Tom Bowling was an outstanding basketball player at West Fannin High School from 1960 through 1964. He was a key contributor to Region 3AA tournament champions in 1962 and 1964, two of only three regional championships ever captured by the school. Tom always played at a championship level, and in recognition of his exceptional career, he has been selected as a member of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
Tom grew up in the Williamstown section of Fannin County. He lived on the same street as the Arp brothers, Ray and Donnie, and the three boys would be teammates at McCaysville Elementary School and later at West Fannin. All three were in the starting lineup for the 1963-64 West Fannin team that would finish the season with a 25-7 record, including a heart-stopping double-overtime thriller over Rockmart in the finals of the Region 3AA Tournament played in Dalton. Tom scored a team-leading 25 points including a field goal at the buzzer at the end of the second overtime period to propel the Yellow Jackets to a 62-60 victory and a berth in the Class AA State Tournament played at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta.
The entire 1963-64 season was a highlight reel for Tom but the night of January 28, 1964 would prove to be a life-altering date in his life. It was on that night that Lumpkin County High School sent its basketball team to the West Fannin gym to play the Yellow Jackets. Lumpkin had a gaudy 17-2 record was led by Stan Worley, a 6’ 3” guard/forward whose hardcourt services were being sought by several Southern colleges. One of those colleges was Georgia Tech. Between the girls and boys game that night, a hush fell over the capacity crowd on hand as Georgia Tech Head Coach Whack Hyder entered the gym and took a seat behind the scorers’ table. He was joined momentarily by Oglethorpe Head Coach Garland Pinholster. Most fans finally decided that they were there to get a personal look at Worley.
During the next 90 minutes, Hyder and Pinholster certainly saw a fine player in Stan Worley, but they must have been awed by Tom Bowling who poured through 22 points as West Fannin thoroughly spanked Worley and his mates from Dahlonega by a score of 70-48. Almost 50 years later, Tom remembers Hyder stopping by the dressing room after the game to congratulate him and his teammates on their victory. He also remembers Hyder asking about Tom’s grades. The Georgia Tech of 1964 was a school with very rigid academic entrance requirements and only a select few could make the grade. Well, that was no problem for Tom Bowling because he was on his way to being the valedictorian of the class of 1964 and was especially strong in his math and science courses.
Meanwhile, Tom Bowling was amassing all of the honors due a basketball player of his stature. He was named to the 3AA and State Tournament All-Star teams, was selected by his teammates as the Most Valuable Player on the West Fannin team (he had also won this honor as a junior in 1962-63) and was one of 15 players selected to play in the annual North vs. South All-Star Game in 1964. He averaged 18.5 points per game as a senior. For his career at West Fannin, he scored more than 1,000 points.
Tom next saw Coach Hyder after the state tournament in Atlanta at which time Hyder formally offered him a full 4-year basketball scholarship to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology. Tom had other offers and was especially tempted to accept a scholarship to Mercer University in Macon which offered much of the academic curriculum that was of interest to him. The lure of Georgia Tech and its academic excellence, however, won out and Tom signed with the Engineers. He admits that the athletic challenge would be a ‘stretch’ for him, but the education that he would receive would be invaluable. Tom won a basketball letter at Tech in 1967-68.
The America of 1968 was a tough place for young men of draft age. The manpower demands of the Vietnam War were considerable particularly after the Tet Offensive in January of that year. Tom needed two more quarters of academic work at Georgia Tech to complete the requirements for an Industrial Management degree, but Uncle Sam (more specifically the Fannin County Draft Board) had different ideas about his future. Tom decided to enter Officer Candidate School and became a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Artillery.
After finishing his training Tom’s military service included a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. It was during this time that he undoubtedly received the most meaningful awards of his life. He was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. A Silver Star is the third highest military decoration of valor that can be awarded to any member of the U.S. military. This medal is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
Tom married Ginny Sharp in 1969. Ginny was a cheerleader at Copper Basin High School at the same time that Tom attended West Fannin. Somehow, they worked out their differences and remain happily married some 44 years later. They have two adult sons, Andy and Matt, both of whom reside in Asheville, North Carolina.
After his military service, Tom returned to Georgia Tech and completed his degree requirements in 1973. He enjoyed a long career in business and is now retired. Tom and Ginny live in Marietta and are staunch supporters of Georgia Tech athletics. Tom is a member of the Letterman’s Club and holds season tickets to Tech football, basketball and baseball games. When not attending a Ramblin’ Wreck sporting event, they enjoy biking, boating and traveling. Ginny is very active in greyhound rescue work and does a great deal of good for this gentle, beautiful, and often abused, breed of dog.