Friday, November 20, 2009

THERON SAPP

The Man Who Broke The Drought




Theron Sapp was tired of losing to the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. So was every other Georgia Bulldog player and fan in Georgia. For eight years throughout the entire decade of the 1950s, the Georgia Bulldogs had lost to Georgia Tech. When the 1957 game looked as if it was going to end in a tie, Sapp took matters into his own hands and nearly singlehandedly defeated a stubborn Tech team, which was determined to continue its decade long winning streak.


Theron Sapp was born on June 15, 1935 in Dublin, Georgia. His family lived in the Brewton community. His older brothers played six man football for Brewton High School in the years before World War II. One old timer, Judson Watson, said that the elder Sapps were much better football players than the younger Theron, who moved with his family to Macon in the 1940s.

Theron played left halfback for the Lanier Poets from 1950 to 1953. In his senior season as an honorable mention all state running back, Sapp, wearing jersey number 13, played in the backfield with All-American back Billy Kitchens, and two other honorable mention backs, Johnny Stallings, and Sam Vickers, all of whom led the Poets to eleven consecutive victories before losing to Grady High in the state championship game.

In the spring of 1954, Sapp dove into a swimming pool and cracked at least one of his vertebrae. His injury left his future football career in limbo. The doctors said that he would never play football again. Theron aggravated his injury that summer in the high school all star game. Georgia coach Wally Butts agreed to allow Theron to keep his scholarship and remain on the team, even if it meant that he would serve as a team manager. Sapp sat out his first season and missed most of his sophomore season after an injury relegated him to the number four spot on the fullback depth chart. In his junior year, Sapp recorded nearly six hundred yards rushing, the most by any Bulldog during the decade of the fifties. Despite Theron’s success on the ground, the team was far from successful. The Bulldogs won only two of eight games, while scoring only 86 points against their opponents who put 150 points on the scoreboard.

Theron Sapp’s day of destiny was November 30, 1957. A cold wind was howling from a cold clear sky down unto Grant Field in Atlanta. Georgia, losers of eight straight games to Tech, were made last minute favorites by Jesse Outler of the Atlanta Constitution. Outler changed his prognostication of the game in Saturday’s paper, predicting that Georgia would win by a score of 7 - 0. Tech was also regretting a bad year with only four victories in nine games.

Both teams battled to a scoreless draw in the first half. Georgia’s defense bent but didn’t break. The Dogs were determined to keep Tech away from their goal line. In the first series of the second half, Sapp, playing both ways, thwarted a bourgeoning Tech drive at midfield by stopping Tech running back Faucette for a three yard loss. Faucette took the next handoff and fumbled. Sapp pounced on the ball to give the Dogs excellent field position right in the middle of the gridiron.

Theron Sapp went on a personal mission - take the ball and ram it down the throats of the Tech defenders. Sapp ran for one yard. On the third down he carried the pigskin down to the Tech 37 for a first down. After Jimmy Orr caught a Charley Britt pass at the 28 yard line, Sapp plunged for seven yards to the 19 yard stripe.

Coach Wally Butts sent the word to “give the ball to Theron.” Sapp ran for three yards to the 16 and a first down. Then he scampered for seven yards to the nine.


Sapp picked up another first down for the Dogs with a four-yard run to the five. After carries of three yards and one yard to the Tech one yard line, Georgia quarterback Britt tried a quarterback sneak. Tech’s goal line defense bowed their backs and held Britt to no gain. Then on fourth and goal from the one, Sapp took the ball from Britt, ran to the right, and powered his way into the Tech end zone, a feat not accomplished by a Georgia player in four years. Ken Cooper tallied the extra point to put the score at 7 - 0, just what Outler had predicted.

All Georgia had to do was to hang on and victory was theirs - five agonizing minutes to go. The elusive win nearly vanished when Charlie Britt fumbled on his own 27 yard line. Once again, Theron was there to save the day. Sapp pounced on the ball, which allowed Georgia to gain one more first down as the clock dwindled down to less than two minutes. Georgia’s defense held. The drought was over.

Furman Bisher, described the bedlam on the field: “Men kissed men. Women kissed women.” Sapp’s teammates swarmed over their now immortal hero, whose ninety one yards on twenty three carries led the team to the oh so sweet victory. Sapp gave credit to Jimmy Orr and Ken Cooper for the blocks which allow him to gain the game winning score.

Theron Sapp improved on his 1957 season with an even more impressive performance in his senior 1958 season. He led the Dogs with 635 yards rushing with an excellent rate of 5.6 yards per carry. Georgia defeated Tech again by a score of 16 to 3. Once again, Theron bowled over Tech defenders for 103 yards to grind out a second consecutive victory over Tech. The Dogs finished the year with a record of four wins and six losses, giving them the distinction of being one the most powerful losing teams in Bulldog history by finishing third in the conference in total offense and second in rushing yards.

During his senior year, Sapp was named to the All SEC team. As the conference's second leading rusher, he won the William Jenkins Award. In post season play Sapp was named the outstanding player in the Senior Bowl and the outstanding back of the Blue Gray game. He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles. Sapp played second string halfback for the Eagles from 1959 to 1962. The Eagles, with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgensen, defeated Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers to capture the 1960 World Championship.

Sapp as a member of the World Champion Eagles, 1960


Theron was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1963 when he enjoyed his best season with 453 yards rushing on 104 carries. An injury ended Sapp's career after three seasons with the Steelers in 1965.






L-R - Walker, Sapp, Trippi, Sinkich

Theron Sapp’s memorable performance on Grant Field in broke Tech’s stranglehold on the Bulldogs and elevated him to a spot on the level of Georgia’s greatest immortal football players. Sapp’s number 40 jersey was retired by the University along with those of three other great Bulldogs. Frankie Sinkwich (Georgia’s first Heisman Trophy winner), Charlie Trippi ( Georgia’s best all round player,) and Herschel Walker (Johnson County star and Georgia’s all time leading rusher) are the three others whose jersey number will never be worn by another Bulldog player. Sapp and Walker are the only native Georgians in the illustrious quartet. After college Sapp went into business in the Augusta area, where he still lives today. Amazingly, both men grew up within five miles of each other. On this forty-fifth anniversary of the Sapp’s day in the sun, listen to the words of Georgia Bulldog Poet Laureate, Harold M. Walker:

“Rise up you loyal Georgians
From Tybee Light to Rabun Gap,
Here’s to the Macon Mauler,
The mighty Theron Sapp.....

The word will still be carried
By every loyal mouth -
Let’s stand and drink another toast
To the man who broke the drouth!”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

EARL DUNHAM

The Captain of Carolina


Earl Dunham started something. Way back in the 1930s and 40s, about every eight or ten years or so, a young Laurens County boy moved with his parents to Macon. While they were in the capital of Central Georgia, three boys thought it would be a good idea to play football for the city's biggest high school. All three happened to be very good at it. Billy Henderson did it in the early 1940s and went on to an outstanding football and baseball career at the University of Georgia before becoming a coaching legend in Georgia High School football. Theron Sapp played at Macon's Lanier High School in the early 1950s before his immortal feats as a Georgia Bulldog running back led to his being named as only the third player in school history to have his jersey number retired. But way back in the late 1930s, Earl Dunham started it all. Here is his story.

Earl Dunham was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1921. One of at least seven children of Harry and Ethel Dent Durham, little Earl lived in a modest house at 214 Sawyer Street in the mid 1920s. Sometime before 1930, the Dunhams picked up everything they owned and headed for a better opportunity in Macon, where they lived on Walnut Street.

Earl attended elementary school and in 1935, enrolled in Lanier High School, where all boys participated in the R.O.T.C. program. It didn't take long for Earl's talents to be recognized by the coaches of the Poets. Yes, that was their mascot. After all, when you have a school named after Sidney Lanier, one of Georgia's most famous poets, what else are you going to call the teams?

In the 1938 basketball season, Dunham helped to guide the Poets to a state championship. Later that fall, Earl, billed as one of the best fullbacks in the state, was named as Alternate Captain of the Poets. Though he suffered a broken leg that limited his playing time as a junior, Earl returned for his senior season when he exhibited his strong blocking and power running skills. After his last game, Earl was named to the G.I.A.A. All Georgia team for the second consecutive year (the only two-year member) by a panel of sportswriters and coaches.

