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1961 team showed it had stuff of champions

We live in a "football town."

Much has been written over the years about our five state championship teams, but there have been several teams of note that didn't earn the big prize.

One would assume that was because those Bulldog teams lost a key game and were eliminated. However, 50 years ago a group of Bulldogs went undefeated and were still denied a chance to compete for the state title.

The 1961 Thomson Bulldogs, led by Coach Jack Harper, finished the season with an 8-0-2 record. Harper was assisted by Mac Copeland and Darrell Smith. Unfortunately, they played in what was arguably the toughest Class B Region in the state in the early '60s, which included Morgan County, led by Bill Corry, and Washington-Wilkes, led by Charlie Davidson.

According to the Georgia High School Football Historian's Association, Corry led Morgan County to an unbelievable 78-6-3 record and four state titles from 1956-62 before opting to enter school administration.

Davidson led Washington-Wilkes to four state titles in the 1960s. He won 239 games in 33 years as a head coach in Washington and Darlington, a private school in Rome.

Thomson fielded its best team in 1961 since the 1954 Dogs went 10-2, losing in the state playoffs to Model. They ran roughshod over seven of their 10 opponents, with only Swainsboro keeping the score close in a 7-6 Bulldog win. This team, featuring 15 seniors, an unusually high number for a Class B school, allowed only 49 points in 10 games, while scoring 222 points using its Wing T offense.

Unfortunately, the games with Morgan County and Washington-Wilkes both ended in 6-6 ties. Thomson was denied a chance at the state playoffs when Morgan County defeated Washington-Wilkes and secured the region title, and therefore, the only playoff berth as allowed by the Georgia High School Association at that time.

You have to wonder how this team, which was one of only two undefeated teams in Class B that year, would have fared in today's playoff system. The Atlanta Constitution and the Journal, had them ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in final polls.

This team featured several fine backs led by Don McNeill, who went on to play at Presbyterian; Billy Harvey; and Earl "Junebug" Hudson. The quarterback was one of the few juniors who started on the team, Ned Harbeson. Bob Knox Jr., who made All-State, and Billy Moon were ends. Several linemen rotated on both sides of the ball. They included Richard Dozier, Terry Shepherd, Billy Weaver, Charles Goldman, Carl Puls, Tommy Walden, Jimmy Hutchinson and Jimmy Chapman. Seniors Randy Reeves and Ike Bledsoe also saw action in the backfield.

In 26 years as a coach and 31 as a teacher, I noticed that when a school was fortunate enough to have good athletic teams it usually meant that there were many outstanding youngsters destined for success across the entire student body. This was true of the undefeated 1961 Bulldogs. Puls is a successful attorney in Rockdale County, Knox is an attorney and former mayor of Thomson. Dozier and several others have been successful in business. Goldman became a vice president for Days Inn. Harvey is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and retired as a colonel after years of service to our country.

While these men were denied a chance to pursue a state championship in 1961, it didn't deter them from becoming great citizens and men of character who still contribute to their communities every day.

After all, isn't that what high school athletics is supposed to teach?

Web posted on Thursday, August 18, 2011

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