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As North Augusta eyes state football title, spirit of 1961 team is revived

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North Augusta High School’s football team wrapped up its regular season with a convincing win Friday. The next morning, hundreds of children gathered at nearby Lions Memorial Field for another weekend of youth football.

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A street behind North Augusta's Lions Memorial Field is named for Calhoun "Cally" F. Gault, who coached the Yellow Jackets to two state crowns. His 1961 title team is celebrating its 50th anniversary.   Billy Byler/Staff
Billy Byler/Staff
A street behind North Augusta's Lions Memorial Field is named for Calhoun "Cally" F. Gault, who coached the Yellow Jackets to two state crowns. His 1961 title team is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Regardless of age, residents embrace high school football. At the front of the city’s stadium stands a reminder that 50 years ago North Augusta was in a similar football fever.

“I remember the citywide support,” former Yellow Jacket and NFL veteran Craig Baynham said. “The school was into it; the adults were into it. Football was a big part of the city and the people.”

Baynham was the running back on North Augusta’s 1961 state championship team, which celebrates its golden anniversary this year. A bust of then-coach Calhoun “Cally” F. Gault stands at the entrance to Lions Memorial Field with a plaque listing the accomplishments of his teams. A small road called “Cally’s Alley” runs between the stadium and a cemetery.

North Augusta hasn’t won a state title since 1989, but the team is hoping to change that this year as the Class AAAA Division II playoffs open Friday with a home game against J.L. Mann.

A balanced offensive attack averaging almost 40 points per game has propelled the Yellow Jackets to a 10-1 regular-season record and a No. 5 seed in the 16-team bracket.

Fifty years ago, North Augusta also stormed through the regular season with just a single loss – to eventual Georgia state semifinalist Richmond Academy. A shutout win over Clinton gave the 1961 team a Class AA state championship.

“I could talk all day about it,” guard Sonny Anderson said. “Coach Gault was a mentor and more than that to all of us. When you look at that team and those 30 guys, it’s amazing what they’ve done.”

Baynham and Anderson said a group of about eight men from the state title team meet regularly and are planning to visit Gault in Clinton, S.C., later this month.

If all goes well for North Au­gusta’s current team, the former players will sit down to eat with the legendary coach just as the current Yellow Jackets prepare for a return trip to the state semifinals.

The excitement around town might be similar, the numbers are bigger in many ways for the current generation.

Coach Dan Pippin said as many as 8,000 people attended the team’s regular-season showdown against region champion Lexington and home games have drawn an average of 3,000 to 4,000 people.

Aside from football, crowds were treated to pregame festivities including tailgating, motorcycle rides around the track, a T-shirt launcher and parachutists delivering the game ball to midfield.

“That’s one of the things people tell me about after they go to a game,” Pippin said.

“It’s like a small-college atmosphere, and that’s great for the community. Some­times the hard part for me is reminding everybody that football is still the main thing that night. This is what attracted me to North Au­gusta.”

The size of the players on the field also has increased. Anderson said the ’61 team had only one player weighing more than 200 pounds. North Augusta’s current crop of senior linemen averages a little more than 233 pounds. Two sophomores are more than 300 pounds.

“These kids are baby elephants today,” Baynham said.

“A lot of my prowess would have been hampered had we had to play against people that big. But the mental toughness is the same.”

The seniors on the ’61 team suffered a key region loss to Orangeburg during their junior year and committed to avenging the defeat the next season. Anderson said the football schedule Gault handed out to his players that summer included dates set aside for the lower state and state title games.

“We resolved among ourselves to do all we could do to win a state championship our senior year,” Baynham said. “It was a huge sense of accomplishment when we did.”

The current North Au­gusta squad has a similar resolve to make a deep state playoff run. The program has won 33 of 38 games during the past three seasons and reached the state semifinals last year.

This year’s team has excited crowds with a high-powered, fast-paced offense, but there are concerns about a defense that has surrendered an average of more than three touchdowns per game.

J.L. Mann will come into Friday’s game averaging 40 points per game in seven wins.

“That’s the thing we’ve got to get the kids to realize. This could be our last game,” Pippin said. “The goals have gone up. And, yes, people give our defense a hard time, but we’ve been playing against some of the best offenses in the state.

“This is it. It’s a little cooler now. It’s the playoffs. This is a fun time. We’re ready for it.”

FRIDAY’S GAME

North Augusta (10-1) plays host to J.L. Mann (7-4) in the South Carolina Class AAAA Division II state playoff game at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $7.

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etlinks
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etlinks 11/09/11 - 07:52 am
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Good luck NA! Complete the

Good luck NA! Complete the mission. All the way to state champs.

j-campbell
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j-campbell 11/09/11 - 02:47 pm
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That 1961 NA team was

That 1961 NA team was something special. Two HS All-American running backs: HB, Craig Baynham and FB, Gene Williams, and two All-State backs: QB, Mike Smith and HB, Sandy Smith. Later that year Craig Baynham was selected MVP in the Shrine Bowl game, and Gene Williams was an MVP in the North-South All-Star game. The previous year, NA's Jerry Priestley had been MVP in the Shrine Bowl game. If my memory serves me correctly, Sonny Anderson and Steve Griffin were also All-State linemen from that team.

The irony of the single loss to ARC was that they were the only team to beat the South Carolina AA state champion in 1961, and five years earlier, NA was the only team to beat ARC, the 1956 AAA Georgia state champion.

The 1961 team and the following team of 1962, which is the last NA team to run undefeated through a regular season, represented the culmination of the culture of football excellence brought to NA by Cally Gault who left to become head coach at his alma mater, Presbyterian College, after the 1962 season. I am proud to have played a very small role on that 1962 team. I got far more from Cally Gault than he ever got from me.

While we have had a number of fine men to fill that NA coaching job during these intervening 50 years, and not to diminish the significance of the 1989 state championship team, Dan Pippin has finally restored the culture of excellence to NA football that had been so thoroughly enjoyed and embraced by the community throughout the mid-fifties through the early sixties. His teams of the last three years having won 10 regular season games in each of those years, accomplished something never before done in the history of NA football. No prior teams had won 10 regular season games three years in a row. Granted the teams of all those many years ago didn't play the same schedule that is played today, but notwithstanding that fact, Pippin's accomplishment is to be commended as something very special.

Good luck to this year's edition of the Yellow Jackets as they pursue the school's fourth state championship. They have what it takes if they just believe in themselves and stay focused. Now, if we could just import the defense from those teams of the early '60s . . . just kidding, Dan. :)

LemonJello
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LemonJello 11/09/11 - 04:30 pm
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My dad played for the '61

My dad played for the '61 North Augusta team.

j-campbell
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j-campbell 11/09/11 - 10:57 pm
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LemonJello, who is your dad?

LemonJello, who is your dad? We would have been in school together.

LemonJello
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LemonJello 11/10/11 - 10:41 am
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In an effort to be discrete,

In an effort to be discrete, he has been in a wheelchair for many years. ;-)

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