Sam Burnham, Curator
I saw an interesting question on Twitter this week. NwGa Football was asking for opinions on why the state’s smallest classification, A, had the longest tenured coaches. My answer was that these small schools are more ingrained in the local community. The coaches become more of a fixture, the schools become more of a home to them. One must only look to Lincoln County's Larry Campbell who retired with 477 victories, 33 region titles, and 11 state championships.
But really, this is more of a small town scenario than just a small school scenario. Way back when, Valdosta was in the largest school group but there was little chance of the New York Giants luring Nick Hyder away, much less some school in Atlanta. The City of Carrollton named the road Grisham Stadium is on after the late Ben Scott. Dalton has similar love for Bill Chappell.
But this isn't just about coaches. It is about the stadiums, the traditions, the small towns that "roll up the sidewalks" at 5 pm on Fridays in the fall. I remember pulling into a vacant lot in Bowdon and paying the only human I saw in town outside the stadium $5 to park. That night I saw Larry Weathington's Bremen Blue Devils almost knock off Dwight Hochstetler's Bowdon Red Devils in "the Hole" - our old term for Bowdon's highly intense stadium environment, one of the biggest home field advantages you'll find anywhere.
You can feel the excitement grow in the Cartersville crowd when the PA announcer places Weinman Stadium under a "Tornado warning." You know when Polk County is in the midst of Rockmart-Cedartown week. Pepperell's fire breathing dragon always "fires up" the crowd. Visitors in Trenton find themselves praying their defense can keep the Dade Wolverines out of the end zone and avoid hearing that air raid siren go off again.
The mascots can be predictable - Indians, Eagles, Tigers. But there are also Atom Smashers, Syrupmakers, and Catamounts. The mascots show up on businesses in town. You may see tiger paws painted on the street. The teams are part of the local identity. If one of the kids signs with a college, especially a big one, he achieves a local hero status. Maybe you've heard of Herschel Walker, Garrison Hearst, Malcolm Mitchell, or Nick Chubb.
In The South, this isn't just a game. It is a part of the culture. And it isn't just the team. It's the bands, the cheerleaders, and so many die-hard fans. Local eateries turn profits on fans heading to games. Local churches host after game events for students. You can't go anywhere on a Friday night where you don't see a cheese wagon bus headed to or from a game. Local radio stations broadcast shows that announce scores and allow fans to call in to share their pride in a glorious victory or in the face of a hard fought defeat.
So if we're a little excited about the coming season, you'll have to forgive us. It's just a part of who we are. And we're thankful for it.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire