Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, March 31, 2017, 9:30 a.m.
I know Laurens County fairly well, having lived here almost all my life. The first banquet of the Laurens County Sports Hall of Fame was right down my alley, having put in many a day’s touch-typing on the subject of Laurens County sports.
Of the eight inductees, the only one I had never met was Chrissy Floyd, the Laurens basketball player who performed most of her magic while I was away trying in vain to keep up with cars going around and around. I talked to her on the phone over a month ago. She was gracious. Everyone was gracious. It’s probably hard not to be gracious when home folks realize officially how great one is.
Take a close look at every day, and something unique occurs. On Thursday night, my unique experience was listening to my words being used as narration by another voice. The stories I’d written for the program were used for introductory greetings of each inductee. I’m sure the words sounded better than if I’d said them, but it just felt slightly weird, sitting out in the audience, finding myself tempted to lip-synch. Maybe it was like an actor who can’t carry a tune, having to have his voice replaced in the musical numbers. Maybe this happened to me before, but I can’t remember it.
With one exception, I knew these people.
My mother told me tales of King Dixon, who played for the old Laurens Tigers (now Raiders) when my father was a Clinton Red Devil. Dixon and his mates whipped Clinton five years in a row – yes, he played in the eighth grade – and my father never talked much about it. Sixty years ago, and a man who starred in football and life still attaches great significance to never losing to Clinton. This, of course, led a couple of Clinton’s finest to allow as how, son of a gun, they never lost to Laurens.
Chick Galloway died when I was 11. Cally Gault, another PC man – male graduates of Presbyterian College are prone to espouse that synonym of virtue, “the PC man” – recalled Galloway, hitting him grounders while Gault was playing baseball at PC.
That was in 1948.
What I remember of Galloway is that he was a stately man, who commonly wore bowties and who shook my little hand while my father told me he had been “one of the best shortstops there ever was.” Galloway’s big-league career ended prematurely in 1928, when, standing near the cage, a wild pitch in batting practice hit him in the head, ending his career.
Coach Gault almost spans my life. He moved back here when I was five. Occasionally, I was a ball boy but mostly I watched the Blue Hose play from the area behind the wooden stands in the Johnson Field end zone where kids were allowed to wad up paper cups and pretend they were footballs. It’s funny. When I was 10, he was “Cally.” I can see him now, stalking the sidelines, wearing a blue pullover with “PRESBYTERIAN” in embroidered garnet, similar to what Ara Parseghian wore on Notre Dame sidelines at the time, giving the zebras a hard time. Cally coached the Blue Hose, but he was a bulldog.
When I first met Kevin Long, he was working for my dad. I was in the ninth grade when Kevin was a senior, and long before the television show, Clinton High School had SNL: (Robert) Scott, (Charles) Norman and (Kevin Long). In Clinton, they might as well be Tinker to Evers to Chance.
J.D. Fuller starred at noseguard for two Red Devil state champions, and my brother Brack was his teammate on one of them. Like Long, Fuller starred for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Noseguards have roared out of Clinton like BMWs out of Greer, but Fuller was the first one chosen as a county hall of famer. Cross Hill is a small place, but the people there ought to hire J.D. as goodwill ambassador.
Three Red Devils: Long, Fuller and their coach (and mine), Keith Richardson. Two Raiders and a Tiger from Laurens: Barry Atkinson, Dixon and Floyd. Three Gamecocks: Long, Fuller and Dixon. One (Clemson) Tiger: Floyd. Three Blue Hose: Galloway, Gault and Richardson. One woman: Floyd. Five played and coached football: Dixon, Gault, Fuller, Long and Richardson. One baseball player: Galloway. One basketball player: Floyd. One who treated them all: Atkinson.
“Coach” Atkinson mainly fixes. He’s been the Laurens District High School athletic trainer since the budget mainly consisted of ice, tape and “atomic balm.” If there were a Mount Rushmore for memory, Barry would be on it. He can recite most of the Gospel According to Yogi Berra and sprinkle it with a one-liner from General Douglas MacArthur, all while assessing the range of motion in a bum left ankle.
At the end, by virtue of the alphabet, was Richardson, whose high school coaching prowess is as legendary in Clinton as Vince Lombardi’s in Green Bay. Hardly anyone who played for him ever calls him Keith, least of all I. In my many travels, I called Earnhardt Dale, Gant Harry (pronounced “hurry”), Waltrip D.W. and Tony Stewart things that I deign not to disclose here. I once called Bob Knight “Bobby” and actually survived.
Richardson? He’s “Coach.” He wouldn’t mind it if I called him Keith, but I probably wouldn’t be able to go to sleep that night.
“How you doing?” ask at least three quarters of all the people one encounters. Most reply “fine.” A few say, “It’s all good.”
That’s what the banquet was: all good. No one felt slighted. No one thought anyone went on too long. Most of the jokes got laughs and all of them chuckles. John Avery mastered the ceremonies. The slides flashing across the screen behind the honorees were nostalgic and compelling.
I’m not a big banquet fan. I dreaded dress shoes and didn’t wear a tie. I wore a sweater to hide the wrinkles in my shirt.
I didn’t want to leave when this one was over, though. Here’s what I wrote last night before bedtime.
Ever since I started writing fiction, fans have asked me to write a novel about stock car racing. I kept it a secret while I was working on it. Now it’s out. Lightning in a Bottle is the story of the next big thing, 18-year-old Barrie Jarman..
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced. Lightning in a Bottle will be in stock shortly.
If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.
Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).