For most of our 19 years of marriage, my wife, Kim, and I have spent Thanksgiving with her parents in Tennessee. While we enjoy this time away, on a few occasions, we have found ourselves far from home and have heard of tragedy striking our community. This occurred again on Nov. 22 when I checked my Facebook page and saw a picture of Norman Dent shaking hands with Luther Welsh on the occasion of coach Welsh's last regular season game in the Brickyard. Immediately, a sense of dread came over me as I read below to discover that a Thomson icon, Norman "Bulldog" Dent, had passed away at the age of 71 from a heart attack.
Norman was the ultimate Bulldog. He played for Thomson from 1954-57 under both "Flash" Gordon and Bruce Blasingame. He raised his three sons and grandsons to be Bulldogs as well. Tommy played baseball at Thomson, and his sons Clay and Adam played football. Scottie and Doug played football and baseball for Thomson. After high school, Norman became a loyal fan and only missed games when obligations at work kept him away, and that was a very rare occurrence.
For more than 30 years, Norman stalked the sidelines at Thomson High Stadium as head of our chain crew. Nothing kept him away during those years, and it took Parkinson's Disease to get him off the chains a few years ago.
He was loyal and dependable. I'm sure he must have, but I never heard him second-guess or criticize a coach, and he was certainly knowledgeable enough to do so, being as close to the program as he was.
Two things that I remember vividly about "Bulldog" is that when the chains were kept on our sideline until the mid '90s, you could ALWAYS look at him in a measurement situation to see if a first down had been achieved. In my years, he NEVER missed a call. If he signaled that we had stopped them, I knew I could breathe a sigh of relief. If he signaled first down, I knew I had to get ready to make my next call or our offense had kept a drive alive.
Another thing about Norman and, later, his son Scottie that I remember is that often they would show up at away games and volunteer to man the chains. I was always glad to see them because we played many games in Richmond County where, often, host teams were scrambling at the last minute to get a makeshift chain crew organized.
I remember our entire staff was scouting a game at Glenn Hills in 2005 and the chain crew disappeared at halftime and the public address announcer had to make a call for another crew. We never had to worry about that in Thomson, and still don't. He also would keep us informed at halftime of exactly how much time we had before we needed to be back on the field.
In the past few years, because of health problems, Norman had to settle for just attending the games, but he was determined to do so with the help of one of his sons. He could be seen on the scoreboard end watching from his wheelchair and, in cooler weather, sporting a Thomson letterman's jacket. I've kicked myself several times in the last few days because I can't remember if I ever told him thank you for all he did.
In our busy lives, we take too many people for granted and neglect the simple words "thank you" far too often. I seem to remember telling him and Scottie that I appreciated them being there when we played at Richmond Academy once, but even so, it wasn't nearly enough. My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Janelle, and his entire family.
We have lost another icon of Bulldog football. We've lost a great friend whose loyalty and devotion to his alma mater and community is unparalleled. God bless you, Norman. And thanks.