From Bearcats to Red Devils
II. The Early Years: 1922-1956Football success is synonymous with the town of Lincolnton.
In late September of 1922, (Tutt) Dunaway took a group of Lincolnton school boys, who later were to form the nucleus of his team, to see a football game in another city. Following this he developed a team that played nine games during the remainder of the season, winning six, losing two, and tying one. The following season returned a handsome dividend in the way of victories as the Lincolnton team reeled off eight straight triumphs. The team scored (262) points to its opponents' 38, a standing testimonial to a group of boys with one year of football indoctrination. Name who wrote such a glorious page in Lincolnton football history included Gresham, Flanigan, Mercier, Williams, Cooper, Smalley, Guillebeau, Freeman, Sanford, Cliatt, Bussey, Hammond, Smith, Candler, and Fortson.
The year 1923 and its football team won't be forgotten. The success they enjoyed is still living.
-Excerpts from The Augusta Chronicle, 1961
This was the way high school football began in Lincoln County. All it took was one man with enough far-sightedness and fortitude to accomplish a dream. This man was W. T. "Tutt" Dunaway, a football player turned city clerk, who could never quite get football out of his system. His dream was football, and Lincolnton shared his dream. Little did anyone know that this aspiration of a group of boys could affect so much the way of life of generations to come. From this date in late September forward, Lincolnton would now be known as a "Football Town". But how could they know, with conditions and equipment so primitive and spectator enthusiasm so sparse.
The field during this period of time had no sod, no bleachers, no fencing, and no lighting. It was just a semi-flat hard surface of dirt in a pasture across from the school. Their helmets were made of leather with felt padding and no facemask. It was times like these that made the best noses quiver under the threat of receiving a kickoff. Shoulder pads (for those lucky enough to get them) were also leather and felt. The jerseys were itchy wool and even lacked numbers for the first three or four years. The pants were made of canvas and looked like a clown's bloomers except they had kidney pads above the belt line. All the shoes were high top with leather cleats. Injuries with this type of equipment were very common, especially concussions. The only dressing room they had was the furnace room under the school house, and there were no showers.
The football varied from town to town, but all were very bloated and more round that today. Officials back then had no flags, but used whistles and wooden horns strapped to their wrists.
Everyone back then drop-kicked extra points; the kick-off was performed by the kicker raking a pile of dirt up with his hands and making the ball hold itself up until it was kicked. No huddles were used with plays being called by audibles on the line. Since there were no hash markers, if a play was run close to the sidelines, another play would be run out of bounds to get the referee to move the ball in fifteen yards from the sidelines. At halftime each team gathered near a goal post and laid on the ground while listening to a pep talk for the second half. After this, each team would huddle on the field and cheer for the other team. The only bad thing was that the losing team had to give the winning team a football.
The determination of these types of people never ended but was continued by the other coaches and players who followed. Coach Dunaway carried on until the rule was passed that the coach had to be affiliated with the school. This first to follow in his steps was Coach Groves. He was just as true to the winning tradition; boasting a 9-1-0 record, as were other notable coaches such as Reese, Garner, Calloway, Jones, Boyd, Burgess, Fortson, Martin, Hawkins, Anderson, Chambers, Surls, Bufford, Bunch, Campbell, and others.
Lincoln County football in the 1920's was classified by a myriad of football names, but there were all synonymous with one outstanding fact: All the teams were Winners. Some of these names were "Tutt's Hyenas", "The Lincolnton Machine", "Bearcats" and "Red Devils". The combined record was 44-7-3. This record was outstanding considering that sometimes they has as many as three games in one week. That doesn't leave much time for preparation and recuperation.
In 1922, the year it all began, Lincolnton had a late start by not getting organized until late September. This small fact did not hamper spirits any as Lincolnton won six, tied one, and lost only one game during the remainder of the season. Lincolnton High School had close games like Washington-Wilkes (7-7) and not so close games like McCormick (52-6), but still everyone enjoyed the sport enough to start earlier the next year.
This earlier beginning may have been just the edge Lincolnton needed to outscore its opponents in 1923 by 262 (some sources say 279) to 38, boasting an 8-0 record, and winning the Northeast Georgia Championship from Lavonia. The Bearcats beat Due West, SC ,14-7; that may not sound like much now, but Due West had earlier in the season beaten the Clemson Junior Varsity 7-0.
The year 1924 remains somewhat a mystery. One source reported that a game with McCormick at the beginning of the season was stopped because of a disagreement with the officials and that a game with Granite Hill was cancelled. Another source said that Lincolnton won every game it played, but one newspaper reported that Thomson defeated the Bearcats 9-0.
In 1925, "The Lincolnton Machine," as some Sources nicknamed the Bearcats, geared up for an 8-0-1 season, allowing opponents only seven points all year long. Those seven points came on an eighty-yard breakaway run by Bailey Military Academy. After the Gibson-Mercer game in which Lincolnton Won 63-0, the Bearcats challenged any high school team within one hundred miles to a game. Also during this season Lincolnton defeated Lavonia 6-0, a team that from may sources was regarded as one of the best in the state.