The South Carolina Gamecocks were whom Earl wanted to play for, not Georgia or Georgia Tech. From the beginning, Earl was destined to become a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball. Dunham found only a little joy in first three football seasons, all losing ones, under Coach Rex Enright, who at the time of his retirement was South Carolina's all time winningest and losingest coach. Earl earned a starting berth at left half back in 1942, when his team won its first game against the Citadel, but failed to win another all season. Victories were more plenty when Earl was playing basketball and baseball. In his freshman year, the Gamecock hoopsters went 15 and 9 and played in the semifinals of Southern Conference championship. In his sophomore year, Earl moved from guard to center and posted an average of two field goals per game playing a position, which was usually in the center of the court in those days.


Something big happened. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Earl and many of his friends enlisted and went off to a whole new ball game. This time it was serious, real serious. Earl became a member of the 11th Airborne Division. The 11th was held in reserve until the latter half of 1944, when it first saw action in Leyte and in the invasion of Luzon in January 1945 in a final effort to sweep Japanese resistance from the Philippine Islands. During his spare time in his 42-month stint as a paratrooper of "The Angels," Earl did what he did best. He played ball. In his last game as a member of the 11th Division football team, Earl helped to secure a victory over an all star squad from Honolulu.

Like many other young men of his day who saw their collegiate football careers interrupted by the war, Earl returned to the campus at Columbia for one final season in 1946. He replaced future Dubliner Bryant Meeks as team captain in the first season of the modern era of football. Rex Enright returned from his naval duties to coach one of the finest teams ever to take the field in Columbia. The Gamecocks defeated their instate rival Clemson and never looked back on a 5-3 season.


As soon as he left the Carolina Field gridiron and stepped onto the hardwoods, Earl was honored by his teammates and coach by being named captain of the basketball team. It was then time for one more season on the diamond. Once again, Earl was named captain of the team. It would be the only time in the one hundred and fifteen-year history of South Carolina athletics that one man would named captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams in a single school year. I don't know it for a fact, but it may have been the only time in NCAA history that one athlete captained all three major sports at a major university. Certainly that feat hasn't occurred lately when few, if any, players play all three major sports.

When Earl Dunham's playing days were over, he turned to coaching to further his athletic career, He served as an assistant coach under his former head coach Enright until 1955 when he resigned to enter the business world.

Earl Dunham died on September 10, 2000 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was survived by his children, Earl, Jr. and Nancy Anne.

During his four years at the University of South Carolina, Earl Dunham rose to the heights of excellency both on and off the field. He was named a member of the prestigious academic fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated cum laude in the Class of 1947.

As a football player, Dunham was named as an honorable mention on the 1946 All American team joining center Bryant Meeks (2nd team.) Ahead him were three legends of college football: Charley Trippi of Georgia and Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard of the United States Military Academy. A half century later, Earl Dunham was named to the South Carolina All Century Basketball Team as one of five players representing the pre-1950s era. Fifty years after he left South Carolina, Earl Dunham was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame joining Bill Rogers as the only player in that illustrious group who played three sports in their careers at South Carolina.

As a footnote, although Dublin is located just a hundred or so miles south of Athens, Georgia, only a half dozen Dublin footballers have played for the Bulldogs. Nearly as many have played football for South Carolina. In addition to the aforementioned Bryant Meeks (Captain '45), who moved to Dublin just before his death, other Dubliners who have donned the garnet and black are Gregg Crabb ('69-'71), Chan Beasley ('71-'72), Scott Hagler ('83-'86, Captain '86), Tony Guyton ('83-'85, Captain '85) and Kyle Crabb ('99-'00.) In four of the last 65 football seasons since the end of World War II, the captain of the Gamecock football team has been a Dubliner. That's an unbelievable record!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE GEORGE WERLEY?


George Werley grew up in a baseball town during the World War II years. St. Louis was the home of the Cardinals and the Browns, though the latter never proved to be a winner. In three of the four summers of the war, the Cardinals won the National League pennant. When he was growing up in the 1940s, George dreamed of one day playing on the diamond of Sportsman Park or at one of the other fifteen grand parks of the major leagues. That dream came true and sooner than he could have ever imagined.



George William Werley was born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 8, 1938. The six-foot two-inch, one hundred and ninety-six-pound pitcher, just out of high school, made his only appearance in a major league game for the Baltimore Orioles on September 29, 1956, just three weeks after his eighteenth birthday. In one inning of work, George gave up one hit, two bases on balls, and one earned run for a career earned run average of 9.00. He would never set foot on a major league mound after that Saturday afternoon in Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C..

The Orioles offered George, the 1956 Missouri American Legion Player of the Year, a contract. The agreement, which was offered exclusively by the Orioles in an attempt to sign more players, guaranteed that the player would see action in the major leagues in their very first season with the organization. And, sure enough, George signed the contract on September 2 and was playing in the big leagues less than four weeks later.

Baltimore manager Paul Richards called his phenom into the game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He figured there was nothing to lose since the sixth-place Orioles were being shut out 6-0 by Washington, first in the hearts of their country and usually last in the American League. George, wearing his gray #15 road jersey, walked from the bull pen to the mound. Everything was going well in the beginning. George got lead off hitter, the Nationals second baseman Herb Plews, to ground out to the first baseman Bob Hale, who tossed the ball back to George for the first out of the inning. Next up was catcher Ed Fitzgerald, who grounded out to shortstop Billy Gardner. With two out, Werley walked Pete Runnels, a journeyman first baseman. Roy Seivers, the 1949 Rookie of the Year and who played for the St. Louis Browns, the forerunner of the Orioles, also walked, forcing Runnels to second.

Worley still had a chance to get out of his first inning with no damage. With two on and two out, Jim Lemon, a future All Star outfielder for the Senators, singled to right plating Runnels to send the Senators ahead 7-0. George shook off the butterflies and bared down on the next hitter, third baseman Harmon Killebrew, a young struggling slugger and who thirteen years later would be named the American League Most Valuable Player, grounded out to Gardner to end the inning.

Neither George n or the 1,129 or so fans in attendance at the game didn't know it at the time, but his last pitch to the future thirteen time all star would be his last in the major leagues. The Senators held on to win the game, 7-1.

In Orioles history, the game was significant, but not because it was the game in which the youngest Oriole hurler appeared in only a single game. The little noticed milestone came in the final stanza. The Baltimore nine scored their sole run of the game in the top of the ninth when the young third baseman for Birds in only his nineteenth game of his career stroked his first major league home run to break up the shut out of Cuban-born pitcher Evelio Hernandez, who in his fourth appearance in the big leagues won his first and only game of his career. That young third sacker, who played the hot corner better than anyone else in baseball history, was none other than nineteen-year-old Brooks Calvert Robinson, Jr., an American League all star from 1960 to 1974. Brooksy was the 1964 AL MVP and a winner of the Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente Awards.

The Baltimore Sun reported that Werley "nevertheless showed a good fastball and considerable poise in his one-inning trial." George reported to spring training in 1957, but was assigned to the Fitzgerald Pioneers of the Georgia-Florida League, where he pitched in 21 games under the tutelage of player-manager Earl Weaver. George didn't fair well in Fitzgerald with the Orioles posting a 2-4 record and an ERA of 7.95, but he did earn a call up to the Class C team in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he appeared in only two games.

The year 1958 would be George Werley's best season in professional baseball. He rejoined his manager/second baseman Earl Weaver with the Dublin Orioles, a Class D farm club of the Orioles. In Dublin, George had a respectable year going 16-10 in thirty-five appearances. While his ERA was 4.28, he was second on the team in that category among the starters, ahead of Steve Barber, who would later become one of the Oriole's best left-handed pitchers of the 1960s. In the batter's box, George was the team's best hitting pitcher with a mark of .228 for the season.

One of George's highlights of the 1958 season was a 3-2 extra innings victory over the Waycross Braves on May 20th. George went the entire thirteen stanzas to garner a hard-fought victory.

For all of you sports trivia fans, George Werley is the answer to one of the most obscure questions about Dublin minor league baseball. He won the last game ever played by the Orioles in Dublin, a 15-4 victory over the Brunswick Phillies. George also pitched in the first Oriole game ever played in Dublin. He pitched very well, but got a no decision in the opening game loss to the Albany Cardinals. In another bit of trivia, the first Orioles game was umpired by John Kibler and Bill Haller, two long time veteran umpires of the National and American Leagues.

After a promising start in the 1959 season with the Pensecola Dons of the Alabama- Florida League, George was shipped off across the country to the Stockton Posts in California, and back to the Pheasants in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where his professional career ended.

