last year.”
Roadrunners coach Melvyn Ottinger obviously saw something good in him, too. On the other hand, some people wondered if Ingle had been recruited as a token local performer to appease area backers.
Ingle did not disappoint while proving many rival coaches wrong. He was a part of two Roadrunners’ squads that won back-to-back GJCAA crowns and advanced to national tourneys.
During both seasons, the little dynamo earned Best Hustle accolades as voted by teammates. He served as captain in his final season.
“Nobody else even got a vote,” Ottinger said with a shrug. “That was not a surprise.”
As a freshman, Ingle was a part of the second unit known as Coleman’s Commandos. The name alluded to assistant coach Dick Coleman.
“In that undefeated regular season, our Commandos were the only team to beat the first team,” Coleman proudly pointed out. “Tony was a big part of it as the leader. I know that he got into a couple of fights. He wasn’t afraid of anybody.”
As a sophomore, Ingle injured his knee in the national tournament.
“It’s one of the worst knee injuries that I’ve ever seen,” Coleman said. “He was convinced that he could still play. That was his competitiveness, though it finished his career.”
Ingle proved long ago that he could coach basketball at both the high school and college levels — in fact, he achieved one of his major goals in winning an NCAA Division II championship at Kennesaw State University in 2004. There also is his rare flair of motivation.
During his earlier head coaching days at Southeast Whitfield High, I covered his team’s home game from behind the Raiders’ bench against county rival Northwest Whitfield. The exciting game went into overtime.
Despite what should have been a tense atmosphere, I could hear giggles several times from the Raiders’ sideline during timeouts. Ingle uncharacteristically addressed the team while sitting on the bench.
After the game, it was disclosed that Ingle had split the back of his pants while leaping off the bench. His wife, Jeanne — who, as the team’s scorekeeper, kept close tabs on Ingle — immediately noticed the problem.
She instructed assistant coach Mike Wade to make sure her husband did not exit the bench before the clash ended. At 6-4, Wade was big enough to handle the assignment.
I do not even remember which team won. In either case, it probably was a victory for his wife, who averted trouble.
Ingle, who has been a humorist/motivational speaker, always seemed to have a bit of Barnum and Bailey in him as a promoter. His five sons, who were known as the Golden Nuggets, performed nationally at various venues, including NBA arenas, with their ballhandling skills.
Years ago, Ingle told me that his primary goal was to coach in the NBA. He certainly has made connections — such as former Atlanta Hawks coaches Mike Fratello and Hubie Brown, who is now considered by many to be the premier NBA television analyst.
From the major college standpoint, Ingle was the founder and executive director of the John and Nellie Wooden Awards for five years. He had a close friendship with the late legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach, who won 10 national championships.
Ingle does seem better suited for the college game, where he can more easily mold lives in a positive way. That can be quite difficult in the NBA, where players often are making more money than their bosses, the coaches.
Dalton State athletic director Derek Waugh hit a home run with the hiring of Ingle, who obviously can coach and recruit. He will be a tremendous asset to his home community, which he dearly loves.
As somebody who has admired Tony Ingle now for some 40 years, I also appreciate the man for his focus on faith, family and integrity.
Won’t it be fun in the 2013-14 basketball season to watch Roadrunners basketball games return to town after a 34-year absence?
Doug Hawley is a former sports editor of The Daily Citizen. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.