A Little Old-Fashioned “Gumption”

Basketball coach Garland Pinholster is an all-around champion
Garland Pinholster

Maybe he didn’t become president of the United States like Jimmy Carter of Plains, but for a boy born in Clyattville and raised in Ray City, Garland Folsom Pinholster did quite well for himself.

For one thing, he let the word out loud and clear on what had been Atlanta’s best-kept secret ” Oglethorpe University. For another, after his coaching days at OU, he became one of Atlanta’s most successful businessmen.

And when he entered politics, he became chairman of the minority caucus of the Georgia House of Representatives and last year he was elected to the Georgia State Board of Transportation. He is a past Republican “Legislator of the Year.” This past May he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oglethorpe.

Talk about drive and discipline — that’s what made him a champion basketball coach and champion in every venture he has undertaken. He’s a past president of the Buckhead and Canton Rotary Clubs, a member of the Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America, a member of the Georgia State Board of Education, a board member of the Frank Heritage Center of Reinhardt College and a chairman of the Governor’s State Physical Fitness Commission.

He was coach of the 1963 USA Pan American basketball team and has written five books, published in four different languages, on the art of defensive basketball. He is a member of three sports halls of fames: the Valdosta-Lowndes County Hall, the Oglethorpe University Hall and the Georgia State Hall.

Although he rarely plays competitive tennis anymore, he was once ranked No. 4 by the Southern Lawn Tennis Association.

Today, Pinholster, 76, and his wife of 26 years, the former Darsa Hayes, live in Ball Ground in a log cabin on the Etowah River.

He was the youngest of 12 children. At Clyattville, he learned to play basketball on a dirt court. There was no gymnasium. The Pinholsters dominated the basketball team, holding three of the five positions. Pinholster admits to being a “mama’s boy.”

“Whatever success I have had,” he said, “I owe to my mama. She preached gumption day and night. ‘Without gumption,’ she said, ‘you can’t do anything. With gumption you can do whatever you want.'”

And Pinholster has gumption. He had it when he earned 25 cents per hour as a sharecropper on a farm during his high school years, he had it selling fresh eggs on the street corner and he had it working in a saw mill and driving a taxi in Valdosta.

He saved his money for tuition at North Georgia College where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a second lieutenant commission in the U.S. Army. He coached the Fort Benning basketball team and taught physical fitness programs at the Fort Benning Infantry Center. Here he was, a mere lieutenant, teaching 32 generals — and the sons of the late Mark Clark and Dwight David Eisenhower.

His first civilian job was at Summerville High School where he won a state championship. In one season at, he had a 16-4 record. He took two Southwest DeKalb teams to the state finals.

When he took the Oglethorpe job, his friends said he was crazy. Oglethorpe Who? The college was a virtual unknown.

But Pinholster remembered what his mother had said and couldn’t wait to get started. His first team was a loser but the next year he was 18-6 with only six players.

From then on it was Katie-bar-the-door.

His team joined the Georgia Interscholastic Athletic Conference and never lost a game.

He won the GIAC championship four straight years. Not only that but his team, the Stormy Petrels, was invited to the NCAA tournament in 1963, and reached the semi-finals.

Pinholster turned out the nation’s best defensive basketball team, yielding a mere 42.5 points per game. But his greatest pride was having 100 percent of his players graduate and four of them eventually named to the Oglethorpe Board of Trustees.

With no previous business experience, in 1972, Pinholster purchased a midtown supermarket that was scarcely making a profit. Did that take guts? “No,” Pinholster said, “gumption.” He turned it into a giant money-maker and went on to open and operate four more stores, each of them a success.

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