Sports Talk is written by Coach Earl Lewis
Since Veteran’s Day is just around the corner, let’s take a look at some Sylacauga products with military ties.
My only personal connection with the military was one year of ROTC in college, but my father, my father in law, and many other cousins, uncles, etc., served our county. That resulted in my high regard for anyone who has served honorably in the military. The following stories involve some men whom I greatly admire.
Perhaps the two most famous Sylacaugans who served, both of whom were SHS Aggie football stars, were Charlie Compton and Bill Nichols.
They were both in the army in combat in Europe during World War II. Compton played college football at Alabama, and Nichols played at Auburn where he was a team captain. Compton received numerous decorations for his heroics including the Distinguished Service Cross which is our nation’s second highest award. He was nominated for the Congressional Medal of Honor. In later life, he was a missionary in South America. Nichols was seriously wounded in a major battle in Europe. He later worked at Parker Fertilizer and was an extremely popular member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
A little-known fact is that three SHS graduates have attained the rank of General in our armed forces. The entire community should be proud of US Army Lieutenant General James Wendell Crysel, US Air Force Brigadier General Robert (Bob) Holmes, and Alabama National Guard Brigadier General Michael Mitchell.
Crysel is a 1955 graduate of Sylacauga High where he was the starting right tackle on the 1953 and 1954 Aggie football teams that won 19 out 20 games. He is a graduate of Stetson University where he played football and received a commission upon graduation. He served in Viet Nam and held numerous high- level command positions while in the army from 1959 until his retirement in 1992. He was promoted to Major General in 1986 and to Lieutenant General in 1990.
Holmes is a 1965 graduate of SHS and received his commission through OTS. He joined the Air Force in 1978 and retired in 2009. He too served in several command positions and was promoted to Brigadier General later in his career. At Sylacauga High he was involved in many campus activities but never actually played on the school athletic teams. However, he did participate in summer tennis programs and won awards in the City-Wide Tennis Tournaments. He was also a lifeguard and swimming instructor at the old Municipal Pool.
Mitchell graduated at SHS in 1985 and was a running back on the 1982, ’83, and ’84 Aggie football teams. He is a long-time member of the Alabama Army National Guard and has held several command positions one of which was during his tour in Afghanistan. He was promoted to Brigadier General in 2016 and now serves as an Assistant Adjutant General in the Guard.
I haven’t researched it, but I feel sure that Sylacauga High is one of a small and exclusive group of high schools to have produced three Generals from its alumni ranks a 28 year period.
A JUNIOR HIGH FOOTBALL FIASCO FROM LONG AGO
Versions of this story have been told for years, but I want to tell you the facts, because I was part of it. When we were in the eighth grade (grades 7 – 12 were all at Sylacauga High at that time) there were three coaches on the SHS staff: head coach Bill Harris, and assistant coaches Paul Adams and Robert Tribble. Harris and Adams coached varsity football and Tribble coached the junior high. The junior high team consisted almost entirely of ninth graders. After that year, both Coach Adams and Coach Tribble left; and Coach Paul Foote was hired as the varsity line coach. There was no one to coach the 9th grade team. Coach Harris, being the salesman that he was, persuaded Mr. Bill Coleman, a math teacher with no football background, to coach the 9th grade team with the help of Bones Stevenson, a former player who wasn’t eligible to play that year.
By his own admission as he laughed about in later years, Mr. Coleman was totally out of his environment; and we were not very well organized or very well coached. We only played three games and lost them all.
Now the meat of the story.
We were playing Lineville here in Sylacauga. I usually was the right guard, and Billy Pate was the left guard, but as 4th down came up, Pate was out of the game. You would really have had to have known Billy Pate to appreciate the rest of this. Mr. Coleman sent him in to tell us to punt, and that’s when the fiasco started. When Pate approached the huddle he started yelling, “somebody go out, I’m gonna punt.”
We all just looked at each other because Pate had never punted. Finally, Cayce Rumsey, our quarterback who was probably supposed to punt, headed to the sidelines; and Pate lined up to punt. The rest of us were confused and tickled to death as well, and our center, Mike Mizzell, who was usually deadly accurate, snapped the ball over Pate’s head. We all started running after the ball, and every time Pate got near it, he would kick it further down the field.
Finally, somebody covered the loose ball, and the officials threw a flag. Pate argued with the referee and got penalized. I don’t remember what happened in the remainder of the game, but I do know that Coach Harris took up our uniforms about week later and gave us two choices – either come out and practice with the varsity or go home and give football another try during spring training.
And yes, in case you are wondering, the Mr. Coleman that was our football coach was the same fine gentleman that was later an extremely successful State Farm Insurance Agent here in Sylacauga. We actually were at least partially responsible for his successful career, because our 9th grade football fiasco probably inspired him to change professions.
A LITTLE NOSTALGIA FROM B.B. COMER
In a recent conversation with David Culberson, I heard an interesting tale about the B.B. Comer – Jacksonville game of 1959. It seems that Comer received the opening kick-off with plans to run a reverse with Earl Hatchett and Jack Bennett crossing paths. On the attempted the handoff they dropped the ball and a Jacksonville player picked it up and ran it in for a TD. They missed the PAT but led 6-0 with only seconds off the clock. Comer received the ensuing kickoff and returned it to somewhere around the 20 yard line. On first down, Dale Layton hit Jack Bennett with a TD pass of some 70 yards. The Tigers converted and led 7-6 still with seconds gone from the game clock.
Jacksonville received the kick off, and on their first offensive play of the game, Rodney Aderholt intercepted a pitch out and ran it back to the Jax one yard line. Gary Maddox scored on Comer’s first play, and the Tigers converted to make it 14-6. Now, three touchdowns had been scored, but neither team had made a first down, and less than one minute of time has elapsed.
This unique beginning evolved into a runaway by the Tigers 44-12. Other than Culberson and the other afore mentioned Tigers, some Comer players were Panhandle Bates, Ned Pierce, Doyle McCain, Jerry Holmes, and Rusty Wesson.
TWO RECENT DEATHS FROM AGGIE AND TIGER FAMILIES
Proper tribute will come later to ex-Aggie Melvin Parker and ex-Tiger Dale Layton. Parker was an SHS lineman in the early 1950’s and Layton who was one of Comer’s all-time favorites played in the late 50’s and early 60’s.