Valdosta, Albany and the controversial 1929 football season, Part III

Continued from Part II

The SGAA waited to rule on the 1929 Valdosta-Albany football game until after head coach Mike Herndon and Valdosta returned home. After playing Albany, the team went to Athens to watch the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, which was played in the brand new Sanford Stadium.

One of the points of Valdosta contention was the name of an official. The Wildcats expected one of the men to be Lake Russell, Mercer’s head coach (coaches as officials was extremely common). Valdosta claims the man on the field was even introduced as Lake Russell, but Russell assured Valdostans via telegram that he was not in Albany. There was an official surnamed Russell on the field that day, it being Glasgow Russell.

Hugh Mills, Albany High athletic director (and later namesake of the city’s major stadium) was supposed to have told the Albany Herald’s Rhydon Mays* that it was indeed Lake Russell in the stripes. At least, according to CRYING Out Loud and its author DeWitt Roberts, which insisted it was not Russell and that if Mills sincerely believed that, AHS head coach Sam Burke had lied to him. The Albany Herald would make no mention of this wrinkle.

(* Grady Cooksey was actually the sports editor of The Albany Herald, his name appearing on the few bylines newspapers gave in the 1920s and confirmed in the 1930 United States Census as being the man in the post. While The Valdosta Times said Mays was from Albany, Mays actually was from Thomasville. The 1930 Census gave a detailed vocation for Mays, sports editor of the city paper. Sadly, Mays died in 1932 of complications from an appendectomy. He was just 27.)

Grady Cooksey of The Albany Herald said Herndon should have known by sight that the official was not Lake Russell as Herndon was a Mercer alumnus. However, Russell took over Mercer in 1928 after playing for and coaching Carson-Newman (Tenn.). Herndon did not play for Lake Russell. Herndon also contended that Glasgow Russell was not on the field for the coin toss.

In previewing the game, The Albany Herald listed him as simply “Coach Russell, of Mercer University.”

The Herald said Herndon had agreed to the officials before the game in the game write-up. No mention was made of the confusion over Russell.

Burke said in a letter to The Herald that Herndon had agreed upon the officials over the telephone the Sunday before the game, December 2. Though not in the letter, The Herald said Burke said Glasgow Russell came recommended from Lake Russell.

Albany went looking for clarification from the officials in the game. Three, including Russell, gave statements in the December 9 Herald. Russell declared that any association of his with Mercer was a mistake and then affirmed the play was a touchdown.

E.V. Whelchel seemed to support Valdosta’s contention in his statement.

“Albany completed forward pass and [the] man was running toward goal when tackled by the Valdosta man. As I saw the play, the Valdosta tackler threw the Albany man to the ground and the forward progress of the Albany man was stopped while in the grasp of the Valdosta tackler. When [the] referee asked my opinion of the play, I told him I thought the ball should be put in play at the spot of the tackle.”

Then Whelchel passed the buck, with the next part of the statement printed in all capital letters.

“The referee saw the play another way and of course the decision was his to make.”

“Shaky” Kain, who was field judge for the game, agreed with Russell.

“I was on the opposite side of the field from where the pass was completed and I ruled that the decision rendered by the referee was correct,” he said. “As I saw it, the receiver’s forward progress was never completely stopped.”

Valdosta attempted to quickly move on from the Albany incident.

The previously postponed game with Douglas was put back on the schedule for December 13. It now had more importance, called a postseason game for the 11th district title (the 11th district was eliminated in 1933 and redistricting put both Valdosta and Douglas in the 8th district). Douglas proposed this game, according to The Valdosta Times. Not that Valdosta needed much pressuring; coaches of the two schools agreed to play “in less than a minute.”

While thoroughly promoting that game, the Albany incident was still in the air, with two CRYING Out Loud columns with comments, despite its author, DeWitt Roberts, proclaiming it did not want to wallow in it.

Valdosta defeated Douglas, 21-6, December 13 and in so doing, claimed its only district championship. The game’s recapper let slip in the write-up that Douglas called the officiating the best they had seen all year.

That same week, Albany contended that Valdosta wanted the game replayed. At a meeting in Tifton, The Herald said Valdosta city schools superintendent A.G. Cleveland asked Albany city schools superintendent R.E. Brooks for the game. Brooks declined.

The game was to stand as a 1-0 forfeit in Albany’s favor, giving the Indians the conference championship.

Herndon swore the two sides did not let the dispute come between them. In late December, he told the Macon Telegraph that Valdosta would play Albany in 1930. As it turns out, the teams did not meet that year.

