SMITH COLUMN: Remembering Jimmy Bankston

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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Talk of moving the Georgia-Florida game out of Jacksonville brings about considerable debate. I have gone on record with that UGA owes the city of Jacksonville nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The history is that the city gave Georgia the back of its hand for years albeit the fault lay with those whose allegiance was to the Red and Black. Every Georgia fan should remember that UGA had to force Jacksonville to make it equitable. The city and the University of Florida gave in grudgingly.

There are two underlying points of import: One is that no matter the position you take, it cannot be ignored that the game is played in a Florida city which means the populace, by and large, favors the Gators: the property owners, the merchants, the police, the motel operators, the teachers and the dock workers are all Florida fans for the most part. 

Move the game to Atlanta, and the atmosphere would drip Red & Black.

The other, as the late Pat Dye must have said dozens of times, why not allow the merchants of Athens an opportunity to capitalize on the passion surrounding the rivalry.

I say the decision should rest with the viewpoint of Kirby Smart.  If he is okay with Jacksonville, then I yield to his preference. If he wants to move it, I am unhesitatingly in his corner.

That being said, there would be one regrettable feature to a home and home scheduling arrangement. It would be dispiriting and dismaying for the Golden Isles. I would hate it for this devout Bulldog colony.

Aside from Athens, St. Simons is the most passionate Bulldog community in the state.

I thought about all this recently when St. Simons lost one of its greatest Bulldogs with the passing of former UGA All-America swimmer, James Kenneth Bankston.

Jimmy was an exceptional athlete at Georgia, and he became an exceptional alumnus.  He, and his older brother, Byron, and younger brother, Charlie became the quintessential season ticket buyers. They caravanned to Athens on Friday afternoons, booked rooms for the fall at the Colonial Inn at the corner of Broad and Milledge.

They walked the campus and tailgated with the greatest of passion.  When kids, and later grandkids, came along, they played touch football in the parking lot. The Bankston’s truly loved the Dawgs.

When Jimmy was mustered out of the Army, he had an offer to swim competitively at the University of North Carolina, but Bump Gabrielsen, the Bulldog swim coach, talked him into coming to Athens where he participated in at least six events in the days when dual meets were standard across the country. Jimmy was the supreme “point getter” for Georgia.

He set records in several freestyle events: 100, 220, 440 and 1,500 meters and continues to hold records in several events. He placed sixth in the 1,500-meter race in NCAA competition which qualified him for All-America honors.

“When I got to Georgia, I saw his name everywhere,” says current Bulldog coach, Jack Bauerle. “His record confirms that in his time, he was one of the best swimmers in the country.”

A few days before he passed away, he got the good news that he had been elected to the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. “That,” said his brother Charlie, a scholarship diver with the Bulldogs, “is a high moment for our family.”