The marital union of Fannin County native Burt Tipton and his wife Nola Leatherwood Tipton produced seven children. The first five were boys, and all turned out to be outstanding athletes. Two of the boys, Earl the oldest and Joe the youngest, were so proficient at the sport of baseball that they signed professional contracts. Earl’s career was cut short due to injury but Joe advanced to the Major Leagues and played seven seasons in the American League.
Many observers of local athletic activities of the period, however, will tell you that the best athlete in the Tipton clan was the baby of the family, Dorothy. Dot was a fiery competitor from the time she could walk, partly out of self-defense because she was constantly competing with her brothers, but primarily from her natural desire to compete and excel at sports.
Dot’s first taste of organized athletic competition came during her childhood at Epworth Elementary and then at Epworth High School. Opportunities for young girls were limited in the America of the late 1930s and early 1940s, but basketball was a sport open to youngsters of both sexes. In fact, support for the girls teams at schools in Georgia was as strong as, as possibly stronger, than that for the boys squads.
In March of 1940, Dot led Epworth Elementary School to the championship of the Gold Medal Tournament for grade schools and junior high schools in the Fannin County/Copper Basin area. She had an individual game high of 23 points and was selected to the all-tournament team. She was also selected as one of the three outstanding girl competitors. No single most valuable player was selected but tournament reports suggest that Dot was by far the outstanding player in the event.
Playing for a very average Epworth High School team in 1940-41, she was selected to the All-County team and again named as one of the three outstanding players in the county.
After just over a month of her sophomore year of 1941-42, Dot decided to transfer to nearby McCaysville High School. That school had opened in the fall of 1940 and was closer to Dot’s home in the Vellenorthtown section of Fannin County. When she arrived at McCaysville, she was greeted by teacher, and soon to be principal, Fred German who asked for Dot’s help in organizing a girls basketball team. She eagerly accepted the challenge and recruited the best female athletes in the school to participate. She also led a fund raising drive to collect enough money from local businesses to buy uniforms for the team. The first girls basketball team in the history of McCaysville High School took the floor in the winter of 1941.
Things were a little different when Dot and her McCaysville teammates began the 1942-43 season. Although that was only the second team for the school, most of the girls had gained some experience, plus Dot was on hand to lead them. Dorothy Tipton was technically a junior as she reported for school in September, 1942, but she had made a momentous decision. She wanted to finish school as soon as possible, so she asked school officials if she could complete requirements for both her junior and senior year, during one school year. She was given the green light, so Dot found herself with a much heavier academic burden than normal as the embarked upon what was to be her final year in high school.
The 1942-43 basketball season, and the school year in general, was a remarkable journey for Dot Tipton. Her individual performance that year was the stuff of legend, highlighted by her 41 point outburst in a game against Blue Ridge High School in February, 1943. It was a single game scoring record in Fannin County that would endure until 1965.
On a team level, Dot led the McCaysville girls to the Georgia 9th District Championship for the 1942-43 season at the tournament held in Winder. The McCaysville girls advanced to the championship game with victories over Bethesda and Epworth and found themselves player a heavily-favored Clayton team for the big prize. In a low-scoring affair, McCaysville hung on to win, 18-15 and were crowned champions of the 9th District. Georgia did not hold a state tournament for girls at that time, so the McCaysville girls, in only their second year of competition, accomplished as much as was possible for them. No Fannin County tournament was held in 1943 due to wartime travel restrictions.
There were two more items of business, one athletic and one academic, for Dot to complete before she bade her high school career goodbye. First, a Bi-State basketball tournament was held in those days, featuring teams from Fannin County, Copperhill, Ducktown and Ellijay. With Dot performing at her usual all-tournament level, the McCaysville girls also won this tournament by defeating the Ellijay girls in the championship game played at the Copperhill YMCA. Second, Dot graduated from McCaysville High School in May, 1943 as class Salutatorian. It was quite a year for young Dorothy Tipton.
After graduation, Dot was approached by several of the amateur women’s basketball teams of the era, including the Lorelei Ladies and Sports Arena Blues of Atlanta, about continuing her basketball career on a professional level. Dot, however, had met and fallen in love with Alvin Hardeman at McCaysville High School. They both graduated as members of the class of 1943. Her desire was to marry Alvin and settle down to a peaceful family life in Fannin County.
World War II was raging in Europe and in the Pacific in 1943 when Dot Tipton and Alvin Hardeman were married facing a very uncertain future. Alvin was called to military service soon after their marriage and, after completing his basic training, was sent to Germany where he served as a medic. Alvin suffered from unstable blood pressure, a condition that guaranteed that he would serve in a non-combat role during the war. He did, however, witness all of the inhumanity of war and was always reluctant to talk about what he had seen in Europe.
While Alvin was away for the first thirty months of their marriage, Dot fought off worry by staying busy working for a while in Atlanta and then serving as the girls basketball coach at McCaysville High School during the 1944-45 season. Her brother Dwight, also an athlete of note during his day, coached the boys team that season.
Alvin did return safely from World War II and he and Dot settled down in the Vellenorthtown. They built their own house on a small lot that had been a gift from Dot’s father. They lived in that house for the remainder of their married life. Dot and Alvin had two children, Deanne and Susan. Alvin was a carpenter at the Tennessee Copper Company and Dot handled the chores at home. Her love for sports never waned and she continued to play softball in the spring and summer and bowled in the winter. Dot was a perennial member of the softball all-star teams of the area throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Alvin passed on in 1990 and Dot Tipton Hardeman has continued to live in the house they built throughout the 24 years since the loss of her husband. She has great grandchildren now and stays involved as much as time and distance will allow in the lives of her family. She loves the Atlanta Braves and Falcons and tries to never miss a big sporting event on television.
The Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is very proud to call Dot Tipton Hardeman a member. As Wallace Pittman, one of her classmates at McCaysville High School expresses it: “It wouldn’t be much of a Hall of Fame without Dot”.