After the football game in The Brickyard Friday night, McDuffie School Superintendent Mark Petersen encouraged the fans to "give it up for No. 301." Thus began a hometown celebration of Coach Luther Welsh's 300th career win, which happened the previous week in Washington-Wilkes.
"All week I said it'll be hard to celebrate 300 games if you lose this ball game," Coach Welsh said later in an interview. "So (Dr. Petersen) kind of put me on the spot," he added with a laugh.
But the pressure didn't last long, thanks to Coach Welsh's Bulldogs, who scored 20 points in the first quarter of the game, and continued on to beat Jefferson County 35-7.
"It bothered me all week, but the kids responded, and I was so appreciative," the Coach said. "That might be one of the games of my career that I really appreciate because they really did a good job, and we were able to have a good celebration after it."
The celebration included flares proclaiming "Coach Welsh 300," recognition of his family, including his wife, two daughters and three grandchildren, proclamations and plaques from city and county officials, letters from the governor and lieutenant governor of Georgia, and a 300 balloon release.
"I think it was great, I think they did a good job. Of course, you know Dr. Petersen, if he's going to do anything, he's going to do it right or he's not going to do it at all," Coach Welsh said regarding the ceremony.
Proclamations were made by the McDuffie County Board of Education, City of Thomson and McDuffie County Commission officials, Town of Dearing officials, Booster Club officials, Thomson High School administrators, Coach John Barnett, and Daniel Cheely and Rodney Roberts as representatives of the football team.
"Thank you for all the years you gave to Thomson," Daniel said to the coach.
Coach Welsh's three grandchildren, Taylor Gay, and Reed and Zac Coker stood proudly in front of the stage wearing black T-shirts bearing a large, gold 3-0-0 on the front. Throughout the ceremony, he was surrounded by his wife, Ann, and daughters, Lucia Coker and Andrea Gay.
"He has a good spouse to support him," said Wahldean Brunson, whose grandson, Bob Brunson is a guard on the team.
Following the presentations, letters from Governor Sonny Perdue and Lt. Governor Mark Taylor were read.
"I am delighted to congratulate you on your 300th career win," the Governor's letter said. "What a milestone!...You have instilled the qualities of sportsmanship, teamwork and a sense of community in thousands of youngsters. You are not only teaching them to be student athletes, but also to become our future leaders. The Thomson High School Bulldogs make us proud!"
Coach Welsh agreed that "Thomson is maybe the best football town and county in the state of Georgia. In fact, I'll match them up to anybody." He credits his players for the accomplishment he was being recognized for.
"What has happened, has happened, and all those kids throughout my career contributed to that. I didn't do it. They did it, and the good Lord blessed me," he said.
Meanwhile, the coach has passed this mile marker, and is focusing on No. 302.
"It was great, and now it's over with and we can get on back down to football playing," he said. "And all we've got to do now is think about football. And the only win I'm concerned about now is the next one."
McDuffie Mirror Staff Writer Kristopher Wells contributed to this report.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
"I'm going to pass on all the wherefore's and whereas'. I went to school here in '84 and '85, and the football players all thought a lot of you, the whole student body had a great respect for you and I never heard a negative word about you. And that means more than this piece of paper."
Dearing Mayor, Sean Kelley
"They should've never got rid of him for seven years, or they would've had 400 wins and probably a couple more state championships."
"He's a great man, I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time."
Steven Parrish, 2002-04 Bulldog
"He deserves everything he gets. He's great for this program. He's a legend."
Ben Huff, 1991 Bulldog
"Oh, I knew he was good. That's sort of why I followed him up here."
THS Principal Rudy Falana
"Your accomplishments are so numerous that I cannot even begin to capture them. Above all, thank you for the more than 50 years you have coached, worked with and been a mentor to our most impressionable youth football players...the results of your untiring efforts can be seen and felt throughout the State of Georgia. I feel very fortunate that I am able to send my well wishes and congratulations to you."
Lt. Governor Mark Taylor
"It couldn't happen to a better guy. He's influenced more young men than you'll ever know. He never gave up, whether it was winning a state championship or losing a homecoming game, he gave it 110 percent."
Jay Poston, 1986-88 Bulldog
"Coach Welsh is a perfect fit for our county. He's not only a good coach, but he's a good man. When these young men play a down of football with him, they are going to be better men for being out here. He teaches them discipline and good sportsmanship."
Jerry Randolph, Board of Education Chairman