Today is an exciting day for me.
No need to panic and check your calendar. It isn’t Christmas Day yet.
Today is the day of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) football state championship games. After the games were delayed due to the Atlanta United Major League Soccer (MLS) team hosting (and winning) the MLS Cup on Saturday, the state football championships will finally kickoff today at the Mercedes Benz Dome.
There are three teams playing today that I have an interest in. The first one is Warner Robins who will be playing Bainbridge for the Class 5A title, Clinch County will play Irwin County for the Class 1A Public School championship and Northside Warner Robins facing Lee County for the Class 6A crown. (Of all seasons for both Warner Robins and Northside to play for the title and they are in different classifications! If you’ve ever attended a Warner Robins-Northside game, you would know what that would be like.)
I know to most people out there this doesn’t mean much to you but for anyone that knows me, this is a pretty big deal. I am a huge Georgia high school football fan. Even though I live in Nashville, Tennessee now, thanks to modern technology I can still keep connected to my teams through the SportsMic Radio website/app, Score Atlanta website, Georgia High School Football Daily emails as well as the legendary Tommy Palmer with his podcasts and high school football scoreboard show on Friday nights.
So why Georgia high school football? How did this obsession get started for me?
My dad was a graduate of Clinch County High School and had played football for the Panthers during his day. On November 11, 1975 he took me to my first football game at Waycross Memorial Stadium in Waycross, Georgia where Clinch County played Charlton County for the Region 2B title. It was a cold night but shivering in the cold I was excited as I watched Charlton County edge Clinch County 6-0 in a defensive battle. During the 1976 season we attended a few more games including the last regular season game when Clinch County played Jeff Davis. Jeff Davis scored early to take a 6-0 lead and held onto that lead most of the game until the Panthers scored late in the game and made the extra point to win an exciting 7-6 game.
High school football was about the only entertainment I was allowed to participate in since my dad was a preacher and our church had some ridiculous rules against attending professional ball games. I’m not sure why we never attended any college games but I was okay with being able to go to high school games.
When I started high school in Villa Rica, Georgia, dad would drop me off at the game and pick me up when the game was over. I loved going to those games. I remember the night that the football team beat Darlington 20-14 in overtime and then won the next two games to make the playoffs and dethroned the two-time defending state champions East Rome Gladiators in the playoffs. I tried to play for the football team but my physical abilities were limited so when we moved before my junior year to Savannah, Georgia, I decided to stick to being a fan. I finished my high school at Tompkins High School in Savannah, Georgia. I never attended any of their games in person but I would listen on the radio on Friday nights. Tompkins did pretty well in 1980 (my junior year) with Coach Joseph Turner who was a legend and coaching in his last season. The team upset heavily favored Coffee County 24-21 in the region playoffs. During my senior season, Tompkins wasn’t so good. With a new coach, they dropped to last place. I began tuning into Savannah Christian games on the radio. The Raiders played in a strange private school league called the SEAIS which I believe was Southeastern Association of Independent Schools. The most exciting game was when Savannah Christian scored on the last play of the game against Pinewood Christian and later went on to win the championship over Southland Academy.
My Georgia high school football was put on hold when I joined the United States Air Force (USAF). In my first season without high school football, I was stationed in Abilene, Texas. I attended my only game in the home opener for Cooper High School. Although high school football is huge in Texas, it just wasn’t the same for me. I had Georgia high school football flowing through my veins. I spent the next season shivering in the cold at Thule AB, Greenland with my next assignment to be Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia. A co-worker had been stationed at Robins and told me all about the Warner Robins football team winning national championships in 1976 and 1981 so I was looking forward to getting back to Georgia in 1984.
On November 30, 1984 I finally returned to attend my first football game when Warner Robins hosted the Valdosta Wildcats in the state quarterfinals. Valdosta shutout Warner Robins that rainy night 28-0 but I was back. From 1985 to 1991 I attended most of the Warner Robins’ home games and even had season tickets during many of those seasons. When I got a job with the Macon Telegraph, I had to “work” on Friday nights at other games. I had a chance to report on a variety of teams in our area although I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the private school games. I was excited when I was assigned a Warner Robins game, although I couldn’t show it. I will tell you that I was scared to death to have to interview Warner Robins’ Coach Robert Davis but he was always nice to me and gave me some good quotes. When the balance of power shifted to Northside, I would support them in the playoffs when Warner Robins was eliminated. They had some exciting games too and it was good to see them finally win their first state title in 2006 after so many heartbreaking losses.
My dad was the reason I have followed these games over the years. He passed away last month and before he passed we talked about his Clinch County Panthers and who they were playing in the playoffs. It is special to me that the last game we attended together was the 2010 State Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 12, 2010 when the Panthers defeated Savannah Christian 24-14. That was a special memory and the last Georgia high school football game I attended in person.
Yes, it’s “just” high school football and the players are 16-17 years old playing a game but it has been a large part of my life. On Friday nights I head back to my room to open my SportsMic app and play on my Bluetooth speakers. That’s my thing. Always has been.
Today, it will be a little different. I will be at work but I will tune into the games and shoo off anyone that wants to bother me. If the technology works right, I’ll watch the games online from Georgia Public Broadcasting and then turn the volume down to listen to Warner Robins and Northside on SportsMic.
I have come a long way since that first football game on a cold night keeping warm with my tiny hands wrapped around my hot chocolate in Waycross in 1975 but in many ways I haven’t. I still love the excitement of the game. Thanks dad for passing this on to me.