State championships, for most schools, are rare.
Coaches will tell you that it's a situation where everything has to fall into place. You have to have the talent and coaching, and luck certainly helps. One injury at the wrong time has cost many teams in their title runs.
Also, you have to hope that in a year when you have the talent that some other team doesn't just happen to have a little more.
Most McDuffie County residents are aware that Thomson has won five state championships in football. We have also had several other teams that just fell a little short. However, in 1980 and 1982, Thomson High won state championships in golf. They were also state runner-up seven times between 1977 and 2000.
Recently, I had the privilege of talking with former Thomson High golf coach Dale Ricks about these champions. Ricks coached the golf team from 1977 to 1988 and again from 1994 to 2003. He's very modest about his contributions to that great success, wryly saying, "My biggest contribution was not wrecking the bus on the way to the matches."
He's quick to talk about the dedication of his golfers and how they worked year-round on their games. They loved the game and still do. He never had to worry about the players missing practice and said most of the players on those championship teams would play anywhere from 36 to 72 holes on their own during the weekend.
After finishing state runner-up in 1979, the 1980 team was led to the championship by Rex Marsh, whose 69 was the low round at the state tournament. That team also had Jeff Knox, today one of the top amateur golfers in the state. Tony Williamson was a freshman on that team. He later played on a Division II national championship team at Troy State. John Walsh, Rob Douglas, Scott Hawkins and Craig Bowles were other members on the team that won with a score of 295.
In 1982, the Bulldogs again won the championship after finishing state runner-up in 1981. Williamson tied for medalist honors but lost in a playoff when his opponent holed a 75- yard chip shot for a birdie on a par 3 after shanking his tee shot. The team that also consisted of Walsh, Paul Weir, Drew Hawkins, Scott Smith and Neal and Kenneth Ash shot 300 to win the state tournament.
That's a four-year period where the Dogs were either state champions or runner-up. Other state runner-up teams were 1977, 1984-1986 and 2000. In 1984-86, the Dogs were led by Franklin Langham, who played at the University of Georgia and professionally for several years. The 2000 team was led by Wren Fowler, who played at Georgia Tech. Ricks also said that the 1983 team, which slipped to third at the state tournament, was outstanding. They won the prestigious Hardaway Invitational in Columbus, Ga., and Williamson was low medalist.
That tournament attracted the top high school golf teams of all classifications from Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida. He said winning that tournament was actually harder than winning the state.
These men, now mostly in their 40s, and their coach, Dale Ricks, didn't receive the accolades they should have for the way they represented our county. When you see them, tell them thanks and congratulations. I know I will. It's long overdue.
John Barnett has played, observed and coached Thomson athletics for 45 years. Contact him at B122792@comcast.net.