Golden Bears

Members of the 1948-49 Athens College Golden Bears during their final year of the program’s existence.

The Collegians. The Golden Bears.

 Athens State University football may have been short-lived on the campus, with two different stints. However, their success on the field and the impactful eras of American history they were a part of tell a larger story of the history of the institution.

 Athens State University, back then known as Athens College, fielded their first football team in 1930, right at the front-end of the Great Depression. 

 Created by legendary president Dr. Eugene Naylor, along with great interest from the community. The Athens College “Collegians” were born.

 The team was comprised of young men from the Athens area. They went 3 and 3 in their first year of existence, facing off versus local private colleges and military academies. 

 According to the bicentennial office of Athens State, the team played two more seasons before the program was dissolved as the effects of the Great Depression continued to surmount across the country. Not just football, but all sports at the school were halted. 

 However, football was revived at the school in 1947, following the conclusion of World War II. This time, going by the Golden Bears, the team was comprised of not only Athens locals, but former soldiers going to school on the GI Bill. 

 The coach was Robert Whitt, a former player of Mississippi Southern. Home games were played at Athens High’s stadium.

 The team was funded largely by prominent local businessmen, such as Jim Beasley and John Robert Russell.

 However, on their first year back on the gridiron, the team was considered part of a “club sport,” and did not offer scholarships or play in a conference. The Golden Bears went 3 and 1 on the season. 

 Then, next season in 1948, with additional funding provided, the Golden Bears were able to become an “official” team with a full schedule. They joined the Mississippi Valley Conference and provided up to 40 scholarships, according to Athens State’s bicentennial office.

 Their games were versus higher-quality opponents in much more organized fashion. They purchased a bus for away games, players were recruited from farther away and new living quarters specifically for the football team were established. 

 Their final record on the year was 4 wins and 6 losses. 

 Then, unbeknownst to the coaches and players at the time, 1949 would be the final year of Golden Bear football. 

 Despite the team doing significantly better, with 6 wins, 3 losses and a tie, 1950 would see new president Perry James halt subsidization of athletics. Many players chose to transfer where football was still available. 

 Instead, James chose to focus resources on gaining regional accreditation for Athens College. This regional accreditation would go a long way into building Athens State University into the prestigious institution it is today. 

 For those who have been alive long enough to remember Athens College football, for either the Collegians or the Golden Bears, feel free to share your memories with The News Courier. Please email

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