Coach liked to 'go for it'

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The 1984 state championship contest hung in the balance when Thomson coach Luther Welsh faced a dilemma.

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Former Thomson coach Luther Welsh had three undefeated teams during his 19 years as the school's head coach. He died Thursday at 79.  Michael Holahan/Staff
Michael Holahan/Staff
Former Thomson coach Luther Welsh had three undefeated teams during his 19 years as the school's head coach. He died Thursday at 79.

TEAM PAGE: Thomson Bulldogs

His Bulldogs, holding a slim three-point lead early in the fourth quarter, faced fourth and inches deep in their own territory. Conventional wisdom says punt the ball.

Welsh went for it.

Thomson gained four yards on the play, finished the drive with a touchdown and went on to defeat Marist.

"You don't have to worry about tomorrow," he said after the game. "You're going to win or lose this week, so you might as well go for it."

Coaches, former players and members of the Thomson community remembered Welsh as a hard worker with his own philosophy of winning football. Welsh, who captured the first of three state championships that December 1984 evening, died Thursday morning at University Hospital. He was 79.

Welsh was diagnosed with esophageal cancer soon after coaching his final game eight months ago. He died exactly one week after his wife, Anne, lost her prolonged battle with cancer.

Lincoln County coach Larry Campbell, a close friend of the Welshes, spoke to Anne and Luther on a regular basis, especially in their final years. He said the couple, who would have celebrated their 50th anniversary in September, had a special relationship.

"Luther worshipped two things: Miss Anne and football. They were two fine people," Campbell said. "I have an empty feeling in my stomach right now."

A funeral service for Welsh will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Thomson High School. Burial will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at Mount Zion Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Bishopville, S.C.

Visitation will be from 6 to 9 tonight at Beggs Funeral Home in Thomson.

"He's no longer suffering," said Lee Hutto, who played for Welsh and served as an assistant on the 2002 state championship team. "He's with Miss Anne and the Lord. He's where he wants to be."

Welsh began his coaching career in the midst of the Eisenhower era in 1955 in Warrenton, Ga., just outside of Thomson. He served 46 years as a head coach and another 10 as an assistant at 11 schools, and he never missed a practice despite a list of ailments -- kidney stones, lymphoma, heart surgery and knee replacement. He finished with a 333-181-6 overall record.

Welsh, known for constantly chewing tobacco on the sidelines, found his most success in 19 years at Thomson. In two stints, he guided the Bulldogs to a 183-50-2 record, along with 11 region titles and state championships in 1984, 1985 and 2002. Welsh retired in November after leading the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record and a second-round appearance in the state playoffs.

"Coach was a great mentor," said Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, a member of the 2002 team. "He taught me to not only be a great football player but to be a great young man as well. He was very caring about his players."

Former Thomson principal Bob Smith recommended Welsh to the McDuffie County Board of Education in 1984.

Welsh made Smith look like a genius, going 29-0-1 his first two seasons. Smith said there was much more to Welsh than just football. He would help students with clothes or lunch money, and he also helped adults.

"Even kids who had graduated came back to him with major life decisions and he advised them well," Smith said. "They looked at him as a father figure."

Harlem football coach Jimmie Lewis said Welsh was a hard-nosed coach who possessed a dry sense of humor.

"He could make you laugh," Lewis said.

"He's one of the best coaches I've ever seen. But that's just one small aspect. He's also one of the finest men I've ever met."

After watching Thomson win back-to-back titles with the powerful Wing-T offense, Lewis switched to Thomson's offense in 1986. For three days that summer, Welsh spent his time helping explain the intricacies of the formation to Lewis and his coaching staff.

"If you want to be a winner, you emulate Coach Welsh," Lewis said. "That's because he worked hard."

Thomson vied for another region title last season, but the Bulldogs lost to Burke County. Welsh took the loss in stride. After the game, he shook hands with Bears' coach Eric Parker. Then, Welsh offered a piece of light-hearted advice.