Fifty years after his debut in the major leagues, writers for The Baltimore Sun attempted to contact George to get his feelings on his all too brief major league career. Werley, a Missouri businessman and president of the Wenzel Tent and Sleeping Bag Company, refused to talk, according to the sports department, about the long ago day when he walked to the mound in his first, and only, major league game. So, on the fifty-third anniversary of your making it to the big show, where have you gone, George Werley?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

MEL LATTANY

Born to Run




Mel Lattany could run. He could run faster than all but a few dozen people in the history of the World. As the athletes of the United States are competing in Athens, Greece in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, this former Dublin Junior High School teacher made his mark on the tracks of another Athens, Athens, Georgia, a quarter of a century ago. Considered by one panel of authorities as the 6th greatest sprinter of all time, Mel Lattany was among those Olympians who were denied their chance to capture the gold medal by the preposterous politics of the Cold War.

Born Melvin Lattany on August 10, 1959 in Brunswick, Ga., Mel made a bold promise to his family when he was only eight years old. He sat at the dinner table and told his doubting siblings that “I am going to be the first Lattany to put our name in the papers nationwide.” Mel, an all state track and football star at Glynn Academy in Brunswick, was given a track scholarship to the University of Georgia, where he began his career in the spring of 1978. A sportswriter predicted that this swift freshman would become an Olympian. Mel lived up to his reputation when he set a Junior World Record at the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 20, 1979. His time of 10.09 seconds still stands as seventh best ever for a man under the age of twenty
and is only 0.04 seconds shy of the current World record. As a sophomore at Georgia, Lattany’s sprint of 20.28 in the 200m, earned him the ranking as the 6th best sprinter in the World.

Mel continued to excel in track events around the country. He set the Southeastern Conference record for a 60-yard dash with a mark of 6.14 seconds. His third place finish at the 1980 Olympic trials in the 100m led to his selection to a spot in the 100m event and 4x100m relay team, along with Carl Lewis, Stanley Floyd and Harvey Glance, Mel’s idol. In a university known more for its football prowess, Mel became only the 5th Bulldog track star to earn a berth on the Olympic team. Just after his selection to the team, President Jimmy Carter, in a protest of Soviet imperialism, ordered that the United States would stage a boycott of the quadrennial games. Lattany, like most other athletes, was disappointed and bewildered by the decision. “It’s really a shame about the boycott,” said Mel. Not seeing the action as a solution to the World’s problems, Lattany told reporters, “The Olympics should not be political at all. This has destroyed many of the goals and ambitions of a lot of athletes.” Lead by Carl Lewis and three SEC sprinters, the relay team was the favorite to win the gold medal in 1980.

Despite the initiation of the boycott, Mel continued to run in events throughout the country and Europe. He won the Liberty Bell Classic in the 100m dash. In a tour of Europe that summer, Mel enjoyed a gratifying victory over Alan Wells of the United Kingdom, the gold medal winner of that year’s Olympics. The 1981 season saw Mel, rated only behind Carl Lewis at the World’s top sprinter, win the World Cup in 200m dash with a mark of 20.21 seconds, only a 1/100 of a second behind the best time of the year. In the 100m event, Mel ran one of his best times ever. His time of 10.04 was 4/100 of a second behind Carl Lewis’s season best time of 10 seconds flat. Earlier that season, the 10.04 time was good enough to time the amateur record set in the 1968 Olympics. Wherever Mel ran, there was always Carl Lewis to spoil his chances of finishing first. In the 1981 NCAA championships, Mel broke out to an early lead in the 100m, only to be overtaken by Lewis, who finished in 9.99 seconds, only a slim 0.07 seconds ahead of Lattany. Mel’s career best in the 60-yard dash of 6.10 seconds was not good enough to beat a 6.04 world record set by Stanley Floyd.

In the 1981 Drake Relays, Mel, a nine time collegiate All-American, capped off his collegiate career with his 4th consecutive win in the 100-meter race, a feat unprecedented in the history of the prestigious event. For his outstanding performance at the relays, Mel was awarded the distinguished Maury White Award. Lattany placed first in the 100m event, finishing more than a quarter of a second ahead of teammate Herschel Walker. In addition to his sprint victories, Mel anchored the 400m and 800m champion relay teams.

In the summer of 1981, Mel attempted to live out his childhood dream of playing college football for the Bulldogs. The Bulldog coaching staff salivated at the prospect of having the second fastest man in the World running post patterns on the turf of Sanford Stadium in their drive to win a second consecutive national championship. Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. The following year Mel continued to run and train in hopes of garnering a spot to perform at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. On July 30, 1983, Lattany, ranked 3rd in the World, set a world record in the rarely run 300m dash at Gateshead with a time of 32.15 seconds.

At the age of 24, Mel Lattany, a 1983 education graduate of UGA, was peaking in his attempt to win a Gold Medal. In the 100-meter event at the 1984 Spec Towns Meet in Athens, the sprinter recorded a time of 9.96, the fastest time that year and the fastest ever at such a low altitude. His mark was only 0.01 seconds short of Jim Lines’ world record. Think about how short a hundredth of a second is. Lattany was awarded a spot as an alternate on the 4x100 relay team, which won the Gold Medal in Los Angeles in 1984. For his participation on the team, Mel was also awarded a Gold Medal, a bittersweet prize after a muscle tear and a subsequent injury led to his inability to compete with the world’s fastest sprinters and forced him to watch his teammates from the sidelines.

After only one win at the Jesse Owen’s Classic at Columbus, Ohio in May 1985, Mel once again turned his sights on football. He was given a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys in the summer of 1985. Although he could outrun the football and possessed a dogged determination to succeed, Mel’s lack of football skills prevented him from making the team. A reversal of the determination of amateur status in the United States led to his reinstatement to compete in amateur events.

In 1986, Lattany turned down an offer to come to Dublin to teach Industrial Arts at Dublin Junior High School. He chose to remain in Athens where he could train in hopes of making the 1988 Olympic team. When a 1987 car accident spoiled his chances to make the team, Mel decided to take up the offer in 1989. Mel preferred the slower pace of life in Dublin. He continued to train, but less intensely than before. He had his goals, but he realized that he was rapidly approaching an age when victories would be out of reach. Mel enjoyed teaching and coached the members of the high school track team. He hoped to publish a book to guide young athletes through their collegiate and professional careers.

Mel Lattany’s track career came to end when his legs could no longer carry him as fast as his heart wanted them to. For as long as he lives, Mel Lattany can claim that at one time, he was the fastest human being on the face of the Earth. Only 43 men have run a faster forty-yard dash and one hundred-yard dash. In his prime, Mel could sprint the length of a football field faster than most of us could run across a highway.

Friday, September 4, 2009

TWO BITS, FOUR BITS, SIX BITS, A DOLLAR, ALL FOR THE IRISH STAND UP AND HOLLER!

The Early Years of the Dublin Touchdown Club

On every Friday night in late summer through November and most days in between, they are there - cheering their sons and boosting their team. For the better part of the last half century, the members of the Dublin High Touchdown Club have provided support, both monetary and moral, to the winning tradition of Dublin High School football. As the Dublin Irish are currently enjoying one of their best seasons in years, I am reminded on the early days of the Touchdown Club, when the people of Dublin got behind a faltering program and within five years turned it into one of the most successful football dynasties in the state of Georgia.

Dublin High’s football teams had enjoyed successful seasons in the late 1940s, earning several district championships. Hugh Henderson, a former Americus High quarterback, lamented the fact that Dublin fans accepted losses in the early fifties with the phrase, "Yeah, but we played a good game." Henderson set out to change things for the better. He had help from two outstanding young coaches, Tom Stewart and Minton Williams. One of the first elements of the plan to improve the team was to start a recreation department football league, much like the one in nearby Statesboro. To fund a recreation program, money had to be found somewhere. This is where Murray Chappell, Ed Hall, and Keith Stone, all members of the city council, stepped in. Longtime mayor Felton Pierce also threw his support behind the project.

Football boosters began to talk in pairs - then in groups. These groups began to meet in sundry places around town, first at Johnson Street School. The first formal meeting of the Dublin Touchdown Club was held in Hugh Henderson’s Men’s Store on West Jackson Street, which was located in the Kreutz Building now occupied by Sapp’s Jewelers. The original members of the club were: Wimpy Roberts, Spec Hall, Bush Perry, Ben Crain, Sr., Hugh Henderson, J.B. Burch, Ed Bateman, Elmer Mackey, Joe Durant, Keith Stone, Fred Middlebrooks, Sr., Murray Chappell, Ray Prosperi, Leonard Swida, Fred Middlebrooks, Jr., Tom Stewart, Johnny Floyd and coaches Tom Stewart, Minton Williams and Bobby Rich. Ray Prosperi was the first President. Fred Middlebrooks, Sr. was elected Vice President. Elmer Mackey, who lent his ice plant offices on South Monroe Street for other meetings, was chosen as treasurer. Dues were a mere five dollars a year, but that amount, insignificant by today’s standards, kept the club going.

