It’s time for the Friday night lights to go on and there are high school football games everywhere that you turn. So get up off your sofa and go to a game.
I went for 20 years without a high school football game. When Athens High School was disappeared I felt like I no longer had a high school team to cheer for. I just didn’t get into Clarke Central or Cedar Shoals. I made some small efforts. If I was at home on Friday night I’d turn on WRFC and listen to some of the game on the radio. I once went to a Gladiator baseball game to see Robbie Kamerschen pitch. On second thought that’s not even enough to rate as any sort of effort.
In 1990 everything changed. A couple of months before football season I became “sports” for the Athens Observer. They had done away with the position of sports editor. Instead they would take a column and a story from me each week for which I received $25 a byline (a large raise over my previous pay of $13). They would combine my stories with anything that the rest of the paper’s staff might want to contribute and mix in press releases from UGA’s sport’s information office to create a couple of pages of sports. I would of course continue what passed for my full time job at Normal News.
I was left pretty much to my own devises during the summer. I wrote about rec league softball at Bishop Park, darts tournaments in the bars and I even remember writing about an archery tournament but with September approaching I was given assignments. It started when I was told to write a column forecasting the Georgia football team’s upcoming season. I responded that I didn’t do forecast columns and was told that I had to. I reacted to the order by penning my first of what became an annual column predicting that the Dogs would go undefeated. I knew that I’d hit on something when while I was sitting on a stool in the Mayflower Restaurant a couple of days later a guy I knew came rushing up next to me nearly breathless and says “Dan do you really think the Dogs can win the National Championship this year?” I smiled and answered “Who’s gonna beat ’em?”
My next assignment was to interview Clarke Central’s Billy Henderson and new Cedar Shoals Coach Jeff Herron the next two weeks in advance of their season opening game.
I went to see Coach Herron first. This was his first season as the Jaguars coach and when I entered his office I was surprised at how young he looked. Then I was surprised at how nice he was. We talked for a while and he certainly seemed to know his stuff as he praised his assistant coaches and the Jaguar players that he had inherited. He also talked about what an honor it was to coach against Billy Henderson. When I told him that I thought that fast athletic linebackers (like Clarke had) could stop the Wing T offense, he patiently explained the fine points of the Wing T, even pulling a book off of his shelf written by the Delaware coach and offering to loan it to me.
I left Coach Herron’s office feeling like I’d made a new friend but I was honestly worried if this nice young man could possibly be tough enough to head up the Jaguar football team. Over the next four years he showed that he was. I watched as he rode the high speed roller coaster that was his first team and finished the season with a 10-2 record losing to the Gladiators to open the season and ending the year with a loss to state runner-up SW DeKalb. He was tough enough. He made the Jaguar program his. He became an indispensable part of the school and the community.
The next week I visited Coach Henderson’s office at Clarke Central.
I’d met Billy Henderson before (you can go to the archives and find the story “Y Football Camp”), but hadn’t seen him again for five years. I went into his office and I suppose that patience is the word to describe how he was towards me. He answered all of my questions educating me on Clarke Central football. He told me about his mother and growing up in Macon. He told me about coaching with Weyman Sellers at Athens High School for a couple of years in the 50’s. He spoke of coming to Clarke Central in 1973 and some of the challenges that he faced. We just sat and talked. It was like we’d known each other for 20 years.
I left Coach Henderson’s office knowing that I had another new friend to go with the one that I’d gained at Cedar the week before and boy did my two new friends work on me for the next three months.
It started that Friday night when I attended my first ever Clarke Central/Cedar Shoals football game. I saw one of the all time best football games. There were great offensive plays. There was great defense. There were coaching decisions. Clarke Central won the game 21-20.
The rest of the season I went to Clarke or Cedar every Friday night. Coach Herron and Coach Henderson continued to teach me as the season passed by. I got to know their assistants. I got to know parents and teachers from both schools. Most importantly I got to know the players.
I saw each team lose their last game in the state playoffs. Cedar lost to SW DeKalb 17-14 and Clarke lost to eventual state champ Valdosta 8-0.
When I got back to Athens from Valdosta, I went by Bulldog Sporting Goods and bought a couple new caps. One said Clarke Central Gladiators and the other said Cedar Shoals Jaguars. I now had two schools.