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Winnersville U.S.A.
Geoffrey Norman
October 31, 1988
In high school football, Valdosta (Ga.) High is as good as it gets
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October 31, 1988

Winnersville U.s.a.

In high school football, Valdosta (Ga.) High is as good as it gets

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Bazemore was death on complacency. "Everybody had good players," he says. "It was the teams that worked the hardest and paid attention and didn't let up that won." On Thursdays the Wildcats always ran a no-contact scrimmage, but the players were required to wear full pads. One year Bazemore noticed that some players began coming out on Thursdays without shoulder pads or even helmets. He let it ride for two or three weeks. "Then I put them through a full contact scrimmage," he says. "Everybody wore what they had on when they got to the field. Those who didn't wear their helmets to practice finished with their ears bloody."

No team, no matter how good, ever slipped the leash for very long. Once when the 1961 team won indifferently against an inferior opponent, Bazemore started the next Monday's scrimmage with the second string and told the starters to go over to the bleachers and practice reading their press clippings and signing autographs.

"We thought it was pretty cute at first," says Bill Myddleton, an undersized, overachieving middle guard who went on to Georgia Tech. "We figured it would last an hour, and then he would let us practice. But he kept us there all afternoon. And started the same way the next afternoon. By the end of the second day, there were boys with tears in their eyes. We didn't think he was ever going to let us back."

When he did, those first-stringers practiced—and played—the way Bazemore wanted them to.

There had been winning coaches in Valdosta before Bazemore. (Fact is, there has never been a losing coach at Valdosta.) But then, there were winning coaches at Alabama before Bear Bryant. Like Bryant, Bazemore stayed and stayed, and the legend grew geometrically until, finally, his shadow fell over everyone who came before—and after.

Bazemore's era was what can be thought of simply, in the South, as before. Before the new money, the new prosperity, the new ideas, the new South of today. In Bazemore's time, the South was more southern, and there were few rivals for the affections and passions that a football coach in a small town could claim.

And, of course, it was before integration. That's the greatest before of all. During most of his reign. Bazemore's players were white. But, as his disciples will quickly—and emphatically—point out, he won after integration too. His greatest team ever, by his own account, may have been his last team, an integrated team, the 1971 state and national champions.

Bazemore was only 55 when he retired. He said then that his health made him quit, but he says now that he was just tired of it. He spends his time these days bird hunting and bass fishing. He still runs three miles every other day and works out with weights. He goes to many practices and rarely misses a game, and he is known to everyone around town. He drives a black and yellow pickup, with pawprints on the side, given to him by former players, and he is still "the coach" to two generations of people in Valdosta.

"I cried when he quit, because it meant my son would never play for him," says David Waller, former president and permanent treasurer of the Touchdown Club. "I played for him in the late 1940s, and I still consider it one of the greatest experiences of my life."

Waller is certainly not the only one in Valdosta who cried when Bazemore quit. Most people in town considered him irreplaceable. The first man to try had a 17-3 record in his first two years but could not advance to the regionals and resigned under pressure. The next candidate, whom Bazemore helped recruit, went 3-7 in his first year after he threw 12 letter men off the team for disciplinary reasons. But that was Nick Hyder's last losing season. Since taking over the Wildcats in 1974, his record is 162-25-1. His winning percentage is actually better than Bazemore's.

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