One major problem was the team bus, known as the "Green Goose." " In the early days, the bus often broke down on out of town trips," recalled Leonard Swida, an original founder of the club. "All Dublinites knew this and would follow behind the bus, just in case. If the bus broke down, we would carry the football players to the game. We always got the players to the game in time," Swida fondly remembered. Eventually, the booster club helped to raise the funds to buy a new Green Goose, a large, white, modern bus, lettered in green.

The first item on the club’s wish list was a movie camera to film the games. The school lent a movie projector to allow the coaches to show the team and their opponent’s strong and weak points. Joe Durant was the first camera man, aided by his assistant Hugh Henderson. In the last century of Irish football, I cannot go without mentioning Paul DiFazio for his work on filming the game which became an invaluable resource to the coaches and players. Another longtime volunteer was Ed Pierce, who broadcast the games and filled in at other jobs if needed. One of the team’s biggest boosters in the early years was Bush Perry, the newly hired sports editor of the "Dublin Courier Herald," who chronicled every game and supported Dublin athletic programs for nearly three decades.

A morning coffee discussion led to the purchase of a professional scoreboard for the old "Battle Field" on West Moore Street. Ben Crain, Sr. presented Superintendent S.R. Lawrence’s offer to match half of the amount needed to purchase the thousand-dollar scoreboard if the club could raise the other half. Two members of the club took the ball and ran with it. Messers Perry and Swida went to newspaper owner, state representative, and businessman, Herschel Lovett, who gave the men half of the money they needed. Swida and Perry then went to see Howard Cordell, Sr., who after a thirty minute sales pitch, gave the men the remaining $250.00 to meet their goal, one which was accomplished in one morning.

The members of the club worked hard to keep the grass on Battle Field and the practice field on North Calhoun Street green and growing. State Patrol Sergeant Ben Snipes, Sr., worked during his spare time to keep the field up. Leonard Swida went around town and gathered many pounds of fertilizer from every dealer in town. Keith Stone helped by seeing that water was provided to the field. Ben Crain, Sr. managed the finances and often supplied the players with cold drinks from the Grapette Bottling Company, which he owned and managed.

The greatest coup for the Dublin Touchdown Club was the building of the Shamrock Bowl. Swida, President of the club in 1960, originally planned to build the bowl shaped stadium on the site of the Kmart Store on Hillcrest Parkway. The plan was scrapped for the current site on Shamrock Drive because of other city-funded projects happening at the time. Don Lamb, Sr. brought all the factions of Dublin together, and through the aid of more than eighty thousand dollars in contributions (most of it borrowed by businessmen and supporters) to complete the construction of the Shamrock Bowl in 1962.

Throughout the 1960s, the Touchdown Club sponsored its annual jamboree to honor the players and supporters of the team. Each year, a committee sought out and found the best and most respected football speakers of the day. Honored guests came from all parts of the state to attend the festivities. Shug Jordan, legendary Auburn football coach, gave the keynote address to a large gathering held in the Central lunchroom in 1961. Receiving honors that night were the 1926 Dublin High Green Hurricanes, the 12th District Champions. Most prominent among the members of that team and present that night was "Breezy" Wynn, who after leaving Dublin High starred in the backfield of Coach Neyland at Tennessee during the early 1930s. In 1962, Bill Peterson, the head coach of the Florida State Seminoles, spoke to the crowd at the Moose Club. On hand that night was Theron Sapp, a Laurens County native, a member of the 1960 World Champion Eagles, only one of four former Georgia Bulldogs to have their jersey numbers retired, and who single handedly defeated Georgia Tech in 1957 to stop a long Tech winning streak and earn a lofty place in Bulldog history.

A year later, Ray Graves, an icon of University of Florida football coaches, addressed the touchdown club members in the Methodist Church Social Hall in 1964. The largest crowd of the decade turned out at the church to hear the new and successful Georgia coach, Vince Dooley. A pall was cast over the party, when Coach Minton Williams, who had led the Irish to state championships in 1959, 1960, and 1962, announced his resignation. "Tonto" Coleman, the new S.E.C. Commissioner came to town to honor, Dublin lineman Ronnie Rogers, who recently was granted a scholarship to play football at Georgia.

How did the players respond to all of this support? All you have to do is to look at the record. Except for a brief slide in the early 1970s, Dublin High’s teams have proved themselves as winners. If you don’t believe me, go out on Friday night. Just watch. You’ll see.

(This column is dedicated to my friend, the late Leonard Swida, who poured his heart and soul into the Touchdown Club and contributed most of the information for this article.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

THE LAST BALL GAME

Bill Steinecke




The 1962 Dublin Braves



Strike three! Game over! Braves win! But there was no joy in Dublin on that hot August evening. The Dublin Braves, a Class “D” farm club of the Milwaukee Braves, defeated the Moultrie Colt .22s to end the 1962 season of the Georgia Florida League, a league doomed to extinction by the forthcoming realignment of minor league baseball. The Braves, who finished in second place in a four-team league, actually had a good year, one which was stymied at mid season by the promotion of the their better players. Rumors of the impending fate of the Braves had been flying since the 4th of July. Somehow, everyone knew that this game on August 24, 1962, would be the last ball game ever to be played at Lovett Park on Kellam Road at Telfair Street.

Herschel Lovett, newspaper owner, politician, and businessman, loved baseball. In 1949, mostly at his own expense, Lovett brought a minor league team, the Green Sox, as Dublin’s entry in the Georgia State League - a league which survived until 1956. Baseball returned to town in 1958, when the Dublin Orioles, led by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, along with phenoms Steve Barber and Dave Nicholson, fielded one of Dublin’s best teams ever. After a three year respite, the Dublin Braves, along with the Brunswick Cardinals, the Moultrie Colt .22s, and the Thomasville Tigers, formed the Georgia-Florida League - a misleading name, since there were no Florida teams in the league, which had hoped to have eight teams to begin play.


The Dublin Braves debuted on April 25, 1962 with a 13-6 road victory over Brunswick. Managing the Braves was the venerable Bill Steinecke, a long time baseball veteran with decades of experience as a minor league manager and scout, primarily in the Milwaukee Braves system. Steinecke made it to the big show in 1931 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in only four games, Steinecke struck out once and got not a solitary hit in his four at bats, tying the unenviable record of having the lowest batting average in major league history. But whatever Steinecke may have lacked as a hitter in 1931, he more than made up as a teacher of baseball skills.


The home opener on April 27th was the third consecutive win. Mayor James Townsend threw out the first pitch in front of a crowd of 1021 fans, which would turn out to be five percent of the year’s total attendance. The Braves looked like they couldn’t be headed in the first twenty games of the season, firmly holding first place by going 14 and 7 and leading the league with a .700 winning percentage - a fine mark in any league, anywhere.

From the very first game of the season, it was apparent that the best player in the league was a young 21 year old Texan from Austin by the name of Glen Clark. Clark made everyone stand up and look by going four for six and driving in five runs in the season opener. One of those four hits was a home run, one which observers said was still rising over the light pole in left field as it was exiting the Brunswick stadium. His best month was May, when the Braves’ third baseman was voted the league’s best player by Topps Chewing Gum Company. By the end of June, Clark was on his way toward winning the Triple Crown, leading the league in home runs, batting average, and runs batted in. As Clark had drawn the eyes of the league fans, his talents were instantly picked up by scouts, and he was shipped up to a Class C team in the Braves organization. Clark made it to the major leagues with the Atlanta Braves in 1967, when he ironically, but regrettably, matched the major league record of his manager, going 0 for 4 in four games, striking out once, and tying Steinecke and many others for the worst average in major league history. But back in the spring of 1962, everyone said that he was going to be the next Eddie Matthews.

Despite the fact that he left the league at the all star break, Clark wound up the season leading the league in home runs, total bases, and slugging average, and would have captured the league batting championship had he been able to obtain the minimum requirement of at bats.

The Braves began to wilt as the June sun began heat up the race. Moultrie caught the Braves on June 7th, but the Thomasville Tigers came racing forward to overtake both teams by mid month. But the fans kept coming. There were ladies nights, kid’s nights and family nights. Little leaguers got into the game free one night by wearing their uniform to the game. Dublin’s fans remained loyal to their team even during their slumps. Attendance wasn’t a problem for the Braves; they led the league in attendance. Steinecke’s team wouldn’t quit. Just as Thomasville began to pull away, the Braves would come back with a three or five game winning streak. Clark, along with Bob Agular; Samuel Emanuel; Al Pietrwicz, the league’s leading pitcher; Dick Hagan,and Ramon Perez were named to the All Star team, which lost 13 to 10 to the league leader Thomasville.





