Bunzie Johnson Ross Biography – 2013 FCSHOF Inductee
Bunzie Doradell Johnson Ross has been selected for induction into the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2013 in recognition of her considerable basketball accomplishments at Fannin County High School in Morganton during the mid-1940s.
Bunzie was born on March 8, 1929. She was the fourth of six children sired by Harley Johnson. She grew up in the family home on Highway 60 between Copperhill, Tennessee and Mineral Bluff, Georgia, a road that the locals refer to as the ‘Mineral Bluff Highway‘.
When Bunzie was a child, a neighbor of the Johnson’s constructed a basketball goal for their son, a strapping youth who was about four years older than Bunzie. Bunzie’s sister Pearl, the last surviving member of the immediate Johnson family, remembers that Bunzie and the boy engaged in ferocious one-on-one basketball battles which were invariably won by Bunzie. Bunzie was very athletic and competitive from the first time she held a basketball in her hands.
During her high school days at Morganton, the auburn-haired Bunzie grew to a height of 5 ‘ 10” and became a dominant force on the basketball court. Early on she played guard, in the days when girls basketball teams had 6 players on the court at a time, three defensive players called guards on one side of the midcourt line and three offensive players called forwards on the other side. Bunzie could play offense or defense but Coach Clyde Henry felt that her talents could best be utilized in defending the Morganton goal against the scoring attempts of opponents. In addition, a great offensive player named Bernadine Heaton was on hand to score lots of points for Fannin County, so Coach Henry used his two stars at opposite ends of the court.
During Bunzie’s junior and senior years at Fannin County, 1945-46 and 1946-47, the teams advanced to the Class B state championship games in Macon. They finished as state runners-up both years, losing a total of 3 games during the two year span.
In 1945-46, the team lost only one game and that was in the championship game. Bunzie Johnson was named to the Class B all-state team that year as a guard.
When offensive star Bernandine Heaton graduated in the spring of 1946, Bunzie was moved to a forward spot for her senior year. She was just as good at scoring points as she was at preventing them. She was named captain of the 1946-47 team and led that squad to the Fannin County Championship with a 32-25 victory over Epworth in the championship game played in Morganton. Bunzie was the only Morganton girl named to the all-tournament team.
The 1946-47 team went on to again capture the District 9 championship by rolling over Ellijay, Jasper, Cumming and then Winder in the title game played in Gainesville. By winning the District Championship, the Fannin County girls advanced to the State Tournament in Macon for the second year in a row. They defeated Hawkinsville, 41-28, Soperton 43-25 and Colquitt 38-36 to qualify for the championship game vs. Baxley. The Morganton girls dropped the title contest to Baxley, 52-36, to finish as state runners-up once again. Bunzie Johnson was named to the Class B all-state team that year as a forward. Bunzie, therefore, was named to the all-state teams in successive years for her defense and offense—-a true all-around player.
Bunzie was a very tough competitor who, in addition to her talent, had a presence on the court that discouraged opponents from taking any physical liberties with her Morganton teammates. Bunzie would often participate in practice scrimmages against the boys’ team, so she was a seasoned warrior who was always in top physical condition.
Off the basketball court, Bunzie Johnson Ross did not have an easy life. Her father died when Bunzie was 13, leaving her at home with her mother and two younger siblings. The Great Depression was still lurking around in 1940 and times were hard for the Johnsons, particularly with the loss of the Tennessee Copper Company earnings of Harley Johnson, Bunzie‘s father. Bunzie’s mother had no marketable skills and the family depended on the small amount received from Social Security for a while.
Bunzie’s mother, however, was a proud woman who eventually found employment at a plant in Ellijay, Georgia that made chenille bed spreads and bath mats. Getting to work daily in distant Ellijay required her to rise at 4 a.m. to feed the kids and catch a bus heading south. As the oldest child at home, Bunzie became like a second mother to the younger kids, Pearl and Charles. Undoubtedly, her most carefree times were on the basketball court.
Bunzie persevered and graduated from high school in the spring of 1947. Shortly after graduation, she moved to live with her older sister Ruby in another part of eastern Fannin County. Ruby rented a house from a man by the name of Otto Ross. Otto’s son Clifford had recently been discharged from the Navy. He and Bunzie hit it off and were soon husband and wife.
Meanwhile, Bunzie’s mother had remarried and moved to Atlanta with the younger children. Bunzie and Clifford purchased the family home and set up housekeeping.
Bunzie and Clifford had a son named Keith in 1948 and the real test of Bunzie’s mettle began. Keith was born with encephalitis and never was able to speak or walk. Clifford had found employment with the Tennessee Copper Company, but the young family found that the closest medical care for Keith’s condition was to be found in Chattanooga. They pulled up stakes and moved to the Chattanooga area where Clifford learned the carpentry trade and Bunzie devoted her time to caring for Keith.
Bunzie’s devotion to her son was total. Pearl remembers seeing Bunzie carrying Keith in her arms when he was in his late teens. His condition has never improved.
Bunzie Johnson Ross died in Rossville, Georgia on February 18, 1982 before reaching her 53rd birthday. As a final tribute to her, former Coach Clyde Henry gathered as many of her teammates as he could locate and they served as honorary pallbearers at her funeral.
Bunzie Johnson Ross will have a plaque recognizing her exceptional athletic ability in the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame. She should also have a giant star beside the plaque recognizing her exceptional qualities as a human being.
Bunzie Doradell Johnson Ross Obituary
Friday, February 26, 1982 by Blue Ridge Summit-Post
Mrs. Bunzie Doradell Johnson Ross 52, of Rossville, GA passed away Thursday, February 18, at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga, following an extended illness. Born in Fannin County, she had lived in Rossville for approximately 15 years. Mrs. Ross was of the Baptist faith.
Survivors include her husband, Clifford F. Ross; one son, Keith C. Ross, of Greeneville, TN; three sisters: Willa May Harrison of Mineral Bluff; Mrs. Ruby Hensley of Port Angeles of Washington; Mrs. Pearl Bradford of Chamblee, GA; two brothers: Harley Johnson Jr. of Marietta; and Charles Johnson of Rossville, GA
Funeral services were held Sunday, February 21, at 2:00 p.m. from the Union Baptist Church with Rev. Bill Johnson officiating. Music was by the Pleasant Hill Quartet and Jimmy Helton. Active pallbearers were: Steve Ross, Ronald Johnson, Randall Johnson, Robert Loudermilk, Danny Holden, and Mark Dockery.
Interment was in the Pantertown Cemetery under the direction pf the Henry Funeral Home.
Bunzie Johnson Ross Bio Video at FCHS HOF Game
Bunzie Johnson Ross Banquet Video