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Doctor was trailblazer at THS
From the Sidelines

When coach Luther Welsh first arrived in Thomson in 1984, one of the things that impressed him was the number of professionals -- doctors, lawyers and teachers -- that this relatively small county had produced.

He always took exception to anyone who criticized our schools, by pointing this out and reminding them that most of our business leaders were local people.

One person that this community can be particularly proud of is Dr. Mac Bowman. Mac and his family moved to Thomson when his father, John, retired from the military. His mother, Vanilla, was a schoolteacher.

Mac and his family made a particularly courageous decision in 1967. He enrolled at Thomson High School as one of the first African-American students under the Freedom of Choice plan before schools were fully desegregated in 1970. I can't imagine the anxiety they must have felt in those first days he experienced as a student at Thomson High. On a smaller scale, it must have been a lot like what Jackie Robinson felt as he integrated Major League Baseball in 1947.

Coach Paul Leroy recruited Mac for the football team after seeing the way he conducted himself at band practice. Mac became the first African-American to wear the black and gold of the Thomson Bulldogs and was a vital member of the 1967 and 1968 state championship teams.

I remember vividly one of his great runs as a fullback in the South Georgia Championship game against an Americus team led by a QB named "Chan" Gailey, the current coach of the NFL Buffalo Bills. Americus had taken an early 7-0 lead on a TD pass by Gailey and Thomson found itself in an unfamiliar position, but that didn't last long. On the next possession, Mac took a handoff on a trap play and went 58 yards for a score and the Dogs never looked back and won 34-7.

He excelled not only on the field, but in the classroom and won the respect of the student body and faculty alike. In 1969, his fellow seniors elected him Most Intellectual as part of the Senior Superlatives. I've always thought this significant that in the racially tense days of the 1960s that white kids in a small Southern town would recognize the abilities of a black student and recognize his achievements.

Mac signed a football scholarship at Virginia Military Institute and was a three-year starter (freshmen weren't allowed to participate in varsity sports in NCAA schools then). He received an excellent pre-med education. However, by his second football game, Mac had already experienced more defeats -- one -- than he did in his career at Thomson. Still, Mac led the team in rushing from 1970-72, was Southern Conference Player of the Week twice, and was team MVP in his senior season.

Today, Mac is one of the most highly regarded cardiologists in the country and works out of University Hospital in Augusta. He speaks nationally at seminars, and I'm grateful for all the people he has helped.

He's never forgotten Thomson. He sponsors an award for the most outstanding academic athlete every year at Thomson High and has often taken time from his busy schedule to present the award. Unlike many high achievers, he has never forgotten where he came from. He will tell you quickly, "I live in Augusta, but I'm from Thomson."

John Barnett has played, observed and coached Thomson athletics for 45 years. Contact him at

Web posted on Thursday, May 19, 2011

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