The annual “Winnersville Classic” in Valdosta was won by Lowndes 57-15 this past weekend.
More than four decades of sports coverage in south Georgia had not prepared me for this final score. This just doesn’t happen to a Valdosta High School team. But, there it was staring at me from the WALB High School Locker Room Report. A handful of national high school championship titles, 20-something state titles and more than 1,000 wins could not have prepared fans and followers of the Wildcats for this humiliation.
Add insult to injury by having this defeat handed to them by cross-town rival Lowndes and the weekend must have been as depressing as last election night was to us rich, compassionless, close-the-border conservatives. Elvis has left the building! London Bridge is falling down! General Sherman is on the outskirts of Valdosta! Stickman finally produces a positive and uplifting political cartoon? (Not a splinter of a chance of that happening!)
My high school football repertoire book contains no eventuality for a Valdosta loss of that magnitude. Few local citizens remember the long and heated rivalry between Albany High and Valdosta High that ended 1970s. As a purist, my date of ending the series was after the 1967 football game. The Indians defeated the Wildcats, 27-7.
A year later, Westover High opened — taking about 800 students from Albany High. AHS never recovered its football greatness after losing those students. Albany and Valdosta started their rivalry back in the 1920s and competed fiercely until 1967. The Indians had one of the better records against the Wildcats during those five decades.
As I entered Albany High in 1963, a five-year stretch of games would occur between AHS-VHS resulting in four victories for Albany and one for Valdosta. A 35-2 Wildcat win at Hugh Mills Stadium my senior year (1965) was the lone victory for Valdosta during that stretch.
The annual AHS-VHS game produced a week of noise, boasts, bragging, threats and general mayhem at both schools. Albany High celebrated “Hate Week” in preparation for the game as Valdosta High reciprocated with their own “Hate Week” against Albany High.
Georgia and Georgia Tech weren’t the only ones to celebrate “Good Old Fashioned Hate”!
1964 was memorable. The Indians traveled to Valdosta sporting a mediocre 2-3 record while Valdosta was 6-0 and sporting an Associated Press No. 1 ranking.
As we arrived on a beautiful fall Friday afternoon, some of us noticed the smell of undeniable arrogance in the air. The Valdosta Times picked Wright Bazemore’s bunch to win by a score of 35-7 or something like that.
Bazemore was almost a curse word with us but, we respected, admired and even secretly wished somehow he was our coach. Years later, as Bazemore retired, his record at Valdosta was 290-43-7.
Carl Williams, who played and coached at Albany High, was one of the reasons that night became legend in AHS football lore.
Tied at the half 14-14, Valdosta fans were getting restless and wanted a quick kill in the third quarter. Instead, they got a street fight and scoreless third quarter. The final 12 minutes were much the same as a possible tie loomed large for the Numero Uno Gatos.
A tie would tarnish their perfect 6-0 mark, but a tie would actually be an Albany High victory.
With 26 seconds in the game, AHS lineman Carl Williams crashed through the Valdosta offense and hammered the VHS quarterback. Cecil Strickland and Bob Harden also were putting on pressure and had a grip on the QB.
Williams’ blow rendered the QB unconscious and delayed the game several minutes as he was attended by trainers and medical staff before being taken off the field for the night.
Williams told me that the Valdosta offensive tackle came to the line of scrimmage and spat on him. Williams also claimed the same lineman called him a “Fat pig”.
I’ve known Carl since high school and his story has never changed. I believe every word he says about the incident.
Valdosta sent in a reserve quarterback for the last play of the game and the poor unfortunate young man tossed a pass into the arms of Albany High’s Doug Gurr, who raced 45 yards down the sideline for a score as time expired. AHS left Cleveland Field with a 21-14 victory.
1964 ended with AHS winning four games, losing five, and tying one.
Valdosta went on to finish as region champs with a 9-1 record. They also won the state football title with an 11-1 record. The lone blemish on that otherwise perfect season was a 21-14 loss to the lowly Albany High Indians.
All these years later the greatness of that game may be forgotten, but the glory produced that night will never die!
Valdosta High in 2009 still has a huge student enrollment (about 2,000). Albany High doesn’t have the 2000 students it had in 1964. AHS numbers about 750 students today and that includes a ninth-grade class. We had only tenth through twelfth grades in those days. The 650 students in the ninth grade at AHS were not on our campus, but on Jefferson Street at Albany Junior High.
Albany High still bears the name of the school which opened in 1885. The status of the school has greatly diminished over the last several decades as it has become just one more high school in a city with four public and four private high schools.
Albany High has gone the way of other high schools that carried the name of their city when they were the lone white (Caucasian) secondary school in that community. Many of them still exist, but in a more subtle manner than decades ago. Georgia football powerhouses from 1935 to 1970, in no particular order, were: Columbus High; Lanier High, Macon; Boys High, Atlanta; Tech High, Atlanta; Savannah High; Richmond Academy, Augusta; Albany High; Valdosta High; Moultrie High (Colquitt County); LaGrange High; Avondale, Atlanta; Marietta.
Closing out this personal history of AHS football I want to thank Mike Flynn, Walter Johnson and Kevin Hogencamp for producing the latest incarnation of the Albany Journal. What a delight it is to see the paper evolve from its former condition years ago.
A Journal reader and writer since 1965, I can honestly say it has never been better, brighter, more professional and a joy to read than ever. As I tell Kevin Hogencamp at the conclusion of our weekly radio show on 90.7 WWVO ,” If you haven’t read the Journal lately, then you haven’t read the Journal.”
Column by Sonny Lofton