Hal Haydel (Right)

The Braves weren’t able to recover from the loss of Augular, Dan Kern, and Clark. But that didn’t stop them from trying. They signed John Whitlow Wyatt, Jr., son of the Milwaukee Braves pitching coach and a former all star pitcher. The Dublin Braves were originally to have Dan Schnider, a $100,000 bonus baby, but the parent club decided to start the young pitching phenom in a higher class league. Hal Haydel was brought in to shore up the pitching staff, while Jim Driscoll as assigned to Dublin’s outfield with hopes of putting him at third to replace Clark. Both players performed admirably, but not at the level team leaders had hoped. Driscoll played 36 games for the 1970 Oakland Athletics and the 1972 Texas Rangers posting only ten hits in seventy at bats. Hal Haydel faired a little better with a 6 and 2 record with the 1970 and 1971 Minnesota Twins, who in the former year were the Western Division champions. Both of the these future major leaguers nearly had their careers ended when they were involved in the severe crash of a taxi cab in Moultrie on July 15th.

Jim Driscoll (23yrs later)

But by far, the most successful Dublin Brave played his first game on June 27 when he got a single and a double and drove in four runs. Bill Robinson played originally for the Atlanta Braves, but was traded to the Yankees for Clete Boyer. He enjoyed several fine seasons with the Phillies, and found a home in Pittsburgh, where he was a member of the “We Are Family” Pirates who captured the 1979 World Championship. Robinson, who once worked as a sportscaster on ESPN, is still in baseball forty years after he first played in Dublin. His current job is the hitting coach for the Florida Marlins. In 2003, he became a member of another World Championship team as the first base coach of the Marlins.


Bill Robinson



Among the notable players of the Georgia-Florida league were: Dick Reese, who enjoyed many productive seasons with the Minnesota Twins; John Matchick, who played for the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers; Carroll Sembera, who pitched for the Houston Astros in the 1960s and Ken Avery, a name that you don’t recognize, but you would recognize the name of his son, the fireballing lefty Steve Avery, who helped the Atlanta Braves to recover from the disastrous decade of the 80s.

Program from the last game at
Lovett Park, signed by most
of the Dublin Braves 

The last Braves game, while ending with a win, left a sour taste in the mouth of the team’s officials. The Braves needed only 559 fans to break the twenty thousand mark in attendance. Only 339 fans, way below the home average, showed up. The reason: the ultimate in bad scheduling - that same night was the open house for the brand new Shamrock Bowl where 2600 Irish boosters came out to see their new field of dreams. So let’s just say that the officials missed those 240 people who got in free or snuck in late and just round it up to an even twenty grand.

(This column is dedicated to the memory of my friend, the late John Hodges, son of Frank Hodges, who died earlier this year at the age of forty six. John loved baseball as much as anyone. Now he gets to watch the greatest games of all eternity.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

TAB PRINCE


Talmadge "Tab" Prince, Dublin, GA.


Prince pulls ahead just moments before his
tragic death.



Death At Daytona

Tab Prince loved fast cars. He sold them. He drove them. He died in one of them. Thirty two years ago in the biggest race of his life, Talmadge Prince was killed in one of the 125 mile qualifying races for the Daytona 500, at the time the fastest race in the history of the eleven year old track. The life of the Dublin car dealer ended in a furious and hellish moment of death, death at Daytona.

Talmadge "Tab" Prince, who was born in 1937 in Athens, Tennessee. He attended the University of Alabama before going into business. In the fall of 1969, Prince left his electronics business in Decatur, Alabama to go into the car business in Dublin. Prince continue to maintain other business interests in Huntsville, Alabama, Atlanta, and in the state of North Carolina. He joined with Bill Hodges to form the partnership, Hodges and Prince, which sold Plymouth automobiles on their lot at 309 East Jackson Street. The partners sold used cars on their 245 East Jackson Street lot. It has been said that Prince had patented some type of electronic device which provided him with the funds to do what he loved to do, race cars. During his short stay in Dublin, Tab Prince called an apartment at 302 Ramsey Street home.

Prince purchased his Charger Daytona from James Hylton of Inman, South Carolina, in January of 1970. Hylton, the 1966 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, had enjoyed early success driving Dodges, but decided to switch to Fords in 1970. Prince had driven in small track races for ten years, but had never driven in anything like the Daytona. Unlike modern day race cars which are built from scratch, NASCAR racers took a stock chassis and body and made the necessary modifications to make the car go faster than the average car on the road. NASCAR regulations required that at least five hundred models of an automobile be produced to qualify the car to be a stock car. The requisite number of cars had to be produced before September 1st of the previous year. Competition between Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors was fierce. Each tried to build a faster car than the other. Tremendous sums of money were spent and lost in an effort to sell sports cars to those who could only dream of racing in a Grand National race.

Chrysler introduced a new and improved Charger in 1968, which had a powerful hemi engine, but was aerodynamically flawed. Changes were made again in 1969 to improve the car. The most visible change was the use of a nose cone on the front and a winged stabilizer on the rear of the car. Their Plymouth counterparts were dubbed the "Superbirds." The Daytona sold for $4200.00, but cost Chrysler more than fifteen hundred dollars for every one they sold. Actually none of the 1969 Charger Daytonas ever wound up on the race track. The car that Prince bought from Hylton began its life as a 1968 Charger, was modified to become a Charger 500, and modified again to become a Daytona. All five hundred ofthe 1969 Daytonas were sold. The company had orders for twelve hundred in the first three weeks after the car became available. Nearly seventy percent of the cars are still in existence today and are highly sought by muscle car collectors.

After Fords captured both races at Daytona in 1969, Chrysler was looking to get back to victory lane in 1970. The lead drivers that season were Richard Petty, the King of stock car racing and Pete Hamilton, his teammate, both of whom who drove Plymouths; and Bobby Isaac and Buddy Baker in Charger Daytonas. In March of 1970, Baker became the first NASCAR driver to attain a speed in excess of two hundred miles per hour. The nose cone, flush window fastback roof, and winged stabilizer made the superbirds the most aerodynamic cars on the track. Some experts estimated that it gave the Charger a five hundred yard advantage per lap on the super speedways. The superior design led to what had to be Chrysler's greatest year in racing. That year the Daytonas and the Plymouth Superbirds won an incredible thirty eight out of forty eight NASCAR races.

Cale Yarborough, driving his Wood Brothers Mercury, captured the first of the twin 125-mile qualifying races. Yarborough took advantage of pit strategy to beat Isaac in his Daytona. Superbird driver Pete Hamilton, the eventual winner of the main race, fell out of competition early on. Prince qualified for the second race with a speed of 165.562 miles per hour. Charlie Glotzbach, who was lucky to be alive after being nearly shot to death in a quarrel with an employee, and Buddy Baker, both driving Daytonas, took command early in the race.



Then, suddenly and without warning, on the twentieth lap of the race as Prince's number 78 Daytona was entering the high banked first turn of the Daytona super speedway, Prince's hemi engine blew. Oil gushed onto the track. The car started sliding sideways. Bill Seifort, of Skyland, North Carolina, was behind Prince. His car, too, went into a spin. The nose of Seifort's car struck Prince's car just behind the driver's side door. Seifort was traveling at an estimated one hundred and ninety miles per hour. Prince never had a chance. Prince's car burst into flames. In another micro instant, a third car, driven by Tommy Haliford of Spartanburg, South Carolina, smashed into the pileup.

Prince was killed instantly. His neck was broken. His spinal cord snapped. Seifort, who suffered cranial and cardiac concussions, was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Seifort survived the crash. Haliford escaped any serious injury, despite the fact that his car was totaled. After a thirteen lap caution period, Glotzbach went on the win the second qualifying race.

What nearly became a major controversy was averted when track officials successfully overcame allegations that they had failed to alert drivers of the presence of engine wreckage, debris, and chunks of tire rubber on the track for extended periods of time during the qualifying races. Track officials admitted that a four-foot long piece of tail pipe was left on the back straight of way, but they denied it had anything to do with Prince's accident.

Prince's death cast a pall over the crowd that Thursday and for the rest of the race week at Daytona. Twenty seven people have lost their lives at the Daytona raceway. Prince, who was killed thirty two years ago today, was only the second man to be killed in a race at Daytona. He was the first to actually be killed in a Grand National Race - in those days the qualifying races at Daytona were actual races and counted toward the points championship. Prince was the first of three men killed in the qualifying races and the second of six men, including the legendary Dale Earnhardt who was killed a year ago during the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, to be killed in a Grand National Race at the greatest of all car stock car tracks, the Daytona International Speedway.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

DUBLIN GREEN SOX TEAM PICTURES









These are the collection of team photographs of the Dublin Green Sox from 1949 to 1954? Can you identify any of the players. Please email me at dublinhistory@yahoo.com. Scott B. Thompson, Sr.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

STATE CHAMPIONS AGAIN!


