Growing up here in the 1960s and '70s, I loved attending Thomson High sporting events.
Though football was my favorite pastime and the only one I played in high school, I enjoyed the other sports as a spectator from the time I was 8 years old.
Watching the Thomson High Diamond Dogs wrap up another trip to the state playoffs on April 19 made me think back to the spring of 1968. That's 43 years ago and Thomson High was in a golden age of athletics. Many old-timers, including myself, saw the Dogs capture back-to-back state football championships and win 36 straight games, still one of the best streaks ever in Georgia.
Sandwiched between those titles, however, was a great baseball team that fell just short. The '68 Diamond Dogs of Cleveland Lott were an outstanding team. I attended several games that year and still have some memories of the state playoffs.
In the semifinals, Thomson faced an Americus squad at the Brickyard. I volunteered to chase foul balls that first game because they would give you an old baseball or a cracked (wooden) bat. Wouldn't you know that the game I worked would last 16 innings.
Many of the details of that game are sketchy after all these years, but some have never left. The field had been soaked by an earlier rain, and when I arrived the coach and the players were pouring diesel fuel on the base paths in an attempt to burn them dry. I don't think the EPA would approve of that today.
Amazingly, Ray Guy pitched 15 shutout innings and was matched by his rival from Americus, who lasted 14 frames. In today's game of pitch counts, that would never have happened. We were saved from heartbreak by a great triple play when Americus had runners on first and second and no one out. The hitter smashed a line drive that shortstop Johnny McCarty caught, then stepped on second and fired to first baseman Dan Coxwell.
Ray was removed after the 15th inning and sophomore Tommy "Snake" Williamson shut out the Panthers in the top of the 16th. In the bottom of the inning, Tommy Brown scored from second on Dan Coxwell's single, and Thomson won.
I was a tired 10-year-old, but that cracked bat is still at my mom's house somewhere.
Thomson catcher Bobby Norris was more tired than I was. His arm and hand were bruised from catching those 90-plus mph Ray Guy fastballs for 15 innings.
Another interesting tidbit about that game is that Chan Gailey, the current Buffalo Bills head coach, was on the Americus team.
Unfortunately, the Dogs would fall to Westminster in the finals the next week with two straight losses. Westminster was the school we had defeated that fall for the state football championship. Still, those are great memories of a great team.
As Thomson advances toward what we hope will be its first state championship in baseball, I hope those eight seniors leading this year's team are aware that 43 years from now, there will be men in their 50s who remember watching them as young boys and cheering their exploits.
So Nick, Nic, Abe, Phillip, Cody, Will, Juicy and Jessie: Go Dogs!
John Barnett has played, observed and coached Thomson athletics for 45 years. Contact him at B122792@comcast.net.