While the Thomson Bulldogs were dominating their region play in football during the latter half of the 1960s with a 53-3 record between 1965-69, across town, the R.L. Norris Rams were just as dominant in their region throughout the decade.
Playing in the Georgia Interscholastic Association, the Rams, initially playing as McDuffie Training High School, won their region five times during the decade.
Unfortunately, the Rams, led by Head Coach Calvin Sampson and ably assisted by George Drake, lost in the semi-finals each of those years to significantly larger schools.
Three times they posted undefeated regular seasons. I learned a great deal in my research about this era in our local history.
For instance, I was unaware that the Rams played in Thomson High Stadium until their own field was built in the latter half of the decade primarily by James Tyson, who taught agriculture in our county for
over 30 years.
According to Charles Pettis, who played quarterback on the 1961 and 1962 semi-final teams, the field was sometimes jokingly referred to as "Trash Pile" Stadium because it had been built on what was once a landfill. Sampson, an ex-Marine who played college football at Albany State, came to Thomson as an assistant coach for two years before taking over as head coach at McDuffie Training High School and remained in that position throughout the 1960s. The school was renamed R.L. Norris in 1963.
While Coach Sampson is more concerned with the kids he helped than wins and losses, his record was admirable. His 1961 team, which included current McDuffie County Commissioner Sammie Wilson and Austin Ivery, uncle of Thomson, Georgia Tech, and Green Bay Packer Eddie Lee Ivery, lost in the semi-finals to Bryant High School in Moultrie. The Rams of 1962 and 1963 went undefeated in the regular season only to lose the South Georgia Championship game to Center High School of Waycross and Pinevale of Valdosta respectively. Players such as Charles Pettis, Freddie Taylor, Johnny Johnson, Arthur Green, Clarence Ivery, and team captain Moses Golatt led the Rams to greatness. The 1964 Rams were again undefeated in the regular season, but lost to Sandersville's T.J. Elder in the region final, denying them a fourth straight trip to the South Georgia Championship game. The team was led by Albany State signees Johnny Norris and Ervin Morris as well as two-way lineman Gene Thomas, halfback Melvin Jackson, and junior quarterback Jimmy Ivery. According to Norris, the Rams won the state championship in track in the spring of 1965. In 1965 the Rams bounced back with
another region championship and a school best 10 wins only to lose another South Georgia Championship game to Wilson High School of Tifton.
This team was again led by Ivery and Thomas, both of whom played four years of varsity football. While the next three seasons didn't reap the success to which Rams fans had grown accustomed, they
still finished with winning seasons before returning to the South Georgia Championship in 1969 only to fall again to Wilson High School of Tifton.
When the schools desegregated in 1970, I got to play for the Rams in junior high for two years under Coach Sampson and I remember well the school spirit of my black teammates who taught us the chants that they had learned. My favorite was "Here come the Rams. See how they play. Here come the Rams. We're going to march on to victory." In 1984 as the Thomson Bulldogs prepared to play Crisp County in Cordele in the first round of the state playoffs, I remember seeing a chartered bus of Thomson Bulldog fans who were of the age that would have attended R.L. Norris High School in the 60s.
They approached the stadium chanting together "Here come the Dogs. See how they play. Here come the Dogs. We're going to march on to victory."
It sent chills up my spine and we did march on to victory just like the Rams did so many times in the 1960s.