Beckham | It’s Winnersville, It’s Big

| October 31, 2014

Lowndes game

Chris Beckham, Valdosta Today Sports Columnist:

Friday night at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium, a large segment of the community’s attention will be focused on the Winnersville Classic. But for some, it may have more meaning than others.

It’s a big game for Valdosta senior quarterback Cole Massingill, who lost his chance to play in this game as a junior due to a knee injury. No one on the team knows the intense, often unrealistic, pressure of being the signal caller for the legendary Wildcats more than the lanky, dark-haired kid who was nearly ordained for this moment since his days of youth football when he towered a head or two over most of his teammates. Most of the pressure comes from the face he sees in the mirror each morning. Tonight will be another chance to live up to his own ambitions.

It’s a big game for Lowndes assistant coach Bill Cribb, the only Viking alum on the Lowndes coaching staff. He starred in this game as a linebacker during the magical 1980 state championship run. A loss to Valdosta in the Classic was the only blemish on that 14-1 season, a loss avenged later in the playoffs. He can tell the current crop of Vikings first-hand what it means to beat the boys from across town. That authority comes with experience. After his stellar playing career, he came back to coach his alma mater in 1985 and has never coached anywhere else, meaning he has more Classics under his belt on the field or sideline than anyone else in the history of the rivalry.

It’s a big game for Josh Norwood, the talented cornerback who will don the black and gold for the last time. It won’t be Josh’s last game as he is being recruited by college football powerhouses from across the country. His future will probably include playing in front of tens of thousands of fans, in front of millions on television, at the most elite level in the country. Tonight at the Baze, that means nothing. It’s his job to lead the vaunted Valdosta defense in a game he’ll likely remember longer than the future “big games” that he will find himself in soon.

It’s a big game for Marty Rodgers. As much as anyone, the likeable Rodgers is steeped in the Viking tradition. He lettered in football and baseball at Lowndes and has remained an active alum as a board member for the Lowndes Education Improvement Foundation. His mother was the principal at the high school and he is named for the Viking stadium’s namesake, the legendary Sonny Martin. Tonight, he will once again roam the sidelines as a reporter with the Viking Voice broadcast crew, relaying what he hears and sees to listeners throughout South Georgia. Listeners are always interested, but on this night especially, they cling to every morsel of information. His love of the game and his school keep him coming back every Friday night, pulling for the Vikings to find a way to get it done on this night if no other.

It’s a big night for Jaay Wade. As a senior for the Marchin’ Cats, this will be last time she plays at a Winnersville Classic. And if her team does not prevail, it could be the last time she plays at her historic home field. The many different sights and sounds on a football Friday night fit together perfectly for fans who park along Williams Street and Ann Street and Iola Drive and at Valdosta State’s University Center parking lot, where their grandparents may have parked in front of the old Woolworth’s to see Baze’s Cats play decades ago. When they start their pilgrimage to the old stadium, they will first hear the sound of Jaay and the rest of the Marchin’ Cats before they reach their seat for the next few hours. They pray that they will be able to celebrate later in the night that they are “so glad they went to VHS …”

It’s a big night for Corveon White. College recruiters may not know much about the Lowndes senior but opposing coaches know him all too well. They wring their hands watching film, trying to scheme how they will move the ball against the defensive tackle who just makes play after play after play. His 5’10” frame may worry “experts” at the next level but they can’t deny what he does on the field. With so many eyes watching, he has one more chance against the guys from across town to show that he can play with anybody, especially against the winningest program in the whole country. He’s playing for tonight and tomorrow and his high-octane motor goes into overdrive when he sees the black and gold across the way.

It’s a big game for Monty Long, the voice of the Wildcats who 12 hours earlier was preparing his tailgate site. Long is the unofficial voice of the team, detailing the Cats’ exploits over local radio and television at every opportunity. He relishes Friday nights and treasures the atmosphere surrounding the home field. The hair on the back of his neck still stands up when those helmets bang against the tin as the players leave the dressing room for the field, signaling the warrior’s arrival. Long is also in game mode. He has been asked hundreds of times over the last week, “How are we looking?” and he is religiously positive. Through his words, his passion and his emotion, he will try to will his Cats to win.

It’s a big game for Ryan Hobbs, a senior receiver for the Vikings which is something akin to being a modern-day Maytag repairman. Like any of the thousands of players who have strapped on pads for either team, Hobbs was pumped last year about being a part of THE game. But he was robbed of that chance only two days prior to kickoff when he blew out his knee. With the unspeakable frustration, major surgery, and long rehabilitation a not-so-distant memory, Hobbs has a second chance. The kid with the quick smile may or may not get a chance to change the game. But he is at peace knowing if his Vikings walk off the enemy turf victorious, the grueling hours he spent getting back will have been worth it.

It’s a big game for a community, those in Hahira and Hudson Dockett, those in Stone Creek and Wood Valley, those who were held as a baby in the stands and transplants who acquired a taste for the rivalry and swear they love it just as much. The spirit is infectious. The tension is thick. The air is electric.

It’s Friday night. It’s football. It’s Winnersville.

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3 Comments on "Beckham | It’s Winnersville, It’s Big"

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  1. Mike McLeod says:

    Excellent piece!

    Sums it up perfectly.

  2. LHS Alum says:

    Great article Chris. As one of those who were held as a baby in the stands nearly 40 years ago I think this article captured the feel and magic and meaning of this game better than perhaps anything else I’ve read or heard. Great job.

  3. Wise Old Viking says:

    In 1987, my wife and I went to “the game” in the Concrete Palace, even though earlier that day she was told that she was in labor! When we parked I had to, with the sheriff’s deputies help, make sure we could get out of the stadium in a hurry. A path was made for our car so that we could leave at a moments notice. Luckily we made it through the game that my daughter attended about 36 hours before she was born!
    She grew up in the Lowndes school system, as did her mother and I. All three of us were Georgia Bridgemen. We started buying Vladosta season tickets along with our Lowndes season tickets so we could watch the band on the home side while she was performing with the Bridgemen. We still have the Valdosta season tickets, but now it’s so we are sure to have tickets every year!
    We’ve only missed 3 games in the past 35 years, including away and playoff games! Tonight we will be in our Lowndes garb on the Valdosta side of the field. We always have a ball up there with the Valdosta fans. We are respectful to them and they are respectful to us. We always leave with new friends at the end of the game.
    Good luck to both teams, bands and all the other fans in the community. This is truly an awesome rivalry, unlike any others!