Tidbits -December 12 2019

TIDBITS by RALPH SHEALY



DREAM GAME III

  The Saluda Tigers are state champions! Let that sink in.
  Of course, there are five state champions in the state each year, but few have ever achieved what the Tigers have done.
  To begin with, the Tigers were a third seed, which meant to reach the ultimate goal, they would have to achieve success on the road.
  After taking care of another third seed, Blacksburg at home, the Tigers made the long trip to Lancaster to meet the region champion Buford. In a steady rain, they won 55-22.
  Then came an unbelievable challenge.
  In order to win the state championship, the Tigers had to beat 2A’s third ranked Southside Christian (11-1), top ranked Abbeville (12-0), and second ranked Barnwell (14-0).
  The Tigers did it, scoring 56, 32 and 39 games in those respective games.
  Improbable, impossible, insurmountable, they did it, and they weren’t intimidated one bit.
  Friday night, Coach Stewart Young’s team lofted a state championship football trophy, something the display case at school hasn’t seen since 1963.
  That fact drew a lot of play in the press. From the 1920s to the mid 1960s, Saluda was dominant in football.
  Back then, however, only the conference champion could go to the playoffs. There were a lot of 9-1 and 9-2, second place finishing Saluda teams that went nowhere. Had more than one team be allowed, there might be more state title trophies.
  As I have mentioned many times, I was 11 and 12 when Saluda won the titles in 1962 and 1963.
  I was thinking about that Sunday morning at church. We had three members of the state championship team at Emory, Fulton Winn and Jacob and Jonah McCary.
  In 1963, Larry Thompson was our only title team member. Back then, Emory didn’t even have a social hall! We had preaching two Sundays a month on the Butler Circuit. Technology? We only had telephone service in our rural community for six years, and some people still didn’t have a TV.
  We didn’t know what we didn’t have, but what we did have was a state championship football team, a group of young men who pulled a community together.
  For the past five years, the Saluda Tigers have been a source of pride for this county.
  Stewart Young’s first team went 2-8. Close observers knew if the Tigers had a kicking game, they could have gone 5-5.
  The next year, the Tigers won 10 games, the most since 1973, and played for the Upperstate Championship for the first time since 1973, as well.
  The next two seasons, Saluda won 12 games each year and returned to the Upperstate. All three of those trips ended with a loss at Abbeville.
  Last year, Saluda made it to the third round of the playoffs, but “only “ won right games.
  That’s have you know your team has arrived when you say they “only” won eight games.
 Then came 2019. I don’t think “state championship” was in the vernacular of any Tigers fan at the beginning of the year.
  Oh, we had a fine quarterback in Noah Bell back, but not many more skilled people.
  Dallan Wright was the leading returning receiver, with 27 catches. Keenan Brooks, the second leading returning receiver, broke his foot in a scrimmage and missed the first nine games of the season. Zaye Bryant caught 15 passes in 2018, and Jervon Whitt caught two passes for seven yards.
  The starting running back, Montrevious Baker, gained only 92 yards last season.
  The leading scorer in 2018 was Francisco Yepez, the kicker. He was also the punter, and he, too, graduated.
  So, you had a team with a good quarterback, few skilled returnees, and no kicker.
  How could that team be expected in win a state championship????
  I don’t know, but they did it!
  So, if you think the Tigers will not be competitive next season, because of 19 excellent seniors graduating, you might want to think back to what they had to start this year.
  My, how a bunch of teenagers have brought this community together like those teams from the past.
  The crowd at Charlie Johnson Stadium was unbelievable, as was the traffic (I’ll get back to this later).
  The estimated attendance for the 2A state championship was 10,000.
  Reading Twitter, I discovered this was rare and most of those in the media who cover the games were astounded.
  On the way home, the Tigers was surprised by a fireworks reception at the Traffic Circle.
  The video of this has “broken the net.” Many of the biggest media outlets in the state have shared this. It was unbelievable.
 Hundreds of fans were on hand when the bus pulled into the school.
  Friday, December 6, will be a day fans of Saluda Tigers will remember for the rest of their lives.
  I was 12-years-old the last time Saluda won the football state championship.
  I remember sitting in the stands at the Presbyterian College Stadium. I remember the game being tied at 6-6 at the end of regulation.
  I remember seeing Rodger Thompson break a 48-yard run to win the game in overtime, and I remember I was so cold I didn’t care who won. My teeth were chattering like castanets, and even that is a memory that has lasted all those years.
  The state championship game Friday brought proud alumni from all over the state to Columbia.
  Dr. Ray Hesse, quarterback of the 62 and 63 teams wore his jersey and letterman’s jacket. Tom Blease, Class A Back of the Year in 1962, wore his jacket and his number 19 jersey, which is also the number of his great-nephew Cade Gentry, a member of the 2019 champs.
  Vann Gunter wore his red state championship jacket from 1963. When I posted the picture and people started asking why Saluda had a red jacket, he had to explain Coach Mooney Player liked bright colors.
  My cousin Bobby Thompson and Marshall Johnson wore their jackets from the 11-1 1973 team.
  My classmate Frieda Calk Price and her husband Dave came from Fort Mill. With them was Frieda’s sister Barbara, who was head cheerleader for the 1962 state champs. She had been in NYC Wednesday for the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center.
  It was a homecoming, that those good old state championship days, which are now current. We are longer a champions from 1963. We are the CURRENT 2A State Champions!!!!
  I really never thought I’d see this day again, and it’s not a dream.

