In 2016, 419 of 458 schools in the Georgia High School Association played football, including 91 of the 121 in Class A, the league’s smallest. That’s a far cry from 1960, when in Class C – then the GHSA’s tiniest – 33 of the 135 schools hit the gridiron.
Everyone had to start somewhere.
Armuchee had some stops and starts before starting a full varsity program. The Indians first fielded a squad in 1951 and played only others’ B teams. That didn’t stick. The next recorded action for Armuchee was a single game in 1955. It was a varsity opponent, but that didn’t stick either.
Finally, the Indians announced in November 1961 they were building for a team in 1962. This time, they had the support of booster clubs from East Rome and West Rome. They went 0-9 in 1962, but were in for the long haul.
The Georgia High School Football Historians Association has a handful of teams listed known to have just one season under their belt. Among those are Bonaire (covered in an earlier blog entry), Stillmore and Fulton Leadership Academy. In the SEAIS, a predecessor league of the GISA, Smithville Academy, Screven Academy and Worth Academy all spent a single season on the field before letting go.
In more modern times, Webster County tried for four seasons to get a program off the ground. That span saw the Bobcats lose all 12 games over the years 2007, 2008 and 2015. Webster also had a game scheduled in 2010 against Baconton Charter, but canceled it.
Getting a team established is difficult. Even the concept of football is far from easy.
Football is hard to start up. It took more of a financial commitment than any other sport in the 1950s, from the need to uniform upwards of 20 young men to tackling dummies to having a field.
More than once, schools entertained the notion of a gridiron team, but nothing came of it.
Listed below are schools that considered football, but ultimately could not get a program established.
In 1950, this African-American school announced its intentions to play football in a year.
“The Baxley Training School has organized a football team and will be ready to engage other colored schools in this area by the fall of 1951, H.J. Jenkins, principal, announced yesterday,” said The Baxley News-Banner on November 9.
Wash Bradley and Reverend D.L. Rooks were to be the coaches. Bradley was a longtime agriculture teacher. Both were called volunteer coaches, which seems to indicate there was no stipend for them. That would not be surprising given the state of education in 1950, both on a state and local level.
Besides the coaches, Baxley Training’s roster was named. Nineteen students were going to suit up, one with a name that at least sounded promising – Joe Louis Jones.
Nothing became of the Baxley Training team. Black students finally made it to the field in 1961 with Appling County Consolidated, one of the hardest luck programs to ever exist. ACC’s history is not complete, but out of their 24 known games from 1961-69, they were involved in one scoreless tie (against Carver of Douglas in 1968) and lost the other 23. They were on the wrong end of the Georgia Interscholastic Association’s most lopsided score, a 121-0 loss to Tifton’s Wilson High.
Appling County Consolidated struggled mightily. Baxley Training, had it made the field, would have been in for similar difficulties. The Appling County Consolidated program at least had all the high school age students in the county. In 1952, Baxley Training was the only full four-year high school in the county, but three others had some high school grades.
Wilcox County had four white high schools in 1952 and two black ones. Wilcox was never the largest of counties and was recorded by the United States census as having just over 10,000 citizens in 1950. A Class C population and undoubtedly less than 150 high school students were not enough to deter the Bulldogs for considering something new in 1952.
On September 11 of that year, The Abbeville Chronicle had an article about Pitts’ attempt to have football.
“Pitts High School, who for years has placed a whing ding basketball team on the court, is about to enter a new athletic field – football. A good start was made when they secured the services of a former football star as well as a star on the court.”
This all-star coach was Rufus E. Carter. A Sweetwater, Tenn., native, Carter was said to have played football, baseball and basketball in high school, at Hiwassee Junior College (Tenn.) and at Maryville College (Tenn.). Carter was said to be on Maryville’s 1945 team that played in the Tangerine Bowl. While in the military, he also played football.
