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GHS School Days, 1950s-1960s, Part 7



In 1961, the GHS Tiger football team failed to achieve its annual objective of going undefeated and winning the high school national championship.

In the opening clash with the Charles Henderson High Trojans of Troy, we were tied and the season went downhill from there.

We were plagued with injuries to our more valuable players including our starting quarterback, Cecil Al (Tuffy) Rainey, fullback and defensive lineman Wyman Rainey and several of our linemen.

Against the A. G. Parrish Fighting Peacocks of Selma, a school classification up, only a last-minute touchdown saved the Peacocks from an embarrassing loss to the scrappy Tigers.

Earlier in the season, we had lost to another larger school, the Eufaula High School Plantation Owners.

It was our Head Coach, Luke Whetstone’s belief, that playing bigger and better teams would make us better.  We enjoyed the challenge but it didn’t work in 1961.

After our second touchdown against the Peacocks to give us the lead 13-12, Ronny Owen, our regular kicking specialist, came to the sidelines limping (another injury) and unable to kick-off.

Coach Allen told me, the back-up, to get in there and kick. I had never kicked off, not sure I was breathing, don’t remember hearing the ref’s whistle but could hear my heart beating.

I was very happy to make contact. The ball went toward the right corner and down inside the 20, not unlike many kicks in high school then.

As I came off the field after the kick, I went to Coach Allen and apologized for not kicking it farther. I could and I had.

He thought I had kicked it short and to the corner to prevent a runback. Another lesson to not speak until spoken to.

The bitterest pill to swallow came in the game with our hated county rival, the Georgiana Panthers, a classification below us in high school rankings.

Georgiana fielded one of the all-time great Alabama high school football teams in 1961. The Panthers were led by Gwen Burkett at quarterback, Charles Keebler at running back, Mack Brown at one of the end spots, AO McGill, Percy Newton, Jimmy Johnson and others equally as good at the other positions.

It was the 1960’s when football players played both ways and these guys were good on offense and defense.  Seven of the 11 starters went on to play college football.

The crowning blow came when Georgiana was inside our 10-yard line as the clock wound down.

Their head coach moved their center to fullback and he scored their last touchdown. He was a team favorite, it was an exciting time for him and he was swarmed.

On the other hand, it was an insult to us visiting Tigers. Georgiana friends/cheerleaders Barbara Jean Shanks and Martha Jo Williams hated our loss but loved their win.

Fast forward many years later to my mother’s townhome in Homewood, Alabama, and a birthday lunch for me.

Mother said, “Boy, do I have a surprise for you on your birthday.” She placed a cassette tape in her player and the familiar voice of Johnny Hartzog cranked up.

It’s the 1961 football game between the Greenville Tigers and the Georgiana Panthers. That game will not go away!

Johnny Hartzog stopped her on the street in Greenville on one of her visits, told her I was mentioned on the tape and it was for sale for $15.

After some discussion about her being a longtime widow and on Social Security, Hartzog was happy to walk away with a $5 bill.

We listened long enough to hear my name and turned it off. Dr. Charles Wingard, a 1963 Georgiana High School graduate and retired Birmingham OB/GYN, was a client at the time and practically ripped my arm off to get that birthday tape.

His partner, my neighbor Mike Straughn, said Wingard played the tape in their office more than once.  Glad I wasn’t there.

More of this riveting story next time.  We will get Georgiana back!

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