George Tinsley

By Bob White, The Courier-Journal

 

Looking back on his collegiate basketball career George Tinsley says his four years playing at Kentucky Wesleyan was like a magical era."

During his time at the Owensboro school, Tinsley helped the Panthers reach the championship game of the NCAA’s Division II tournament all four years, winning the title in 1966, ’68 and ’69, and finishing as the runner-up in ’67.

Winning the NCAA as a freshman was a great moment for me, he said. "It was my first major championship.’’

Tinsley finished as Wesleyan’s fourth leading career scorer with 2,014 points, averaging 22 points as a senior and tallying a career-high 43 against Gann University. He was named an All-American in 1968 and ’69 after grabbing a school record 1,115 rebounds in his career and being named the MVP of the ’69 NCAA finals.

Tinsley was so impressive as a collegian he was named to the NCAA Division II’s 50th anniversary team, along with such players as Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Jerry Sloan. He also was picked as an alternate on the ’68 U. S. Olympic team that was captained by the late Mike Silliman, who led St. Xavier to the 1962 Kentucky state high school crown and later starred for Army at West Point, N.Y.

After that came professional basketball. Tinsley was drafted by the Oakland Oaks of the ABA in 1969 and played four seasons with the Oaks, Washington Capitals, Miami Floridians, Kentucky Colonels and the New York Nets.

I also was drafted by the Chicago Bulls of the NBA,’’ Tinsley said. The Bulls wanted me to go to their camps, and they wouldn’t talk money. The ABA didn’t require you to attend camps, so I signed with the ABA. I got my $10,000 signing bonus, bought me a ’69 GTO and I was off rolling.’’

The playing days of the Louisville Male High product ended years ago, but today as a family man and a businessman, Tinsley is just as successful as he was on the basketball court. Maybe even more so.

He began his career as a training instructor for KFC Corporation. Today, he is president and CEO of the family’s businesses PenGeo, Inc., Tinsley Group, Inc., and Tinsley Concessions in Winter Haven, Fla. — that include 45 restaurants with various franchises. His companies serve concessions at three major airports: Tampa and Miami in Florida and the one in Louisville.

He has been married to his high school sweetheart, the former Seretha Summers (at left), for 39 years. His company — Pen-Geo, Inc., dba KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) — is named after his children, Penni D. Tinsley and George Wm. Tinsley, II.

Yet, he has found time to serve as president for the NBA Retired Players Association. His time in that capacity ended with the national convention in February in Los Angeles. Now, he will serve that organization as treasurer to the NBA’s Board of Directors.

That’s not all. In 2009, the Louisville Sports Commission honored Tinsley as an honorary co-chairman of the NCAA Division II 2010 Winter Games.

To what does Tinsley owe his successful life?

A lot of it is what I learned at Male High and Kentucky Wesleyan,’’ he said. You have to treat people like you want to be treated. I wouldn’t trade my relationships with people I met in high school and college for anything.’’

Tinsley also served KFC Corporation as an area manager, a director of field human resources and franchise manager. His first KFC franchise at Auburndale, Fla., turned out to be the most profitable in the country,’’ Tinsley said.

 

Then we got a franchise at the Tampa Airport and that opened the doors for more partnerships,’’ he said.

He is proud to be going into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame, after being nominated by such well-known basketball figures as Houston, Butch Beard, Wes Unseld and former Wesleyan coach Guy Strong, who coached the Panthers from 1963-67.

Kentucky means a lot to me and being the first Division II player in the Hall of Fame,’’ said Tinsley, who now resides in Auburndale, Fla.

He already has been inducted into the halls of fame at Male High and Kentucky Wesleyan.

What a lot of people don’t know about Tinsley is that he was adopted. His mother left him at a day care facility when he was six months old and never returned to pick him up. Willie Tinsley, the day care operator, adopted him even though she was 65 years old and walked with a crutch.

George stayed with Willie until she died, when he was in junior high, then he moved in with Willie’s son.

Gaye Howell, Tinsley’s seventh-grade teacher at Eastern Junior High, remembers George and still keeps in touch with him.

I was only 20 and had just graduated from the University of Louisville,’’ Howell said. George grew up in a rough area of Smoketown. By the time he was 13, he was raising himself. He always wore a pair of brown corduroy pants to school. He washed and ironed them every night. As the pants got shorter and shorter, George’s socks got longer and longer.’’

Howell followed Tinsley’s career and went to Kentucky Wesleyan when he was the 2009 commencement speaker and given an honorary doctorate degree. As a student, Tinsley had been the first African-American to be awarded Wesleyan’s highest honor, admission to the Order of Oak and Ivy.

 

I consider George one of my boys,’’ said Howell, now retired after teaching in the Jefferson County public school system for over 50 years. He always wanted to learn and he always was polite. He is such an inspiration to other people. He still calls me ‘Mom’.’’

Tinsley said he had low self- esteem’’ upon entering Male High, but he became close friends with Garnett Phelps (a star quarterback who also played basketball). Tinsley said Phelps’ father and mother were always there for George. Tinsley says the biggest championship Male won while he played for the Bulldogs was the 1964 Louisville Invitational Tournament title in his junior year.

I took all the experiences I learned while playing sports and applied them to the business sector,’’ he said of his success. I learned to take a loss.’’

 

 

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KAHF ceremony photos by Jim Reed