Carter had coached football previously, at school whose name was not mentioned. He came to Pitts in 1952 and immediately became athletic director. Carter had only been on campus a week when the Chronicle said he planned on starting a football team. With his background, the paper was sure the squad would be a success.
Pitts never became a football town. Not much is known of the school’s history of coaches, but at most, Carter stayed two seasons. George Lindsey, Jr., took the team to state in basketball during the 1954-55 season. Pitts closed its doors as a high school in 1963, part of Georgia’s plans to close small county high schools after their systems had previously promised to do so to obtain state school building money.
Another black high school, Whitman Street was located in Toccoa.
Their football dreams did not seem to be as ambitious as other schools, rather The Toccoa Record merely said “Whitman hopes to add football to its athletic association activities” in March 1957.
That seems to be the extent of Whitman Street’s plans.
Whitman was not a large high school, even by small segregated school standards. The Blue Hornets belonged to Class B. During the 1959-60 school term, GIA records listed the school as having an average daily attendance of 135. Whitman was likely even smaller in 1957.
Smaller schools did play GIA football, but had Whitman Street been playing, it would have been an anamoly. A list of classifications is not available currently for 1957 for the GIA. Based on the 1959-60 list, the Blue Hornets would have been the only team attempting football in a 14-team region. Four would ultimately play the sport, but none until the mid-1960s. Not even all of the Class A teams in its district (VI) were football schools.
There were other schools that eventually played football, but when the sport was initially teased, it did not happen.
Just prior to changing its name to Upson, the Yatesville Yellow Jackets took the field in 1972, playing an abbreviated schedule.
That was not the first attempt to play football in the city.
On September 22, 1950, The Thomaston Times, in a Yatesville High news column, briefly talked about the new sensation.
“A football team is being organized,” it said. There were a list of boys who were practicing and the article announced the “junior football team,” presumably a squad of younger boys, were to play Atwater on October 14 in Thomaston. Atwater was an elementary/junior high school.
The high school boys got as far as scheduling a game, it seems. The only known to-be opponent in 1950 was Mary Persons. The two were set for an October 27 contest. The day before it was to be played, the weekly Monroe Advertiser had an announcement to the contrary.
“A game with Yatesville was originally scheduled for this weekend; however, the Yatesville high school has discontinued football and will not keep the engagement.”
It is not known if the younger players made the field or not. But as for the high school, the adverture was over before it began.
Eighteen players were listed a month earlier as those practicing. It is not known why Yatesville quit so soon, but with so few bodies – inexperienced bodies – injuries could have racked up quickly.
Unadilla might not have been considering football in 1949. It might all just be a mistake.
But Unadilla appears on a 1949 GHSA map of Class C football regions. The GHSA seems to have meant to mark Unadilla. The dot appears in the right spot, south of Fort Valley and just west of Hawkinsville. The Blue Devils would have been in Region 2-C on this map, a spread out region that extended as far northeast as Wrens.
There is no other known evidence of Unadilla considering football. If it did, efforts were probably little-funded; in 1949, Dooly County had five full white high schools. The biggest one, Vienna, was not playing football then and did not until 1959 (VHS was also known to play in 1923).
Unadilla eventually picked up the pigskin in 1967. It closed as a high school in 1981.
Correction from original post: Dooly County overall did not have four white high schools in 1949, as originally posted; it had five: Unadilla, Vienna, Byromville, Dooly High and Pinehurst. Vienna was in its own city system.
Sources: Rome News-Tribune – Oct. 4, 1951, Oct. 7, 1955, Nov. 15, 1961; The Baxley News-Banner – Nov. 9, 1950; The Abbeville Chronicle – Sept. 11, 1952; The Toccoa Record – March 7, 1957; The Thomaston Times – Sept. 22, 1950; The Monroe Advertiser – Oct. 26, 1950; Eightieth and Eighty-First Annual Reports of the Department of Education to the General Assembly of the State of Georgia; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws[,] District and State Meets 1949-50; Georgia High School Association Constitution and By-Laws[,] Region and State Meets 1960-61