The 1960 Dublin Irish Football Team





Front Row L to R - Bill Riner, Back Of the Year;
Ronnie Baggett, MVP; Top Row: Ben Snipes,
Lineman of the Year; Tennyson Coleman, Most
Versatile Player.



Winning a state championship is hard in any sport. It takes hard work, talent, and a lot of luck. Winning two consecutive championships is obviously more difficult. Following the 1959 season, the Irish players, fans, and coaches could only hope to repeat as champions, The team, the smallest one in many years, had only three starting first string players coming back from the championship team. The Irish opened the season at home on Battle Field, which had completely been refurbished through the efforts of Sgt . B.A. Snipes, Touchdown Club president Spec Hall, and many others.

Crisp County was the first opponent. They had gone 9 and 1 in 1959. The Irish shutout the Rebels 13 to 0 winning their sixteenth consecutive game. Tennyson Coleman, Dublin’s star running back, scored two touchdowns. While the Rebels concentrated on stopping Coleman, the other backs, Bill Riner and Pete Jernigan, took up the slack and piled up impressive rushing stats.

The Irish traveled to Fort Valley to face the Greenwave, the last team to have beaten them back in 1958. While the game was closer than the final score, the Irish took their measure of revenge and defeated Fort Valley, 20 to 6. Coleman added two more TD scores to run his total to four. Jimmy Harrington, playing in the place of Jernigan ( who saw limited action on defense due to a knee injury) scored the final touchdown in the third quarter. Jim Hilburn was the defensive star, swiping a last second pass at the end of the first half and killing a scoring drive with another takeaway in the final stanza.

Bill Riner and Ben Snipes led Dublin to a 19-14 victory over Sandersville in the third game. Coleman led both teams in rushing. Tal Fuqua, John Reed Deamer, Wayne Thomas, and Jimmy Dixon had outstanding games up on the front line. Ronnie Baggett fielded a Washington County punt on the Washington County 36-yard line and handed off to Bill Riner. Riner followed a wall of green and white blockers into the opposing end zone to seal the third victory of the season.

Bill Riner




The Irish trailed the Statesboro Blue Devils at the end of the half of the fourth and most crucial game of the year. A near record crowd of four thousand fans surrounded Battle Field to cheer on the Irish. Coleman had to leave the game in the second quarter with an injury he suffered during the off week practice. Harrington stepped up and performed well. He spun through and around several Blue Devil defense men to tally Dublin’s only touchdown of the game. Bill Riner tossed a pass to left. Wayne Thomas cradled it in for the extra point, the margin of victory. Irish coaches praised Bill Brown, Hugh Palmer, Jimmy Scarborough, Hollis Neal, and Jimmy Hilburn for their fine play.

Riner took a reverse handoff and returned a punt for 70 yards for the first score against the Cochran Royals. Riner scored again on a 76 yard run from scrimmage. Riner scored a third time, a 57 yard run up the middle. Riner returned the favor from Baggett, giving him the ball on a reverse for another 70 yard touchdown return on a punt. As usual, Deamer, Brown, Hilburn, Harrington, Fuqua, Riner, Jernigan, and Snipes were stand outs on defense.

The Irish winning streak was stopped at 20 games by the Swainsboro Tigers, 19 to 13. Mistakes cost the Irish the game and jeopardized the chances of repeating even the Region championship. Despite a plague of injuries, the Irish came back the next week to defeat Eastman High, 20 to 6. Riner and Jernigan pushed across the first two Dublin scores. Jimmy Scarborough grabbed a Baggett pass at the end of the first half to end the scoring for the Irish, who held on in the second half for the victory. The Irish continued to roll over their opponents in the homecoming game against Screven County. Riner, Coleman, and Jernigan scored touchdowns for the Irish following a scoreless first half. The stubborn Irish defense held the Gamecocks scoreless for their second shutout of the year.

Coach Minton Williams was afraid of Jerry Reeves, star running back of the Americus Panthers and one of finest backs to ever play against the Irish. In the first nine games, Reeves's rushing average was more than 130 yards per game. The teams played before an overflow crowd at Battle Field in Dublin. Reaves again put up outstanding numbers. Dublin was ahead by one point at the end of third quarter. Near the end of the game, the Americus quarterback, who was a cousin of Jerry Reeves, scored on a one yard quarterback-sneak to put the Panthers ahead for good. The Irish lost 27 to 21. The quarterback who scored the winning touchdown went on to be a star player with the South Carolina Gamecocks. He played professional football with the Dallas Cowboys from 1965 to 1972, playing in two Super Bowls. After his playing career he went into coaching. He coached the Denver Broncos from 1981 to 1992 leading them to the Super Bowl in 1986, 1987, and 1989. He has been in eight Super Bowls as a player and coach, more than any other in the history of the NFL. He left the Broncos to take the job as coach of the New York Giants, where he was Coach of the Year in 1993. In 1999, he led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl. The cousin at quarterback for the Americus Panthers, who beat the Dublin Irish on a last minute touchdown, was another Reeves - Dan Reeves.

The Irish ended their regular season with a 18 to 7 victory over Baldwin County. The Irish defeated their arch rival Blue Devils from Statesboro to win the 2-A Region Championship. Dublin scored on two long drives of 87 and 83 yards, most of them picked up a few yards at a time. Once again, Coleman, Riner, Baggett, and Snipes dominated the offensive attack in the 14 to 7 victory. Coleman, who gained more than a hundred yards on the ground, and Riner, who scored with less than ninety seconds in the game, scored touchdowns for the Irish.

Five thousand fans surrounded Battle Field to watch the Irish go head to head with Ware County for the South Georgia championship. The Irish, with touchdowns from Coleman, Snipes, Riner, and Thomas, scored in every quarter for a impressive 28 to 7 victory. Two of those scores came from passes from Baggett.












South Georgia Championship at Battle Field, Dublin.

The Irish traveled to Thomaston to meet Carrollton for the Class A State Championship. Ronnie Baggett scored three touchdowns on keepers and completed all six of his passes to highlight the Dublin offensive attack. The game was close until the fourth quarter when the Irish broke a 20-20 tie in the last stanza to win the game, 33-20 and established themselves as two time state champions. Scouting from the sidelines that night was the legendary Shug Jordan of Auburn University.

Other players who played on the Irish that year, not previously heretofore mentioned, were Bob Garbutt, Roland Hill, Douglas McIntyre, Carl Stone, Bill Davis, Roger Fountain, Eddie Scott, Phillip Haynes, Mike Belote, Sammy McAlexander, Ben Morgan, James Gardner, Malcolm Dunn, Hugh Hamrick and Jimmy Nelson. Coleman, Riner, Baggett, and Snipes were named to the All Middle Georgia team. The latter two were named to the All State Team along with their coach, Minton Williams.






Sunday, August 2, 2009

TY COBB, JR.

No Chip Off the Old Block

He was never a baseball player, although his name was Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. He loved the sport of baseball, but he never played it on a professional level or even in high school. He loved other sports, especially tennis and hunting. His was one of the most famous families in Georgia history, though he never reveled in their fame. He would talk to others about his famous father. However, he had his own successful, but all too short career. He was a healer, and he took pride in doing his job and doing it well.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. was born on January 30, 1910 in the home of his maternal grandfather, Roswell Lombard. Lombard, a well-known Augusta, Georgia businessman, lived on Dean’s Bridge Road, which later became known as U.S. Highway No. 1, just this side of Augusta. Ty Cobb, Sr. married Charlie Lombard on August 8, 1908. Ty, their second child was a bid red-headed baby, tipping the scales at nine pounds. Newspaper writers knew that he was going to be a great baseball player, just like his daddy.

The elder Cobb had made it to the pinnacle of the American League in 1909. He was the second of only fourteen players in major league history to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs (9), and runs batted in. Cobb also led the league in runs, hits, on-base average, slugging average, and stolen bases. The 1909 season, just before Ty’s birth, was one of the greatest seasons a major league ball player ever had. Cobb nearly won the Triple Crown three years in a row, leading the league in two of three categories. Cobb, considered one of the best and meanest players (his own teammates disliked his tactics) who ever lived, remains at the top of the all-time statistical leaders. Cobb is first in runs scored, and lifetime batting average with a .366 average. He got on base 43.3 % of the time. He was second in triples and hits, although he batted nearly three thousand less times than the leader, Pete Rose. He is fourth in games played, doubles, total bases, and at bats. Cobb stands fifth in runs batted in. In an era when stolen bases were not the norm, Ty Cobb still remains fourth on the all time list. Cobb, known as the "Georgia Peach," led the American League in batting average 12 out 13 seasons. Famous people came to visit Cobb, including President William Howard Taft soon before the younger Ty’s birth.



