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Sports Talk

It will not be the Super Bowl or a state championship game even. It will not be life or death.

It will not be the mother of all football games.


Thomson and Lincoln County fans will be treated to something tomorrow night at Buddy Bufford Field in Lincolnton that they have longed to see for most of a lifetime. Not since 1951 have these two schools met on the gridiron in anything that closely resembles an official game. This encounter will only be a meaningless preseason scrimmage to help two good teams tune up for the real action in two weeks. I wonšt try to convince the players and fans of that however.

The schools have scrimmaged in previous jamborees to conclude spring practice, but tomorrow night is part of fall practice. In essence it is football season. I suggested to Lincoln County Coach Larry Campbell that people would willingly pay $20 to see this scrimmage and he gave me a sly grin but responded that he and Coach Welsh wouldnšt try to pull that stunt.

I can observe this clash with the perspective of one that played for the Red Devils and coached for the Bulldogs. I lettered at Lincoln County in 1974 and 1975 and served as an assistant coach under Jay Hodgin at Thomson High in 1991 and 1992. Other than my friend Alton Bentley, I know of no one else that was a Red Devil player and a THS coach. Both programs consider themselves fortunate that I am now neither.

Another part of this equation is that I was a ninth-grade junior varsity player in 1972 when Coach Campbell became head coach in Lincolnton. I was also the offensive line coach at THS the two seasons immediately following Coach Welshšs departure in 1991.

The only real significance of that fact is that Coach Welsh contributed much more to my success as a Bulldog coach than I contributed as a player to Coach Campbellšs success.

During my elementary school years, the Red Devils were not experiencing the success that they enjoyed in the 1950s and early 1960s. They were having winning seasons but not capturing championships.

Warren County had become the areašs small school powerhouse. Coach Campbellšs ability as a motivator of young men is what got the show on the road again. Išm sure hešll also acknowledge the important role that desegregation played in helping rebuild the tradition.

The heartbreaking, last minute 7-0 loss to Trion in the state championship game my junior year in 1974 is probably the one defining moment in my decision to become a coach. Feeling the hurt of Coach Campbell, his staff, and my teammates, both black and white, convinced me that I wanted to continue in high school football. The camaraderie within a team was something I couldnšt give up. I couldnšt play a lick so it had to be through coaching.

Billy Beale, Jr., an assistant during my playing days, gave me my first coaching job. When he accepted the head position at Jenkins County in 1980, he hired Alton Bentley and me as his varsity assistants. I enjoyed some good years in coaching, but not until I arrived in Thomson did I find myself back in a community where high school football was the top game in town. As Bear Bryant once said there were only two seasons, football and spring football. I liked being in a place again where football was king.

Išve often been asked two questions about Lincoln County and Thomson football. The first played one another in the modern era, and if they did, who would I be pulling for. I can only speculate on the first question because I donšt know for a fact.

Lincoln County is a much smaller school but they have often played larger schools over the years like Burke Co. and Glenn Hills. Thomson played Warren County fairly regularly until recently. Both consider Washington-Wilkes their archrival. My speculative answer would be that folks other than the two head coaches must have been involved in that decision. Coaches like Luther Welsh and Larry Campbell are certainly not afraid of the competition and the gate would have been tremendous. I guess that question will forever remain a mystery.

As for who would I pull for, this is an issue that I can go I can be the consummate politician and check the water before answering. Except in 1991 and 92, if Išm standing north of Little River, Išm still a Red Devil all the way. South of Raysville, I can be a Bulldog. Besides, it means I only have to change colors on fall Saturdays. My season tickets are in the Brickyard too.

Let me remind everyone of the 2002 preseason scrimmage against Screven County. Frankly, the Bulldogs did not play very well. They had a shuffled lineup due to injuries and the coaches were experimenting. Judging by that night things looked bleak. By Christmas, both teams in that scrimmage were 15-0 and state champions. Tomorrow night Išll be pulling for both teams to survive without injury and to have another very Merry Christmas.

Web posted on Thursday, August 5, 2004

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