Gaffney, South Carolina
Friday, October 17, 1969 was just three months shy
of the end of the first year of the Nixon Administration. But in Gaffney
South Carolina nobody was thinking much about Nixon, Vietnam or even
Woodstock just a couple months before. Gaffney and Spartanburg were both
undefeated and were playing that night at Wofford Stadium in
An intense rivalry, Spartanburg had beaten
Gaffney the year before in steady rain 27-7 for the first time in the
decade after the two team hadn't played for three years. A Gang attacked
a Spartanburg student after a Basketball game in the winter of 65, one
assailant alleged to have brandished and made contact with blows with
brass knuckles. There was always tension, an element of social class
differences and resentment in this meeting.
It was also an
end of an era. Legendary Gaffney Coach Bob Prevatte, and his charismatic
Line Coach Wayne Whiteside were in their last fall on the sidelines for
the mighty Indians. It was the Second year of full integration of
Gaffney High School--just two years before the school sponsored its
annual "Confederates Ball in full regalia for the Lost Cause; the last
year of Mr Seaborn as High School Principal and the final year of
Gaffney's noble School Superintendent J. Paul Beam. It was the end of a
decade though a case could be made the 70s didn't start in Gaffney till
the class of 72.
As Bob Dylan said, The Times They were a Changing.
But,Gaffney was "all in" in one accord against Spartanburg and ready to display mastery on the field.
In Eight years from 1960 through Billy Ray Rice's fall of 1967 Gaffney
had only lost 8 games. They won the state title from 60-65 though
Greenwood disputed the title in 1961, though Gaffney had no losses and
Greenwood had one.
Some reports were the crowd was at ten
thousand but others onsite talked about it being the most packed game
they ever played in. It was likely there were 12,000 there or more. Both
teams were undefeated coming into the 7th game into the season of 69,
though Gaffney was ranked Number one in the State and Spartanburg was
fourth due to a tie in one game. It was billed as the number one
offense in the state (Spartanburg) vs the Number One Defense (Gaffney.).
But Gaffney was to turn every thing on its head except a disputed final
Spartanburg scored on its first possession with the
fortunes of the number one gainer Ray Monroe. Gaffney knocked
Spartanburg QB Sanders out of the game for the entire 2nd quarter and
mounted a 70 yard drive ending in an eleven yard scamper by the Indians
Johnny Dawkins to tie.. During that assault Gaffney QB Parker got the
wind knocked out of him--Robb Sartor remembers going to Parker and in
colorful language, saying get up, We need you; but backup Richard
Spencer came in for four downs.
Gaffney Blocked a punt and was back in business at the Spartanburg 26,
got the 15 where Richard Spencer hit a 33 yard field goal to go up by
three. They threatened again and with 11 seconds to go at the four yard
line Spencer attempted another field goal and missed.
remembers the field goal attempt before the half. He was lined up on a
hash mark, a difficult situation short range and counted just ten men on
the field. He said rather than chance a blocked attempt Sburg coulda
possibly run in the distance of the field right before the half he
missed it on purpose, the only purposeful miss of his career.
As an example of the "integrity" of the contest, here are notes
Fender Brown, then a writer for the Gaffney Ledger sent me: Quoting: Gaffney,
late in 4th quarter, Gafffney deep in Spartanburg territory 4th down
short. Donnie Ray Littlejohn lines up at right end gets clearance from
line judge that he is ok and is not offsides. Ball snapped, first down
made,but flag is thrown by same official for offside. All hell breaks
loose, but Gaffney is penalized 5,yards. Coach Prevatte calls for the
punt team...... End Quote
Spartans QB Sanders came back in the game about the 8 minute mark of
the third period. After a couple exchanges of the ball, Ray Monroe
fumbled on the Spartans 46. Several plays later mostly on the running of
Leonard Blackwell and Johnny Dawkins, Gaffney found themselves on the
goal with a fourth and one. Dawkins scored but it was called back.
Several players say the refs said Donnie Ray Littlejohn lined up in the
backfield, but they also say it was uncharacteristic of him. The ball
was moved back, then QB Danny Parker scored keeping the ball the play
called for him to hand off to Dawkins. It was called back as well. And
somewhere in there a Parker pass into the end zone was broken up.
And then on a play that will live on as one of the biggest misshaps in
Gaffney football lore happened. With a minute thirty-three to go in the
game, Gaffney leading 10-7 Jerome Moore hiked the ball to punter Lynn
Mabrey. The hike went over his head and a Spartanburg player whose name
doesn't deserve to be remembered picked it up and ran it in 30 some odd
yards for a score.
Robb Sartor, who played
both ways in the contest, later became friends with Danny Pearson, the
safety for the Spatans who was back to receive Mabry's punt. Pearson 35
or so yards downfield said he saw the rush, then looked up in the sky
for the ball and kept "waitin on it...waitin on it...waiting on it...
and it never came". Finally he looked back downfield and saw everybody
going the other way.
The report in the next Days's Herald journal called it a "Storybook Ending" for the Spartans.