Ty Cobb, Sr.

The Cobbs moved into a two story home at 2425 William Street in the well-to-do Summerville section of Augusta, just a short distance from the current location of Augusta State University. Ty’s childhood was not like that of a typical Augusta boy. Visitors to the Cobb home included such legendary Americans as Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, John Phillip Sousa, Robert Woodruff, and baseball commissioner, Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis. The sounds of classical music filled his home, while a wide variety of pets and animals were kept outside in the back yard. Although the elder Ty’s feats on the baseball diamond provided the Cobb family with all of the amenities of life, their family life was not so amenable. Ty Cobb’s legendary ball field temper came with him when he came home during the off season.



Ty Cobb Sr. (center) takes a portrait with his five children, (left to right) Herschel, Jimmy, Shirley, Beverly and Ty Jr. Ty Jr. spent years as a doctor in Dublin, Ga., before being diagnosed with brain cancer. He died living with his mother and sister in California. @ Augusta Chronicle, Don Rhodes, author of Safe At Home, a biography of Ty Cobb.


Ty, Jr. attended Richmond Academy in Augusta, where he was a two-sport star. Ty chose football and tennis, not even trying out for the baseball team. He knew that he could never match his father’s feats as a baseball player. Ty Jr., the antithesis of his father, was considered shy and took a lot of jealous ribbing from his fellow students. Ty loved to play tennis, then considered a game of the erudite. He played in the South Atlantic Tennis Tournament against Bill Tilden, the greatest tennis player of his day. Tilden, the first American to win at Wimbledon, became Ty’s personal tennis coach.

Ty attended Princeton University for a time before failing too many courses. He continued to play tennis after transferring to Yale University, where he was captain of the team. Ty returned nearer to home to study medicine at the Medical College of Charleston. He did his intern work at the University of Georgia Medical School in his hometown, without the financial aid of his father. While on a fishing trip in Florida, he met his wife, Mary Frances Dunn, whom he married on June 13, 1942. Ty returned to Augusta to his practice, before moving to Dublin several years later. The Cobbs had three children, Ty, III, Charlie, and Peggy. In 1945, Dr. and Mrs. Cobb bought the Hardeman Blackshear home at 1108 Stonewall Street, where the senior Cobb reportedly visited him on at least one occasion.

Dr. Cobb played very little organized baseball. He did love baseball. "He was my doctor, my favorite doctor," Wash Larsen recalled. "I still remember going into his office in the Thompson hospital on Rowe Street. It was a thrill just to go in and listening to his stories about baseball, and he had some good ones," Larsen said. Larsen and his friends practiced baseball on the ball field at the old fairgrounds at the corner of Telfair and Troup Streets. "Nearly every day, Dr. Cobb would pull up to the ballfield in his sports car. He would get out and ask if he could play ball with us. We said sure, of course, Dr. Cobb," Larsen said. After all, he was Ty Cobb, not the ball player, but as close as the young boys would ever get to him. "He hit all of our baseballs over the fence into the kudzu-lined ravine across the road and then left," Larsen fondly remembered. Larsen and his friends went to the kudzu patch and found every ball they could, hoping that Dr. Cobb would come back the next day and hit them over the fence again, which he did. Dr. Cobb was one of the better golfers in Dublin. He loved hunting. One day he was out on the Oconee River hunting for game birds. When he hit his first wild goose, he found a band on the bird's leg. Cobb stated, "I nearly fell out of the boat." The bird came from a wildlife refuge and the home of his friend, the famous Jack Miner. The Ontario refuge, where Cobb had visited many times as a child and an adult, was home to thousands of birds under the protection of the Canadian government.

As a doctor, Ty Cobb became one of Dublin’s finest and most respected physicians. Cobb joined Doctors A.T. Coleman and Fred Coleman and the American Legion in calling for the construction of a county hospital in Dublin. Early in 1952, Dr. Cobb was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent an operation and lived for a time with his sister Shirley Beckworth in New York. The family kept him in New York, knowing that the hot Dublin summers wouldn’t be good for him. Although he looked healthy, the cancer was destroying his brain. In a poignant meeting, Ty, Sr. offered to give Ty, Jr. a bird dog. Ty had enough memory left to realize that his father had never given him anything.

Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. died on September 9, 1952. He was entombed in the family mausoleum in Palo Alto, California. His father died in 1961 and his mother in 1975. She was entombed by her sons, while Ty, Sr. chose to be laid to rest in his hometown of Royston. Dr. Cobb’s fellow Dublin Rotary Club members started a memorial scholarship fund in his memory dedicated to providing scholarships to medical students. Dr. Cobb’s son, Charlie probably summed up the essence of his father when he said, " I don’t care what time he came in from treating his patients or delivering babies – sometimes two or three in the morning – my father always would come into our bedrooms and give us a kiss. I probably remember that more about him than anything else."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

THE BIG GAMES AT LITTLE HILBURN PARK



L-R Tournament Director, Dublin Coach Minton Williams, Tom Perry, Don Vaughn, Reggie Belote



The 1959 District 5 Little League Tournament

There is something special about little league baseball. It’s not the heat. It’s not the bugs. It’s not the mothers exercising their inalienable rights to chastise the umpires, even when they are right. No, what makes little league baseball so special is that it is a part of America. The bonds of friendship formed in these years last a lifetime. There is something special about seeing a kid get his first hit after striking out twenty times in a row; something special about watching a kid strike out the side in his first pitching appearance; and something special about seeing your child driving in the winning run.

The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, a former Commissioner of Baseball, probably said it best: “ It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and blossoms in summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then, just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

The summer of 1959 was a special one for Dublin’s baseball fans. There was no minor league team in town that year. Little Hilburn Park was selected as the site of the District 5 Little League Championship. Four teams from Macon, two from Warner Robins, one from Wrens, and the Dublin team played against each other in late July. Playing for Dublin were: Jimmy Forte, Edward Jones, Edward Hall, Reggie Belote, Danny Camp, Joel Smith, John Cooke, and Roy Bedingfield, kneeling. Coach Don Vaughn, Joseph Rogers, Lindsey Swida, Kirk Reed, Glenn Register, Robert Swinson and Tom Perry.

Spec Hall groomed the field into one of the finest Little League fields in Georgia. Elmer Mackey and Clyde Felker served as the tournament directors. Ed Bateman handled the public address system and the official scoring. The crowds were big - about twelve hundred (yes, I said twelve hundred) people in attendance every day.

The Dublin All Stars went through two a day practices in preparation for the tournament. They defeated the Mike Belote Crackers in a practice game just before the tournament began. Dublin’s first game was against the Warner Robins Americans. Tom Perry, who paced the Pirates during the regular season with an 8-0 record, held the youngsters from Warner Robins to two hits and one earned run in the six inning game. Edward Hall led Dublin with two hits and Robert Swinson drove in two runs when he stroked a home run, which gave Dublin the victory, 4 to 1.

In the other opening game, Ralph Walters of the Warner Robins Nationals mastered the hitters from Wrens, striking out thirteen out of eighteen batters. Walters hurled a perfect game. He had to. The opposing pitcher, Tony Holley, allowed only one hit, but that one hit was a long home run over the left field wall by Ralph Perkins to give the Nationals a 1-0 victory. In the other games of the opening round, Macon squeaked by cross-town rival, Ocmulgee, 4 to 3. Two other Macon teams, South Macon and Vine-Ingle battled each other. Vine-Ingle came out on top, 3 to 2.

Dublin’s semifinal opponent was the Warner Robins Nationals. Reggie Belote went the distance for the Dublin team, striking out five and allowing no bases on balls. Belote forced his opponents to hit the ball right at his fielders with only three balls getting by them for hits. Warner Robins scored first in the top of the fifth inning. Ed Hall managed to score the Irish’s first run through a trio of National errors. The Nationals took the lead again in the top of the sixth and final inning.

The boys from Dublin wouldn’t quit. With one out, Reggie Belote doubled down the left field line and moved to third on a passed ball. Jimmy Forte walked and stole second base. Danny Camp walked to load the bases. Roy Bedingfield, Jr. stepped up and sent a bullet through the gap to plate Belote and Forte and give the Irish a ticket to the finals. In the other semifinal game, Richard Jordan hit a 230-foot home run to lead his Macon team over Vine-Ingle by the score of 7 to 5.

