Misty, Water-Colored Memories of the Way We Were

(Monte Dutton photos)

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.

By Monte Dutton

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.

King Dixon

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’s granddaughter represented him.

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.

Cally Gault

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.

Kevin Long

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

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.

Chrissy Floyd

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.

Barry Atkinson at what he does best.

“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.

Keith Richardson

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.”

John Avery

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..

(Steven Novak cover design)

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.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

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.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

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.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

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.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

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).

A Legend Comes Back Home

WIN_20150426_094050

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, April 26, 2015, 8:33 a.m.

In the chill of a November night in 1972, Ed Richardson, whose son coached the Clinton High School Red Devils, slapped Jimmy Dutton, whose son was keeping the scoreboard, across the back and yelled, well, this is a slightly cleaned-up equivalent, “He jumped him! He jumped him!”

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

It was the year of Clinton’s second state championship. The first had occurred in 1939. The Red Devils would win three more that decade. The kid sitting next to the man in a striped shirt, on a homemade, red-slathered stand behind the home bench, was in the ninth grade. He would be a member of another state championship team in 1975, and his younger brother would be a more valuable part of the title that occurred in 1978.

In a way, it was sort of typical of all that has happened since. I was keeping up with down and distance on the most glorious moment in the history of my hometown.

The game was at the old, old Wilder Stadium. Now Clinton plays in the merely old Wilder Stadium. The rickety stands of 1972 became the visitors’ side in 1975, and a concrete high-rise rose on the other.

It was sort of like Darlington Raceway.

WIN_20150426_094033On fourth down and two at the Pickens 20, fullback Kevin Long ran the ball to the left side, and, a little past the line of scrimmage, a Blue Flames standout stepped up to make the play, and what happened next remains the stuff of legend. Poor kid never touched him. Kevin hurdled him. I’m sure it wasn’t as spectacular as it now seems. Evel Knievel’s motorcyle never leaped schoolbuses that seemed that fantastic.

Kevin turned 60 on January 20. He still looks powerful, but it is belied by oxygen tubes he needs to breathe properly. He suffers from sarcoidosis, which my iPhone tells me is “the growth of tiny collections of inflammatory cells in different parts of the body.”

Late Saturday afternoon, I showed up at the First Baptist Church’s gym – of course, it’s officially the Family Life Center – along with about 200 others to honor Kevin, still the only Red Devil who played in the National Football League, and largely by virtue of a single, magical moment 43 years ago, the greatest legend.

Kevin became the first 1,000 yard rusher in the football history of the University of South Carolina in 1975. A teammate, Clarence Williams, also reached the milestone later in the same year. Kevin played five years with the New York Jets and Chicago Bears and was the Jets’ leading rusher in 1978. He twice gained over 1,000 yards for the Chicago Blitz of the United States Football League and also played for the Arizona Wranglers that the Blitz became. He played under Paul Dietzel, Jim Carlen, Walt Michaels, Mike Ditka, George Allen, and Frank Kush.

Monte Dutton’s “Go Big Red”

Recorded at Grandpa Eddie’s Alabama Ribs & BBQ, 11129 Three Chopt Road, Richmond, Va., on 9/10/09.

 

I just mingled, mostly with men who were infinitely greater athletes back in the day. Robert Scott, the state’s lineman of the year in 1972, looked great. So did Mike Clark and Marc McClain, and my old teammate, C.W. Wilson, and J.D. Fuller, who followed Kevin to stardom at USC.

Robert remembered that the backfield starters of 1972 likened themselves to the Miami Dolphins of that age. Kevin was Larry Csonka. Mike was Mercury Morris, and Jimmy Brock was Jim Kiick. That made Barry Saunders, who scored the two-point conversion that beat Pickens, 8-7, Bob Griese.

In the mind’s eye, that seems reasonable. Let me paraphrase another hero of mine, Tom T. Hall:

Was that only yesterday or [40] years ago? / Don’t forget the coffee, Billy Joe.

This wonderful affair, which raised money for sarcoidosis research, honored Kevin and men who supported the heroes of 1972. One ran a barbershop. Another ran a community center and sponsored a baseball team, the Midway Reds. Another is a “community activist” who remains one of the Red Devils’ more boisterous and loyal fans.

Here’s what I found myself thinking during the whole program. This was the week NASCAR broadcaster Steve Byrnes died of cancer. All week I had been mourning Steve’s loss, and the overriding sadness came from how rare it is that people live to discover what others really think of them. The tributes usually fall posthumously, and I thought it was wonderful that Kevin, beloved by my late father and a hero of mine, got to hear all the heartfelt words reflecting how much his hometown loved him.

I gave him a transcript of an interview conducted 30 years ago. It was during the research for my first book, Pride of Clinton, a history of football in my hometown high school. The book spanned 1920 to 1985, and I have a bound notebook full of that research, only a portion of which made it into the book.

This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium for about three decades. (Monte Dutton photo)
This has been on the wall of Wilder Stadium for about three decades. (Monte Dutton photo)

Keith Richardson, the coach who led Clinton to six of its eight state titles, said that Kevin Long’s true greatness was as a man, not a football player, and the fact that he made something of himself, by graduating from USC and raising a fine family and being active in his church, was the example that today’s kids should emulate.

King Dixon, the 1950s’ athletic icon of the county who went from Laurens to USC and then the Marine Corps, was there, as were representatives of the Gamecock athletic department and New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Columbia, where Kevin has lived for 30 years.

The 1972 Clinton High football team changed the whole town. It eased integration. It created the enthusiasm that led to the renovation of the football stadium, which needs updating again now. I think of that team as the school’s greatest, but that is in part because, as a ninth grader, I occasionally had to scrimmage against it, and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to compete at that level. But people mature and step up, and during those wondrous decades, Clinton High School’s football team was a smooth-running engine with reliable replacement parts.

Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)
Wilder Stadium. (Monte Dutton photo)

I think of 1972 as modern, but I realized, looking at the passel of kids in the audience, some whom represented the current Red Devils, that it’s not very modern to them. Kevin Long, to a wide-eyed 17-year-old, might as well be Red Grange or Jim Thorpe compared to my perspective way back then.

They think they know. They don’t. But they might learn.

The 1972 Clinton High Red Devils also inspired my novel, The Intangibles. A little of it is based on true incidents, but most of it is made up. I wrote a song, “Go Big Red,” that waited nearly 30 years for me to learn how to play guitar. The song mentions Kevin Long.

Precious memories linger / They still come back to my mind / Of Kevin Long off tackle / Charlie Norman in his prime / Kevin played pro ball / Charlie passed away / But he’ll never die to those who saw him play / Lord, Lord / He’ll never die to those who saw him play.

Most of my books – all but Pride of Clinton, which is out of print – are available here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1