Trying to resolve what folks saw on the sideline before the long
snap and remembered over the years of Moore's demeanor is like trying
to resolve the differing accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ in
the Synoptic Gospels. Some say he was visibly distraught even muttering
to himself, while others said it was routine for him. But something went
Gaffney's worst side came out as
Fender Brown points out in a few sentences to come. A couple years ago
there was an active discussion on the Gaffneyites facebook wall about
the number of celebrated bars in Cherokee County along 85 and 29 and
various pockets throughout the county. The number came to upwards of 30;
point being there was easily a goodly population of the crestfallen and
misbegotten basking in the dives and denizens where evil combusts who
coulda concocted the ill will. It was well known in the community Moore
and Mabry got death threats, even some saying Moore's family was
had a distinct memory of Moore "Catching pure hell from some
malcontents even that very night". He said the Ledger came to Moore's
defense the next week in a piece on the "kid from Second Avenue."
For sure Mabry and Moore had to be shaken for a while. But both had
the character to move on. Moore was chosen as one of three players from
that squad to be a South Carolina All Star; and Mabry went on to a
celebrated collegiate career in track at College of Charleston.
Gaffney was to come back and play in the state championship
against Sumter--C.A. Wilson and Freddie Solomon --after beating Wade
Hampton. Spartanburg had another regular season loss after so Gaffney
moved on in the playoffs.
Legend and postscripts Part B
In 1992 I became acquainted with a documentarian
that was ten years later on a future project nominated for an Oscar. He
said he learned early on in film school, between legend and fact, go
with the legend.
After 45 years as Jack Nicholson's character said in Ironweed, it's all true.
Though I was in the the Band Stands that night
playing my trombone its been great these last three months communicating
on the phone, facebook and email with players on the field that night
and folks in the stand. One thing everybody remembers is how crowded it
was. Both the trainer Barry Sparks and his best friend in high school
Richard Spencer, had a felleing of being intimidated by the cvrowd that
night when they walked out on the field.
There was one story of a fellow getting knifed about
halftime and being carried out in an ambulance in a bloodsoaked white
shirt. Spencer remembers the police having to part the crowd so the
Indians could get out on the field for pre-game warmups.
Robbie McCraw was a freshman at Clemson that year.
He had a late class, got to the game late but before the opening
kickoff. Had it not been for his Bobby Osment and his folks he would
not have had a seat.
Tommy Jones, my Senior class President, worked late
that afternoon at a gGaffney grocery, got there about2 minutes into the
game and found himslef about three deep along the fence. My Mother's
brother and sister came up from Alabama to see me in the Band.
Apparenly, they got a seat in the stands, got there early enough.
Barty Sides says he remembers being on the top row
on the visitor's side. Could hear the Lonesome Souther Rail cars and
train whistle behind him out in the dark near distance behind the
Wofford campus. said he remembers later that night the annual fall
Limestone Prez Youth retreat at Caesar's head.
Jimmy Phillips who just two years earlier was on
the Gaffney roster, said he clearly remembers about three more
touchdowns than I could ever come up with being called back. The median
score in an honest contest I could come up with from all my respondents
was something like 27 to 7. Conensus Spartanburg only got one honest
Johnny Dawkins said he remebers some kid coming
into the Locker Room before the game, and it not fazing Whiteside or
Prevatte one bit. Nobody knew the kid, but it stood out in Dawk's mind
all these years. Said he thought it was funny with Gaffney's remaininng
90 seconds after the disaster, there were two attempts by Gaffney to
stop the clock but twice Parker threw the ball in the direction of
Donnie Ray, but Donnie Ray jumped up and caught both inbounds.
At one point Robb Sartor and I played a little what
if in regard Tommy Brittain and Ray Lark who left Gaffney before
promising days on the Varsity. I think Lark played some QB at Duke, and
Brittain became all conference in the SoCon at Wofford. But Sartor said
in his mind, his great friend Danny Parker was "predestined" to be the
Quarterback at GHS in those waning days of the 60s.
He summed it up best: "It was the biggest game I ever played in.!"
Jimmy Baker's picture was in the Herald Journal October 18 for the
story, his number 40 in full sight running the ball. Baker who went on
to play at Appalachian State died in the early 2000.
Danny Parker was in the Shrine Bowl his Senior year, as wall Tommy
Brittain who moved away to Beaufort after 8th grade. Parker who his
great friend Robb Sartor said woulda been a starting pitcher for the
Clemson Tigers had an injury in the 9th grade not have have hindered his
foot plant coming off the mound, passed away after Christmas, 2012.
Barty Sides got his doctorate in rhetoric from MIT
Barry Sparks, "Sparkie"; all the drama registered
with him. He is now one of the best lighting and set designers in the
Little Theatre community of Columbia, S.C.
Johnny Dawkins ended up in LA by the early 80's
where among other efforts he wrote early script for Denzel Washington..
In 79 or 80 he had a piece on national network television, an episode
where he named a high school coach Bob Prevatte.
In 1986 Wayne Whiteside brought a group of men from
the brotherhood at my Dad's former church, Bethany in Gaffney, down to
Alabama in the Old Activities Bus of the Gaffney Indians, The "Whoop Em "
bus. They worked on an old farmhouse in the family for 6 days and got
it pretty much up to snuff. I've lived in that house for the last 25
years during and after my folks passed.
Though like all families, Gaffney took a chunk out of
our hide in 16 year stay. But I remain indebted to the Gaffney Indians.
Stephen M. Fox
a graduate of GHS, 71. A freelance writer, his essay on his Pilgrimage
in the Baptist Church will be published by University of Tennessee
Press in January, 2015 in an anthology in the "Exiled" Trilogy, Carl