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Before the inaugural Alumni Bowl is played Saturday at Washington County High School, a dinner at Mordecai’s Restaurant will be held Friday night to kick off the 2013 football season. While the guest speakers at the dinner will be former coaches, even those former Commander leaders will tell you the gridiron history is all about the players.
“It is always fun to get to see guys come back to find out what has been going on in their lives since leaving high school,” said former coach Jimmie Reed, who coached the Commanders for 17 years (1978-1994). “We had some really good kids and were always competitive.”
Many of those “kids” will no doubt be in attendance at Friday’s dinner. While they may not take the podium, there will surely be many stories circulating when the former players relive their high school careers.
Certainly many of those stories will focus on the banner years of Washington County football, which were 1978-1981. During those four seasons the Commanders compiled a winning percentage of 74 percent, with a 35-12 record. Many of players from that team still reside locally and offered some memories.
“Some of the closest friends to this day are guys from those football teams,” said Bill Robinson, a graduate of 1982 who is now the city attorney in Springfield. “Guys like Johnny Wimsatt, Glenn Goatley, Johnny Isaacs and Steve Wheatley all still live here, which gives us a chance to reminisce about those years.”
Much of that reminiscing deals with the big games from that era.
Robinson recalls, “I remember playing Fleming County (a 14-0 victory in the Class AA playoffs in 1979), and Jeff Smith had carried the ball about 40 times. Isaacs was quarterback and he asked Jeff in the huddle if he was alright after carrying the ball that many times. Jeff nodded his head and Johnny said, ‘Good, because you are running it again this play.’”
That 1979 team went further in the playoffs than any Commander squad, as they were just one game from the state finals.
Following the win over Fleming County, the Commanders traveled to Ft. Campbell, where they lost 21-0 in the semifinals.
“They (Ft. Campbell) were so fast that we had to snap everything to Jeff (Smith) in the shotgun,” Robinson stated. “Jody Linton, our center, was hurt so I had to move in. I never even looked at where those snaps were going but I imagine Jeff was running all over the field to catch them.”
One word seems to always surface when the alumni reflect on their football playing experience—camaraderie.
“Our coaches worked so hard to make us better and bring us together as a team,” said Steve Wheatley. “We would go to practice for two hours in the morning and two more hours of practice in the evening. We were the only ones who knew how strenuous it was and that brought us closer.”
Robinson added, “Not only did we work hard in practice, but most people would go haul hay or work in tobacco all day between the practices. The camaraderie developed during those years helped us on the field and has kept us as close friends still today.”
And such will be the memories shared Friday during dinner as well as at the Alumni Bowl on Saturday.