TRAFFIC

  Wayne Grice, Danny Bledsoe and I thought leaving at 2 p.m. would give us plenty of time to get to a 5 p.m. game in Columbia.
  We ate at the Zaxby’s at Publix outside of Lexington, and left there around 3.
  Wayne didn’t think the traffic would be too bad staying on 378 through Lexington. He was wrong. It was bumper to bumper until the hospital.
  We then made pretty good time until we got the line that wouldn’t move near Providence Hospital.
  We could look down the road and saw one guy in a yellow vest directing the traffic. Clearly, the stadium was not prepared for the crowd, and the guy directing traffic had no idea what he was doing. There was no pattern to the madness.
  After being immobile for 15 minutes, Wayne advised Danny and me to get out of the truck and start walking.
  I might add, I paid $10 for a parking pass that was supposed to make things quicker.
  When we got to the stadium we saw a line about 1000 feet long. Danny got in the line, and walked ahead, because I was supposed to go to Gate 5 to show my press pass.
  Some good Saluda friends let me go ahead to look for Gate 5. I asked the guy taking tickets where I could find Gate 5. He said this WAS Gate 1-5. I showed him my press badge and he let me go in.
  I climbed to the upper portion,  and found a seat on the 40-yard-line. Danny made it in time for kickoff.
  Wayne finally goT to the game with Saluda leading 20-0. Others got there at halftime.
  Wayne said I wasted my $10 on the parking pass. He said when he finally got into the parking lot, he found his own spot near the woods for free.
  Amy Scotty Boozer, a Saluda native who works for the High School League, told me in a message to get their early because parking was a problem.
  I thought she meant there was little parking.
  The next time Saluda plays for the championship, we’re leaving that morning!

ZAXBY’S

   Last year, on three away games we ate at Zaxby’s before the game and Saluda won all three games.
  This year, we ate a Zaxby’s in Newberry before the Mid-Carolina game and Saluda won. Of course, I posted this on social media.
  When Saluda played at Southside Christian, we ate at the Green Tomato Buffet, and when the Tigers lost, I got blamed.
  A few weeks later, we ate at the Dixie Drive-in in Greenwood before the Abbeville game, and, again Saluda lost, and I got blamed again.
  When we began the playoffs, people were encouraging us to eat at Zaxby’s every game.
  So, I ordered a fried cob salad in Lancaster before the Buford game. Saluda won.
  The next week, the Green Tomato in Greenville gave way to Zaxby’s. I ordered the same salad, and we won.
  The next week, we ate at the Zaxby’s in Greenwood before the Abbeville game. I ordered the cob. We beat the number one team in the state.
  Friday, we stopped at the Zaxby’s at Publix. We ordered in the same order, I got my fried cob salad with extra thousand island dressing. We sat in the same general vicinity of where we also sat.
  Robert Gillian arrived as the same time we did, but he was afraid to sit with us, fearing it would jinx the magic.
  Saluda won the State Championship, and the Tigers are 8-0 when we eat at Zaxby’s.
  I am glad the season is over because I am sick of eating the cob salad!