In 1926 only twenty-two boys went out for the team. In fact, in the game against Catholic High, Lincolnton only used thirteen players. Although the game with Lavonia injured many Lincolnton players, many were already injured due to the game played earlier with Thomson. In the exciting contest Lincolnton was handed its first loss since 1924. Lincolnton took the kickoff but fumbled on the third play from scrimmage to give Thomson the ball on the Bearcat 21. Three plays later Thomson scored to give them an early lead. After an entire game of tug-of-war Thomson edged Lincolnton 6-0 with the Lincolnton Machine getting as close as the Thomson 10-yardline.
No information could be found about the 1927 football season except for the statement in a 1928 article that stated that Lincolnton would have a football team that year, implying that Lincolnton did not field a team in 1927.
Lincolnton captured the Tenth District Championship in 1928 but lost to Hartwell 6-0 in a battle for the East Georgia title. This year stands out because it is reported that in 1928 Edward "Kink" Penland suggested the name "Red Devils' The twelve members of the team accepted the new nickname because no others were suggested. The name "Red Devils" did not become widely used until the next decade. Also in 1928 Lincolnton made the usual challenge to any team.
With the retiring of Coach Dunaway in 1928, Coach Groves came in 1929 and promptly took over where Mr. "Tutt" left off. One newspaper said that every victory was a shutout, while another source used the name "Red Devils" to describe a strong Lincolnton team.
Just as the l920's were composed of a myriad of names, all of which were synonymous with winning, the 1930's were typified by a myriad of coaches, still all synonymous with winning. Some of the coaches during this period of time were Coach Reese, Coach J. T. Garner, Coach Calloway, Coach Rollins Jones and Coach Thomas Boyd. Their record for the 30's was 38-15-5.
The 1930 season was highlighted by the Granite Hill game. Granite Hill was the Tenth District Agricultural School and was located near Sparta. Research has brought up four different scores for this one game: one participant has said that LHS beat them 97-0, while another one said 99-0; a local paper put the score at 76-0, differing from an Augusta paper score of 75-0. One participant said that Lincolnton has the ball on the Granite Hill ten yard line when time ran out. He said the local boys were trying to break 100 points. If the 76-0 score is taken as the most accurate, then the highest score for a Lincoln County team is 84-0 against Louisville in 1923, Lincolntofl'S second year of football and the high school's third year of existence.
The 1931 Bearcats boasted not only a tie with an unbeaten junior college but also an 18-0 win over Richmond Academy "B" team. In reality Richmond "B" was comparable to a regular high school team. During this period ARC was composed of grades 1-14, or actually a high school plus a junior college. The junior college team was called ARC while the high school team was known as ARC "B".
The 1932 team gave Coach Reese a resounding farewell by boasting a 5-1-0 mark and defeating a strong North Augusta, S. C., team 25-0.
After Coach Reese left, the Red Devils reclaimed the Tenth District Championship in 1933 under the direction of Coach - Principal J. T. Garner.
Seventeen men were out in 1933; according to a local paper, two standouts on the '33 team were backs, Aubrey McGill and Bill Spires. Also in the newspaper it was said that it was "good for one's soul" to see Mitchell Flint tackle in the North Augusta game and to see Ben Hill Ivey back up the line. Ben Hill scored a touchdown in that game while on defense. The paper also said that Sam Roy Wilkes gave a North Augusta player "the hip" and took the ball from him. It must have been quite a ballgame. One of the best compliments they could have received was written by a newspaper that stated, "The team at LHS is a group which plays together and this goes a long way toward making a success of anything."
A 1934 event should make some North Avenue Trade School take notice. This is the fact that during the middle 30's the Red Devils were almost changed into the Yellow Jackets. New uniforms were bought, but the general public did not like the idea of being named the Yellow Jackets, so the name was abandoned.
For a long time the Red Devils played on May Field. This gridiron was located near the present football field, but ran perpendicular to today's Buddy Bufford Field and parallel to Lillian Sims Drive, therefore giving the field a slight but obvious slope.
Although in 1935 Lincolnton under Coach Calloway had a losing record, it was short lived. In 1936 Coach Rollins Jones boasted a 7-2-0 record, while out-distancing his opponents 184-34. Again in 1937, under Coach Jones, Lincolnton finished third in the tenth district.
In 1938 Lincolnton again played for the 10th district title. This time they beat Elberton 24-14 in a thriller of a night game. One interesting note here was that in the last regular season game, Lincolnton was tied with McCormick 0-0 throughout most of the game because the Lincolnton second string was in. This was done to prevent getting any players hurt for the championship. Late in the game the coach sent the first string varsity back in to score, but instead they let McCormick score on them to win 6-0.
The period 1940-1948 were rebuilding years for Lincolnton as they would not see another winning season until Andy Anderson became coach in 1949.
In 1940 the Red Devils battled North Augusta under the lights in North Augusta, losing 31-0. The Yellow Jackets did not score until about a minute was left in the first half, then added twelve points in each of the two remaining quarters.
In 1941, after Lincolnton was blitzed by Hartwell 41-0 at the beginning of the season, every team in the area wanted to play Lincolnton. Lincolnton was later credited with a win over Hartwell because they used an ineligible player. The coach this year was tIie retired athletic director of Georgia State College in Atlanta.
