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Sports Talk: Thoughts from a Bulldog reunion

A big event of the sporting nature occurred on White Oak Road on May 26. It was a reunion of the black and gold Bulldogs from Augusta's Butler High School. The 1966 Class AAA state champion basketball team met at the home of their coach and his wife, Sonny and Ann Poss. Class AAA then included the largest schools in the state.

Butler High School, like south Richmond County in general, was a much different place then than it is now. Sonny Poss has often described to me the brand new Butler High School built in a totally rural area full of cornfields with no big stores, shopping centers, or restaurants in sight. There was no Glenn Hills or Cross Creek, and Hephzibah was a small town school.

"The kids that went to Butler came from blue collar, working class families. They were nothing but respectful to adults and when a teacher told them something, they did it," Poss said. "They were the kind of young'uns where you didn't mind going to work."

The reunion was held at 41 years due to the death last year of team member Ed Scarborough. Scarborough was lost to cancer and many in the group didn't feel up to a 40-year gathering. Mr. Scarborough's brother, Ostell, was on the team and another brother, Terry, attended the reunion to represent Ed. Those facts alone told me a lot about the closeness of the Butler community of 1966 and these gentlemen in particular.

John Callan was Butler's valedictorian that year and he traveled from Connecticut to be at the Poss'. He was joined by the Scarboroughs, Andy Chavous, Gene Crislip, Randy Riner, Irish Neville, Johnny Johnson, Dicky Yaun, Ray Myers, Larry Brumley, Billy Walworth and Barry Timmerman. In the joviality of the crowd, I may have even missed others. Their spouses were also with them as well as a few of their children. They all seemed to know each other very well.

I heard lots of good stories and quotes but in an effort to protect the innocent, or guilty for that matter, I may leave out some names as I go.

The group told the story of Irish Neville pulling the fire alarm in the brand new gym at Benedictine in Savannah. It was the first game ever in the facility so I guess Neville wanted to give the fire marshal a test run.

"The place was packed, it had those new flashing lights in the ceiling for a fire alarm and Ed Scarborough dared me to do it," Neville told from a large circle of his best friends.

His best friends in life all immediately chimed in that they had never before heard Neville blame the fire alarm incident on Ed Scarborough. They attributed it to the fact that the poor guy was no longer around to defend himself. Neville said that it was indeed a fact that Coach Poss ran him "until I puked and the gym was dark."

They told of how they played Aquinas five times during the season and went 3-2 against them. They played them twice in the regular season, once in the Bell Auditorium Christmas Tournament, the region tournament and in the state semi-finals. Everybody recalled how during one of the games the fans fought and Coach Poss made the team huddle in a corner like a covey of birds.

Guys told me of how Sonny believed in extra practicing and running. They accused him of traveling to Hawaii during Thanksgiving break but making them practice without him. They admitted to all showing up for those practices. He also made them practice three times daily during Christmas break when they already had lost "two whole games." Coach Poss also made his players do their running at the end of practice wearing weighted vests.

I heard of how Butler got stomped by small town Saluda, S.C., in football, and Sonny came into the locker room wailing away at them, and he wasn't even the football coach. I heard of how he sent Timmerman, Johnson, and Riner to the locker room during a game against Hephzibah for playing poorly, but Butler won anyway. Some told me that Sonny had a temper as evidenced by his throwing of a clipboard against the wall in the region championship game.

Butler lost the region championship game to Jenkins of Savannah when they blew an eight-point lead with two minutes to go. Randy Riner admitted that he had the ball stolen in that game while he was dribbling near the sideline getting instructions from Coach Poss. It was the first practice after that loss that may have been the epiphany for the team.

"We were all down but in the first practice after the Jenkins loss Coach Poss emphatically told us that he honestly felt that we were good enough to win the state. Him telling us that really picked us up for the state tournament and he turned out to be right," echoed several of the players.

Barry Timmerman, later of Augusta College fame, went off for 44 points in the quarter-finals against Baker of Columbus. Baker was 29-0 and ranked number one in the state. Timmerman fondly recalled that game.

"Coach Poss believed in switching defenses and feeding the hot hand on offense," said Timmerman. "It was my night, and he set up a play where I rolled across a screen at the top of the key and got the ball often as deep as the corner. I had no idea that I scored 44 until the game was over."

Folks, 44 points in one game is tremendous even with the three-point line. In 1966, there was no such creature as a three-point shot.

Butler went on to beat Aquinas and then Sprayberry of Marietta in the championship game. They got a police escort all the way home from Atlanta and then sold championship car tags to raise money for a senior trip to Daytona Beach after graduation. What happened in Daytona apparently stayed in Daytona.

"We sold enough No. 1 tags to more than pay for the trip, but a hurricane hit while we were there," recalled Coach Poss. "I just told the guys I didn't want to see them, and I didn't want them to see me, and we didn't!"

Team member Dicky Yaun best described the fabric of the 1966 Butler team. "We had a lot of fun winning, but Coach Poss would kick your butt if you got out of line. We knew what to expect."

I was honored to be among this group at their reunion. My only regret? I wish those that do not recognize the value of high school athletics could have been there. Those gentlemen clearly loved one another, their school and their coach. It was Sonny's birthday, and they all brought him a gift. They shared memories of a lifetime as well as life lessons well learned from their high school coach. Everyone should be so fortunate.

Web posted on Thursday, June 07, 2007

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