Fifteen hundred people turned out to see the final game between Dublin and Macon. Some of them stayed for the game after the Nationals’ victory over Vine-Ingle in the consolation game. Dublin broke out on top in the first inning when Kirk Reed singled and came around to score on a combined three base throwing and fielding error by the left and right fielders from Macon. Macon came back to tie it up in the bottom of the first. Two scoreless innings followed. Kirk Reed led off the fourth inning with his second hit of the day. Tom Perry and Reggie Belote reached base on walks to load the bases. Roy Bedingfield drew a walk, driving in the go-ahead run. It was Robert “Rabbit” Swinson’s turn to bat. Not wanting to be out done by his opponent Jordan of Macon, Swinson swatted a monster two hundred and thirty-foot grand slam blast over the left field fence, which is about 190 feet from home plate. Macon attempted a comeback in the final inning of the game, but only managed to score once. Tom Perry, who hurled twelve strike outs in the game, held on to strike out two batters for the first two outs and get the final batter to ground into a fielder’s choice. The crowd, especially the mommas and daddies, went wild.

Manager Minton Williams hoisted Tom Perry on his shoulders. The was no hollering at the umpires that day. Larry Schenk brought along three other “blues” to make sure that they were on top of every call.

The Dublin Irish had made it. They were going to Marietta for the state tournament. Tournament officials held a banquet for the teams the night before the tournament began on August 6th. Dublin was joined by teams from Albany, Buckhead, Winder, Columbus, Cascade Heights, Rome and Marietta. Dublin’s first opponents were the all-stars from Buckhead, a suburban team from Atlanta. The Buckhead boys were loaded. It was the big city boys against the little city boys. The Irish got their first hit in the fifth inning and managed their only other hit in the sixth inning. Ten Dublin boys went down on strikes. Despite the best efforts of three Dublin pitchers, the boys from Buckhead plated ten runs to send Dublin home empty handed. There was no joy in the Emerald City that night, but there was no shame either.

All of Dublin was proud of its little leaguers. They had risen to become one of the best teams in Georgia. That was enough, there were no losers on this team. Don Lamb, of the Dublin Rotary Club, organized a fete at the Dublin Country Club for the all-star team and the Dublin Pirates. The Pirates had been under the sponsorship of the Rotary Club for five years and who established a record of eighty four wins and only eight losses. Playing for the Pirates were Perry, Swinson, Reed, R. Belote, and Smith of the all-stars along with Pat Reed, John Strickland, Vic Belote, Johnny Grier, Bobby Wanner, Tommy Wanner, Harry Graham, Billy Bracewell, Billy Beam, Rickey Eberhardt, and Buddy Jones.

Take in a little league game, even if you don’t have a child playing, even if you don’t particularly like baseball, and even though you don’t like hot weather. You will never regret it. It is baseball where the players play for free. It is baseball where anyone can be a hero. It is simply, baseball at its best.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

THE WORLD'S FASTEST HUMAN AND THE BLACK BABE RUTH

Jesse Owens
Oscar Charleston

THE WORLD'S FASTEST HUMAN AND
THE BLACK BABE RUTH

The recent public appearance by Evander Holyfield at a D.A.R.E. graduation at Southwest Laurens Elementary brings to mind a day, nearly sixty years ago. On that day two of the greatest athletes in the history of the world displayed their talents for thousands of admiring fans, who for the first time got to see their heroes up close and in person. One man was one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time. The other man, whose career was thwarted by baseball commissioner Kennesaw Landis’s refusal to allow black athletes in major league baseball, was one of the greatest players in the history of the Negro Leagues.

The friends of Washington Street School were raising money for athletic programs at the school. On April 10, 1940, a special benefit was planned at the fairgrounds on Telfair Street. The fairgrounds had seen great athletes and spectacles before. In 1918, the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Braves on the fairground diamond. The St. Louis Cardinals stopped in town on their way back to St. Louis after spring training to play a game against the Oglethorpe University Petrels in 1933. Two years later, the Cardinals returned to play the University of Georgia Bulldogs. In all, eight members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Miller Huggins, Frank "Home Run" Baker, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, and Jesse Haines played on the sandy field located at the northwest corner of Telfair and Troup Streets. County fairs, circuses, and even a performance by cowboy legend Tom Mix had drawn thousands to the old 12th District fairgrounds.

The feature attraction of the day was billed as "the world's fastest human." His name ranks among the greatest athletes in Olympic history. In the 1935 Big Ten Track and Field Championships, he broke five world records and tied one in a forty-five minute period. In the 1936 Summer Olympics, he won four gold medals. At the time he held the world record for a long jump, 220-yard hurdles, and 220-yard dash and had tied the world record for the 100-yard dash. He also had tied the world record with a time of 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash. A 20.7 second time in the 200-meter dash gave him another Olympic record. He was put on the 400-meter relay team at the last minute. The team set a world and Olympic record.

Interestingly, it was one of the German competitors who gave him a helpful hint which allowed him to beat the German in the long jump. The German jumper told the American track star to make a mark a few inches short of the foul line and to jump from that point. It worked. He set an Olympic record that stood for twenty-five years. He won the Gold medal - and the German, won the Silver. He stated that all of the medals he won wouldn’t replace the friendship he had developed with Lutz Long, the German athlete. Long was killed in the Battle of St. Pietro on July 14, 1943. Adolph Hitler was so enraged that he stormed out of the stadium refusing to present the medals.

The world champion American athlete’s name was, of course, Jesse Owens. In Dublin, Owens was scheduled to compete in a dash around the baseball diamond, a one hundred yard dash against a race horse, a running broad jump, and a one hundred twenty-yard low hurdle race. After his exhibition, Owens gave an interview over a loud speaker answering questions from his fans. Owens never enjoyed the attention that should have been given to him. In the mid 1930s, he was ignored when national amateur athletic awards were handed out. He later fell from grace with some who disagreed with his comments and beliefs on social relationships in America.
Preceding Owens' feats of human speed that day, there was an exhibition baseball game between the Toledo Crawfords and the Ethiopian Clowns. Jesse Owens was the business manager of the Crawfords. The game was played before fans, both white and black. The two teams traveled the country stopping nearly every day to play a baseball game - some times before a few hundred fans and other times, before tens of thousands.

The Crawfords began playing on a sand lot in Pittsburgh in the 1920s. In those early days, legendary catcher Josh Gibson was on the team. Their owner, Gus Greenlee, used the profits from his gambling and liquor activities to buy the best players in the Negro Leagues. Greenlee built and equipped a lighted stadium, years before the Major Leagues began playing at night. The Crawfords joined the re-organized Negro National League in 1933. It was the first year of the Negro League All Star Game - the East-West Classic, which was created by Greenlee. The Crawfords won the National League championship in 1935. In 1937, their star players, led by Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, left the team in a salary dispute. The team was never the same. Greenlee sold the Crawfords, and the team moved to Toledo, Ohio. One star remained with the team. His name was Oscar Charleston, known by the press writers as "The Hoosier Comet."

The Crawfords were led by Oscar Charleston, who was playing in his last season for the team. Charleston was a slick fielder with a lifetime average of .380. Many regard him as the greatest Negro League player of all time. John McGraw called him "the greatest player ever." In 1921, he batted .446 with 14 home runs for the St. Louis Giants. In one nine-year span, Charleston batted over .350 in all nine seasons, twice hitting over .400. Charleston joined the Crawfords in 1932 and consistently hit around .350. Charleston was a fan and player favorite. As a fielder, he was known as "The Black Tris Speaker"; as a runner, he was known as "The Black Ty Cobb;" and as a power hitter, he was known as "The Black Babe Ruth." Oscar Charleston, who ended his career with a .376 batting average, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

The Ethiopian Clowns were a true barnstorming team. They were the clown princes of Negro League Baseball, comparable to the Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball team. While they had no great stars, the Clowns, who eventually moved to Indianapolis along with the Crawfords, were fan favorites all over the nation. One popular routine was called Shadow Ball. In this routine, the players pantomimmed an imaginary game of baseball with outlandish movements and stunts. Fans were thrilled when one player would pick up four baseballs and throw them at the same time to four different players. The Clowns toured the country until the early fifties. Their most famous alumnus was a young Mobile, Alabama outfielder by the name of Henry Aaron, who led the American National League with a .467 average - a miraculous feat considering he batted cross handed.

Dubliners had seen good Negro League players before. The Dublin Athletics, members of an independent Negro League, played on a field on East Mary Street near the Dudley Cemetery. They were a pretty fair team in their own right, but nothing could compare to that April day when two of the giants in the world of sports played on our field.