In 1943 Lincolnton did something it had not done in the several years previous. It scored on Washington-Wilkes, and it happened on the very first play of the game with a long pass. The captain this year was soon-to-become-Coach Buddy "Red" Bufford.
In 1944 - 45 turnout was low, probably due to the war. In fact in 1945 only twenty boys came out for football. Tracy Fortson was the coach. For the first part of the 1945 season, Lincolnton was called the "Mountaineers", but the name was soon dropped in place of the more familiar and respected Red Devils.
John R. Hawkins was the Red Devil Head Coach from 1946 to 1948. Lincolnton borrowed some old Thomson equipment while the students supplied the rest. In 1946 the Lincolnton field was located in the area just below the present gym and tennis courts. Games were played in the afternoon.
A hat was passed with donations usually reaching $25. Thomson paid LHS $1,000 in order that both Lincolnton and Thomson games would be played in Thomson.
The year 1947 is particularly important since it marked the beginning of a lighted football field in Lincoln County. Students and townspeople donated time and energy to clear the present field of trees. The original lights were erected at a cost of over $3,000. The public donated $1,000. The local American Legion and VFW borrowed $1,000 from private sources. The Georgia Power Company donated transformers. The first home night game was played on September 12 and netted $1,000 for Lincolnton (By the way, the Devils won 13-12 over Connie Maxwell of Greenwood, S. C.) Also in 1947 Lincolnton played Lavonia which was coached by Doc Ayers, the present B-team Coach at the University of Georgia.
In 1948 under Coach "Shorty" Hawkins, Lincolnton had a 5-5-0 record. During this time Alex Willingham made both All District and All State. The jersies were white with red numbers and the pants were red, while they wore silver helmets.
James (Andy) Anderson, the Red Devil Head Coach in 1949, led Lincolnton to the Region 3-C Championship in the newly-formed Georgia High School Association. For the first time in a while Lincolnton whipped Washington-Wilkes. Also in 1949 Lincolnton fans were treated to something new - bleachers. The Lavonia game was the first one played with new bleachers. Previously spectators had to stand up and enjoy the game. The Monticello game was won because they forfeited due to injuries. Again Alex Willingham made All State. The entire team was composed of less than twenty players; the newspaper called Lincolnton the "Iron Men". This may seem like a miraculous feat for the first year of a new coach but Andy was no stranger to football. He had attended the University Of Georgia and the University of Alabama and was an all-Southern prep star at Bailey Institute in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He also played for Baylor.
In Lincolnton's post season game with Jonesboro, both teams maneuvered for the game to be played in their own backyard. Monetary offers and counter-offers were made by officials of both teams, to which neither would agree. Unable to reach an agreement, under the rules of the high school athletic association, a coin was tossed to decide where the game would be played; Jonesboro won the toss and the game. The Atlanta Constitution called the '49 team superlative. The Atlanta Journal, using what they called "Dixie Terrninolgy," called LHS's brand of football "Stomp Down Good Football."
Eddie Martin coached Lincolnton in 1950 and 1951. The first year LHS finished as Region 2-C runner-up behind a strong Louisville team. The new uniforms were made up of red jersies with silver helmets and pants. Admission both years was 25 cents and 75 cents per game. The average weight per man was 170 pounds. Coach Martin graduated in 1950 and came here that same year. We were picked as one of the "Big Three" in high school football by an Atlanta paper. Another 1950 highlight was a ninety yard touchdown run on the opening play against Washington-Wilkes by "Dancing Dan" Pitts to give us the go-ahead 25-7 win.
The year 1951 may possibly be the most dismal year in Lineolnton High football as the Red Devils were said to have scored only six points all season long. These six came against McCormick, S. C.
The years 1952-53-54 were not much better as Lincolnton ended 1954 with a 0-10-0 record and a thirteen-game losing streak. Only seventeen boys went out for the 1955 team. Enrollment for grades 9-12 was 139 at this time.
On September 23, 1955, an embarassing incident occurred. It was not only embarrassing for the pride and dignity of Lincolnton but also the lack of control and honesty of the officials. On this date Louisville defeated LHS 19-6 at Lincolnton to extend the losing streak to sixteen games. It was reported that during the game several Lincolnton fans started a fight involving the referees which ended with three injured officials, a $500 fine and a one-year probation. The fans were excited by what were apparently bad rulings by the four officials. Coach Surls had pulled his team off the gridion in the third quarter due to a disputed call on a pass play. The attendance for the next home game with Royston was 700 which was considerably higher than usual. Lincolnton went on to win the next three games in a row after the confrontation.
Coach Lewis Surls's record of 7-3-0 was just a minor view of the shape of things to come. This will be expounded on more in the "The Bufford-Bunch Years" Section. Also the year Dennis Bradford was Class C Lineman of the year, as a junior.
All in all, 1922-1956, or "The Early Years", shows how Lincoln County got started, banded together, and got rolling on its way to a magnificient football heritage. III. The Bufford-Bunch Years: 1957-1971