Area’s most dominant high school athletic program? The case is strong for Lincolnton’s girls basketball program of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s
By Richard Walker
In the Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, many athletic programs can claim championships and/or special seasons.
But how many can dominate their competition for 25 years?
Lincolnton High’s girls basketball teams did so from 1940 to 1965 in what may be the most dominant era in local history.
Guided by veteran coaches Roy Turbyfill and Jack Kiser, Lincolnton teams won 17 conference titles and eight state championships and had two streaks of more than 68 games without a defeat. The program also finished as Western Conference tournament runner-up four times and as WNCHSAA runner-up once.
The Wolvettes’ extrordinary success came a generation before the 1972 Supreme Court Title IX ruling that mandated girls would get equal athletic opportunities as boys and before girls basketball hadn’t changed to conventional five-on-five basketball rules.
Not that fans in Lincolnton minded.
Filling up gymnasiums in the Western N.C. Piedmont – and for four years at a state tournament in the Moore County towns of Aberdeen and Southern Pines – Lincolnton girls basketball fans were proud and supportive of their winning teams for years.
Turbyfill told The Gaston Gazette in 1995 the Wolvettes’ teams of that era were so popular that local fans would pack their home gymnasium and then leave before the boys nightcap would be played. That facility – Block Smith gymnasium – is now run by the Lincoln County recreation department and was opened in 1954 in honor of the legendary Lincolnton High coach of the 1920s and 1930s whose wife was one of the school’s early girls basketball coaches.
“We emphasized girls basketball probably more than the other schools,” Turbyfill said then. “There was a lot of pride in our winning.”
Turbyfill first came to Lincolnton for the 1940-41 season and guided his first team led by Polly Miller to a 16-0 record and the school’s first league title.
When Turbyfill enlisted in the military for World War II, the coaching reins were turned over to Kiser.
A three-sport star at nearby Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory – he’s a 1979 inductee into that school’s Sports Hall of Fame – Kiser was a coach and principal at Cherryville (1931-42), Bessemer City (1942-43) and Lincolnton (1943-70).
When he came to Lincolnton, he was known statewide for his football coaching success.
Eventually guiding Cherryville, Bessemer City and Lincolnton to a combined 118-59-20 record in that sport, his greatest success came in 1934 when he led Cherryville to a 7-0-3 record in 1934 and the old Western N.C. Activities Association co-championship.
How famous was that team?
Due to injury, it was limited to 11 players for the last several games of the season, including a 6-2 win over Morganton in the WNCHSAA title game played at Lenoir-Rhyne College that was later disputed because of a rules interpretation mistake by game officials. Since Cherryville had played without any substitutes, local fans convinced school officials to change the nickname from “Cherries” to “Ironmen.”
Once he arrived in Lincolnton, Kiser built the football program into a winner and quickly made the girls basketball team one of the best in the state.
His first team went 9-1 in league play, losing its final regular season game to conference champion Morganton.
After two seasons with limited schedules and no declared league champion in 1943 and 1944 due to World War II travel restrictions, Lincolnton shared Western Conference titles in 1945 and 1946 before beginning the first of its two long streaks in the fourth game of the 1946-47 season.
The Wolvettes would win 66 straight games from December 1946 until being tied 34-all by R-S Central on Jan. 30, 1951; Ties were allowed in girls basketball in those days under the premise that it was considered too strenous for girls teams to play overtime games.
Three games later, Lincolnton was beaten 52-51 at Newton-Conover on Feb. 9, 1951 to end a 69-game unbeaten streak.
A longer streak of 101 straight victories over league opponents would then begin that didn’t end until March 1956.
So what accomplishments did Lincolnton have during their two long stretches of perfection?
Ten straight conference championships, five WNCHSAA state titles and two open state tournament titles.
The 1948 and 1949 Wolvettes won the first two WNCHSAA state tournament titles.
When the WNCHSAA didn’t hold state tournaments in 1950 and 1951, Lincolnton accepted an invitation to play in the state tournament hosted in Moore County by Southern Pines and Aberdeen high schools and won the 16-team tournament title in both seasons.
When the WNCHSAA tournament resumed in 1952, the Wolvettes were again champions and they would add more WNCHSAA titles in 1954, 1955 and 1965 tournament championship game victories.
Along the way, high-scoring forwards like Betty Beattie, Billie Dysart, Shirley Parker, Cecelia Houser, Maebelle Aderholt and Shirley Gilbert among others led Lincolnton to titles in the years when girls basketball used six-on-six rules with three players playing only offense and three playing only defense. (N.C. didn’t change its rule to conventional five-on-five play until the 1969-70 season.)
By the 1950s, Turbyfill had returned to Lincolnton and coaching the junior varsity girls team.
In 1960, a state rule mandated a coach couldn’t also be a school principal, so Kiser turned the coaching reins back over the Turbyfill. Kiser would retire for good as Lincolnton’s principal after the 1969-70 school year.
In the years since, Lincolnton’s girls basketball program has surpassed 1,000 all-time victories while winning 11 more conference titles, the last coming in 2018.