This Story via Coach Earl Lewis
If I were to ask you who are reading this, the question, “What Is Buttermilk Hill”, chances are that most of you would probably respond by saying, “it is Sylacauga’s only upscale restaurant”. Then you would probably ask, why is that being included in a sports column?” I could reply in several ways, one being to tell you that the Buttermilk Hill’s owner, Kara McClendon, was a championship caliber fast pitch softball pitcher in her former life. That is true, but I’ll save that story for another time.
So, what is the Buttermilk Hill that I’m referring to? Well to begin explaining, it is a neighborhood in Sylacauga that was a busy middle-class living area for many years in the 1930’s, the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s, and beyond. It is bordered on the west by Main Avenue; on the north by 6th Street; on the south by 3rd Street; and on the east by farmlands and part of Drew Court.
The reason Buttermilk Hill is found here in a sports column has nothing to do with the fact that it is the home of a very nice restaurant. It does have to do with the fact that it was a fertile source of Sylacauga area athletes for many years.
Two old high school friends of mine, Robert Brooks and Billy Tate, both of whom spent many of their formative years on Buttermilk Hill, have been after me for several years to do a story on Buttermilk Hill’s athletes. Frankly, I’ve been a little reluctant to do it because I’ll probably leave some names out. My only sources of information have been my own memory and that of Robert, Billy, and Ray McDiarmid.
A good way to start this story is to mention some of the families that lived in the neighborhood that produced multiple athletes. One of first families that comes to mind is the Collins family and its four brothers – Jimmy, Bubba, Red, and Ray. All were excellent football players, and they all excelled in other sports as well. Jimmy and Bubba played at SHS in the 1940’a while Red and Ray came along in the 50’s. Red quarterbacked the 1953 Aggies to a 9-1 record and played at the college level for Itawamba Junior College and at Mississippi State. He was a long-time high school coach in Mississippi and in Memphis. Ray was the field general for the 1957 Aggies that went 8-0-1. He played at Jones County Junior College (Mississippi) and at Samford. He coached in Florida and at Mountain Brook before joining the business world.
The Stanton family is the next that comes to mind. Mr. Buddy Stanton was a standout at Comer in the 1930’s, and his two sons, Bill and Russ, both starred at Sylacauga. There is a big age difference in the two brothers. Bill graduated from SHS in 1952 and went on to be the starting quarterback at Mississippi State and later was a long-time SEC football official. Russ came along while Bill was in college, and he played fullback on the great 1969 and 1970 Aggie football teams. He had a short career at Mississippi State. The Stanton’s moved from Buttermilk Hill to a house on North Norton across the street from the old SHS gym when Russ was a toddler.
Some other brothers that lived on the very edge of Buttermilk Hill on 3rd street were Randall, Gary, Red, and Ricky Ray. Randall played football for Comer in the mid-50’s, and the other three were Aggies. Gary was an outstanding running back and baseball player who signed with Alabama but had his football career cut short by injuries. He was a physician in Anniston for years. Red was a solid Aggie lineman who played briefly at Jax State. Ricky was an outstanding Aggie tennis player.
Continuing on the family theme, the next that come to mind are the Tate brothers. Tommy was an Aggie running back in the late 1940’s, and Billy (Taterbug) played both football and tennis at SHS in the mid-50’s. Another set of brothers that were active on the gridiron in the 50’s were Marion and Jerry Riggins.
The family athletic traditions from Buttermilk Hill just go on and on, many of which involve fathers, brothers, and cousins. The Temple and Brooks clans fit that category. W.F. Temple and Carey Temple were first generation Aggies. Then along came Billy Frank Temple and cousin, Robert Brooks. Brooks is the main one who inspired this article. He was a three-sport star at SHS in the 50’s and was the starting right guard on the ’53 and ’54 football teams that went 19-1 and collected a State Championship. He was also a long-time high school coach in North Alabama.
Two more widely known Buttermilk Hill bred Aggie athletes from the early 1950’s were Jimmy Coleman and Mickey Garrigus. Coleman was a big guy who starred in three sports at SHS. He went on to play football at Mississippi State where he set a record for passes caught in a single game as a freshman. As an adult he was a Baptist minister. Garrigus was a rugged running back who chose a military career as a Navy Frogman and later in the Army Special Forces instead of college football.
Another pair of brothers who came off the Hill were Buddy and Jackie Taylor. Buddy played at SHS in the mid-40’s and played collegiately at Ole Miss. He was a very successful high school coach at Clayton and at Talladega. After playing in junior high at SHS, Jackie finished his career playing at Clayton for his brother.
Space will not permit detailed information about all of the Buttermilk Hill athletes, but what follows is a list of others (that I know about). Those who played for SHS were Bobby Lott, Ott Campbell, Tip Cannady, Willis Hyde, Bill Bailey, John Whitley, Ronny Jackson, Ronald Watters, Mike Battles, Cracker Waldrop, Charles Lybrand, and Larry Reams. Two who made their marks at Comer were Wallis Patterson and Panhandle Bates. Also, on the roster is championship boxer Jimmy Craven.
Over the years, various neighborhoods such as the Mill Village, Sylavon Court, and Pine Hill have produced large numbers of athletes; but Buttermilk likely was the all-time leader. Things are much different now with the population spread over a much larger geographical area.