Something special happened in the Brickyard in the fall of 1955. There was no magic in the air, no ray of inspirational light shining down from the heavens. It was simply what those in the literature business call “foreshadowing.”
A fresh, young college graduate was taking the first steps on a journey that would bring him full circle, a couple of times over. He had no clue yet, but the game he was about to coach would be the first of many betwixt those revered bricks.
Luther Welsh stepped out onto the visitors’ side that evening in Thomson, calling the shots for the Bulldogs’ chief rival and next door neighbor, Warrenton. It was his first season as a high school football head coach.
Now, 51 years later, that once impressionable college graduate has coached more high school football games than any other person in the history of the state of Georgia. And he is nearing another milestone – his 300th career victory.
Coach Welsh’s record stands at 298-161-5, according to www.footballfridaynight.com – a website that tracks Georgia high school coaches’ records. He is third in wins among active coaches, behind two other coaching legends, Robert Davis of Westside (Macon) and Larry Campbell of Lincoln County.
According to www.thomson-football.com, his record at Thomson is 148-30-1. Many coaches can only dream of winning 150 games during their career. He will soon surpass that at one school, let alone 150 at the other schools he has coached.
The unique thing about Coach Welsh is that all those numbers mean nothing to him. Winning does, but he couldn’t care less about how many he has accumulated over the years.
“The only thing I keep up with is that next ballgame we’re going to play, and that’s really what I concentrate on,” he said last October, just after passing former Mary Persons Coach Dan Pitts on the most games coached list.
Records and milestones might not mean much to Coach Welsh, but they certainly give his wife, Anne, something tangible to celebrate. With 298 under his belt at the end of last season, she’s hoping number 300 comes sooner rather than later. It could come as soon as on the road at Washington-Wilkes in the second game of the season.
“Yeah, I hope it’s in a couple of games,” Mrs. Welsh said. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s great to have been coaching long enough to reach that milestone. Of course to him, it’s just another game, as long as it’s a win.”
It’s that just-another-game mentality – more so than the win total – that elevates Coach Welsh above the herd of coaches in the state. It’s evident in what he celebrates most: turning high school football players into respectable men.
“Some of them that probably weren’t that good of football players also turned out to be successful in life because of the lessons that they learned under Coach Welsh,” said Ralph Starling, a long-time Thomson athletic booster and old dog.
Mr. Starling tells a story of when another teacher praised Coach Welsh for the large number of his players passing the exit exam.
“Coach told him ‘What you need to be concerned about is where these kids are 10 years from now,’” Mr. Starling recalled. “He said ‘That’s our job.’ He said ‘I want to win football games as much as anybody in the world, but what’s more important to me is making these young men, fine young men down the road.’”
Even if he quits tomorrow and never reaches 300, that’s the kind of legacy Luther Welsh will leave behind.