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Building Legends by Remembering Legends

Alex "Greek" Athas

Sport: Football

Induction Year: 1992

Athletic success was a family tradition for Tulane University’s versatile Alex “Greek” Athas.

His parents migrated from Greece to the United States in 1907, and his godfather—a cousin named Nicolas Georgantas—won Olympic medals in the discus throw at St. Louis in 1904 and Athens, Greece in 1906. He won the bronze medal in 1904 and the silver medal in 1906 with throws between 123 and 125 feet. Georgantas also competed in the shot put in 1904, but withdrew in disgust after his first two attempts were disallowed for throwing.

Athas, who was named for Alexander The Great, saw his godfather’s medals several times when he was a young boy. From the time he attended Greek School between the ages of four and six, he dreamed of excelling in sports.

He was hanging around the outdoor basketball courts at McDonogh 28 Elementary School when he was 10 years. When older kids needed an extra player, they allowed Athas—who was big for his age—to participate in the pick-up games.

At Warren Easton High, the 6-1 1/2, 160-pound Athas turned in outstanding performances in football, basketball and track. His coaches were Johnny Brechtel in football, Matt Ballatine in basketball and Mike Ziegler in track field. “Tad” Gormley also provided plenty of training tips in track.

“When I was disappointed or lazy, he would give me a pep talk,” Athas said of Gormley. “He’d tell me about a great Greek distance runner who worked hard to become good.”

Athas continued his athletic success at Tulane University, where he enrolled in the Navy’s V-12 training program during World War II.

Except for a case of mistaken identity, he could’ve been the only athlete to lead all scorers in both the Southeastern Conference basketball tournament and southeastern Conference track and field championships in the same year.

In 1943-44, Athas lead the SEC in basketball scoring with 282 points in 28 games, an average of 10.07 per game. He also led all scorers in the SEC tournament at Louisville with 41 points in two games—including a single game tournament record of 28 points.

With only six teams participating in the tournament because of World War II, Tulane beat Georgia Tech 66-55 to reach the finals. But Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats won the championship game, 62-46. It was the Green Wave’s only loss to an SEC opponent that season. Athas was selected on the all-tournament team—which was the All-SEC team at the time.

Two months later, in the SEC track and field meet at Birmingham, Athas was officially credited with 14 points. He finished second in individual scoring to LSU’s Marty Broussard, who scored 15 points.

But Pete Baired who was covering the meet for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, claimed that a mix-up at the finish line of the 100-yard dash cost Athas two points.

Tulane officials near the finish line said Athas was second, a half-yard behind Hunley Elebash of Georgia Tech, and Tulane teammate Neval McCoy was fourth. Both runners agreed that they finished in that order. But the judges picked McCoy second and Athas fourth. It didn’t affect team scoring, but it prevented Athas from winning high point honors.

In his other events, Athas won the 220-yard low hurdles in 24.9 seconds, was runner-up to Broussard in the broad jump (now called the long jump) and took third place in the 120-yard high hurdles.

Athas also played football one year at Tulane, earning a letter in 1943 and scoring a touchdown in the Green Wave’s 33-0 victory over Rice.

In the summer of 1944, Athas joined the Navy and went oversease for combat duty at Tinian and Okinawa.

He returned to Tulane after the war and led a Green Wave basketball team coached by Cliff Wells to the SEC tournament finals again. Athas scored 320 points in 28 games, an average of 11.4 per game, and led Tulane past Tennessee and LSU in the SEC tournament. But Kentucky, with the players who would produce the Wildcats’ first two NCAA titles in 1948 and 1949, rolled past the Wave 55-38 and swept all five positions on the all-tournament first team. Athas had to settle for a spot on the second team. He was a second-team choice again in 1948, when Georgia Tech upset Tulane in the semifinals. Athas finished his college career with a school record total of 928 points in 89 games, an average of 10.4 per game.

In track and field, Athas won another SEC title after the war. He was the broad jump champion in 1947 with a leap of 22 feet, 5 inches.

Drafted by the Rochester Royals of the Basketball Association of America in 1948, Athas didn’t report because he had another year of college eligibility. But he passed up his final year to sign a contract with the New Orleans Sports of the Southern Basketball League. Athas made the All-Star team, but the league folded at the end of the season.

When the BAA and National Basketball League were consolidated to form the National Basketball Association in 1949, Athas won a berth on the Tri-Cities Black Hawks of the NBA. But he was sidelined by a dislocated elbow before the season got under way.

It was another year and another league when he went to the Kansas City Hi-Spots of the National Professional Basketball League. Once again, the league folded after one year.

After his playing career, Athas went back to New Orleans and launched his coaching career at Wright Junior High. Two years later, he returned to Warren Easton and coached for 34 years—first as an assistant coach and later as head football coach.

Athas, who retired from coaching in 1988, was stunned when he learned that he had been elected to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in January 1992.

“I got goosebumps,” he said. “It’s a wonderful honor. I’ve known a lot of the people who are in it, and I always looked up to them. It’s a wonderful experience to even be associated with those kind of people.”

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