Albany and Valdosta next played in 1932. At that point both schools had different head coaches. Harold McNabb had taken over at Albany and Valdosta was coached by Bobby Hooks.

After the 1932 meeting, the game was an annual one through 1951. When the series resumed in 1954, the teams saw each other every season through 1983. Albany dropped to Class AAA from AAAA in 1984 (Valdosta stayed AAAA) and the two never saw one another on the gridiron again.

Albany closed in 2017. Its last years of football were miserable, with no winning records between 2003-16. The Indians had last won a region title in 1959.

Valdosta, of course, became perhaps the nation’s most heralded football program. It has the most wins of any other high school program in the nation. Since the Georgia High School Association officially began sanctioning state titles, Valdosta has won 22 of them, most recently in 2016.

1929-09-26 Valdosta Times (Mike Herndon)
Mike Herndon coached Valdosta High football from 1924-31.  From the September 26, 1929 Valdosta Times.

A native of Hartwell, Michael Ezekial Herndon was not the only famed coach in his family; brother, Pete Herndon, was the namesake of the field at Hart County High. Another brother, John, coached at Cairo from 1928-42. Continuing the trend of young head coaches, John Herndon assumed the Cairo job at the age of 26.

John Herndon and Mike Herndon met four times on the football field. John won just one of those, the forfeited game in 1929.

Herndon left Valdosta in 1932 for South Georgia College in Douglas, where he also coached baseball and basketball. Herndon departed South Georgia College in in 1943 to become superintendent of schools in Liberty, S.C.

Herndon was still in South Carolina at the time of his death in 1960 at the age of 62. He had coached football at Dacusville and was a teacher at Pendleton High at the time of his passing. Single when living in Valdosta in 1929, he was survived by his wife, Eunice and a son, Robert. He is buried in South Carolina.

Albany’s head coach, Sam Burke, became one of the most powerful men in the state as executive secretary of the Georgia High School Association, a post he held from 1946-76. Burke began in a virtually identical role, executive secretary-treasurer, in 1939.

Burke was in charge of organizing the state’s first true football championships in 1947. He ruled the league with an iron fist, quick to suspend schools for infractions. An Associated Press article dubbed him “Mr. Georgia High School Association” at the time of his retirement.

Burke did not coach long at Albany. He had a longer stint at Greensboro High, head coaching football there from 1932-38 before moving to Thomaston. Burke died in Atlanta in 1984 and is buried in Thomaston.

Burke, too, was single in 1929, having married his bride, Lucy Bragg, in 1930.

Brown, the center of the initial controversy for Valdosta, has so far been difficult to track in online genealogical records. There is a Rudolph Brown listed in the 1910 and 1920 Lowndes United States census records, but as it is such a common name in the universe, the case for this individual is unproven.

Glasgow Russell, the referee at the center of the controversy, probably did, as Burke said, have a recommendation from Lake Russell. Six weeks before the Albany-Valdosta game, the Macon Telegraph said the men were brothers. That is confirmed by the 1910 United States Census for Polk County, Tenn. None of the four other children in Russell household at that time were as imaginatively named.

Glasgow Russell is listed as being a candidate for the Norman College team at the beginning of the 1929 football season, but that does not seem to have worked out. In mid-October, the Telegraph said that young Glasgow was recuperating from an appendectomy and expected to join his brother’s Mercer team in 1930 after he became eligible.

In the end, Russell seems to have not made the Mercer squad, either, as his name does not pop up again. Russell was born in 1908 and died in 1981, according to the Social Security Death Index.

Sources: Macon Telegraph – Sept. 8, 1929, Oct. 17, 1929, Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 22, 1929, Sept. 7, 1930, May 19, 1932, Oct. 26, 1932; Augusta Chronicle – Dec. 1, 1922, April 30, 1943, July 1, 1976; The State (S.C.) – May 31, 1925; Morning Star (Rockford, Ill.) – Jan. 20, 1924; The Valdosta Times – Sept. 26, 1929, Sept. 28, 1929, Oct. 5, 1929, Oct. 25, 1929, Oct. 26, 1929, Nov. 26, 1929, Dec. 4, 1929, Dec. 5, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 10, 1929, Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929, Dec. 13, 1929; The Albany Herald – Oct. 12, 1929, Oct. 15, 1929, Oct. 29, 1929, Nov. 11, 1929, Dec. 5, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 9, 1929, Dec. 10, 1929, Dec. 11, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929; Thomasville Times-Enterprise – Nov. 11, 1929, Dec. 7, 1929, Dec. 12, 1929

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