A 42-0 win may seem like routine to Thomson folk, but there was something just a little different about the Bulldogs' victory at Richmond Academy Saturday night.
The game was Coach Luther Welsh's 460th as a high school head coach in Georgia. It gave him the record for most games coached in the state as he passed the 459-game mark of retired Mary Persons coach and Lincoln County native Dan Pitts.
Thomson High Head Coach Luther Welsh takes a break from practice to talk.
Coach Welsh has served as head coach at the Georgia schools of Warrenton, Dougherty, Camden County, Greene-Taliaferro, Screven County and is in his second stint at Thomson. For someone like Coach Welsh, the record doesn't mean much in itself; it just means that he's been able to do something he loves for a long time.
"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. "...It's good that I'm able to continue to coach, but I didn't realize I had coached that many ballgames as a head coach."
After coaching more games than anyone in the state, Coach Welsh said it must be that people have simply tolerated him these many years.
"I guess (the record) says that the communities have put up with me that long and haven't run me out," he said. "As long as we can get the job done, I guess they'll leave me alone."
Thomson Defensive Coordinator John Barnett, in his estimation, has coached under Welsh longer than any other assistant. The pair has gone 145-29-1 together in 14 years of coaching at Thomson High. That includes nine region crowns and three state titles.
"I think it is a real testimonial to his love of kids and the game," Coach Barnett said.¬†"He is just as enthusiastic now as when I first coached with him over 20 years ago.¬†He still constantly looks for better ways to coach on the field and better ways to build strength in the weight room.¬† He never passes up an opportunity to find a way to improve."
As for the long-asked question of when the most tenured coach in Georgia will hang up his whistle and headset, he said there is no answer, yet.
"People want to know when I'm going to quit. I don't know when I'm going to quit. I gave them a date because I was tired of hearing it, and I figured if I could go to 2009 I thought that might be enough," he said. "Who knows, between now and then, something may come up, and I may have to quit.
"I'm just going from year to year, and if I continue to get along good health wise, I'll continue on until the day I don't like it. All the coaches that have retired have told me that I'll know that day. They said ‚ÄòYou don't have to set it. So one day you're going to wake up, and you just don't want to do it no more.'"
Recently his wife, Anne, must have woke up one morning and decided she wanted to coach. That's something Coach Welsh said hadn't happened these many years.
"Now, I don't know what happened, but for the first in my 49 years of coaching, she has started coaching too," he said. "I told her the other night, I said ‚ÄòI don't believe this. I've been coaching 49 years and you hadn't said nothing to me about it.' I said ‚ÄòNow here you start coaching in your old age.' I told her ‚ÄòI have enough coaches in them stands.' I didn't need her to get involved."
Despite his unexpected assistant coaches, Welsh still enjoys his job. At 72, he's been through his share of health problems including cancer and a pacemaker. But he said his abilities to beat the odds come from a higher power.
"I owe it to, I guess you'd say, the Good Lord because He's still given me the good health and the desire and the will to continue to coach," he said.
And his new record only brings him closer to another milestone. Coach Welsh is five wins away from number 300, something only seven other coaches in the state have reached.
His 295-160-5 record is, according to footballfridaynight.com, third place in wins among active coaches.