"Coach, you need to keep winning," Welsh said. "If not, they'll talk about you."

Morris News Service's Garth Snow contributed to this article.

GALLERY: LUTHER WELSH THROUGH THE YEARS

Click on images for more photos

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Jane18
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Jane18 07/14/11 - 10:43 am
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I'm very saddened to hear

I'm very saddened to hear this news, but, now he(his soul and spirit) are with his Anne. And most importantly, he is in the presence of the LORD.

Jane18
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Jane18 07/14/11 - 10:48 am
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Excuse the mistake of

Excuse the mistake of are(should be is).

BamaMan
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BamaMan 07/14/11 - 11:17 am
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Sorry to hear. At least he's

Sorry to hear. At least he's with his life's love again.

tanbaby
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tanbaby 07/14/11 - 11:42 am
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i would say definitely a case
Unpublished

i would say definitely a case of he could not live without her....God bless the family in this time of grief.

texred
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texred 07/14/11 - 12:11 pm
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Sorry to hear, condolences to

Sorry to hear, condolences to the family. This was a man that brought out the best in a lot of young men as show by the record of wins and loses. He will be missed.

Cestlavie
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Cestlavie 07/14/11 - 12:37 pm
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@Tall Man - I think your

@Tall Man - I think your points have validity, however, this occasion is not the time to make them. Though I did not know this man, it seems like he had a great positive influence on the lives of many young people. Let his life and legacy speak for him, and share in his family's grief. Let's not use this as an opportunity to stand on a soapbox.

scgator
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scgator 07/14/11 - 01:47 pm
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Every once in a while, a

Every once in a while, a coach comes along that loves the kids more than the game; and sadly, one day they have to leave.....

OhWell
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OhWell 07/14/11 - 01:51 pm
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Tallman I have 3 children who

Tallman I have 3 children who are grown and have very fine educations but I would venture to say much of what they have learned about life and sucess was taught while participating in sports. Coach Welch was not a coach of my children and I do not know him but it appears to me that he used the gifts God gave him to touch many lives. My condolences to the family but know you have a father that shared his life with you and many other people in a very positive way.

Craig Spinks
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Craig Spinks 07/14/11 - 02:27 pm
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Coach has been reunited with

Coach has been reunited with The Love of His Life in A Better Place.

Sweet son
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Sweet son 07/14/11 - 02:30 pm
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Coaches teach our children

Coaches teach our children how to win on the playing field. Great coaches also teach them how to lose. Great coaches teach life lessons which will be remembered and carried on through life! Sounds like Coach Welsh was a great coach!!

Sowega Fan
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Sowega Fan 07/14/11 - 03:47 pm
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It is with great sadness that

It is with great sadness that south Georgia recognizes the passing of Luther Welch. He had much success coaching in Dougherty High School prior to coming to Thomson. Coach Welch was highly regarded by his coaching peers and many student athletes in Albany. We share your sense of loss in the passing of such a great leader and educator.

55 F-100
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55 F-100 07/14/11 - 04:31 pm
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May God give comfort to to

May God give comfort to to the family as they greive the passing of such a fine man, and continue to give comfort due to the passing of Ms. Welsh one week ago. Thomson and McDuffie County truly are blessed for having Coach Welsh's influence tn the lives of the youn men that he coached and mentored.

TK3
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TK3 07/14/11 - 06:29 pm
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Not a fan of football or

Not a fan of football or organized heavy contact/dangerous sports for kids' but the coach had a good reputation on and off the field and was a good role model to kids and he will be sorely missed by many. R.I.P.

hounddog
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hounddog 07/14/11 - 09:06 pm
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The Tall Man, ‘A local sports
Unpublished

The Tall Man, ‘A local sports hero high school football coach died of a heart attack yesterday.’
I’m betting that if he had been a black coach you would have been singing his praises and couldn't say enough about him.

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