Amid the smorgasbord of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and black-eyed peas, patrons like Johnny Jenkins paid no attention to the squawking on TV. All the talk this week: Burke County football.
“It’s just excitement all over town,” Jenkins said. “It’s time to rob the town Saturday. We’re all going to be in Atlanta.”
The community is abuzz about the Bears, who will try to win their first state championship when they face Peach County for the Class AAA title at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
Burke County, playing its first state championship game since 1997, has sold out its allotment of 4,000 tickets. Fans can purchase tickets at the dome for $20.
With the school playing in Atlanta, the annual Jaycees Christmas parade, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been postponed to next week. The football team has been asked – win or lose – to be the grand marshal of the parade, according to Burke County athletic director Wade Marchman.
“Hopefully,” Marchman said, “we’ll have a celebration parade.”
Marchman has been employed at Burke County since 1988. He said he has never seen such electricity around town like he has during this state playoff run. Signs placed throughout the community – including one by private Edmund Burke Academy – show support for the Bears. And the talk this week at popular eating spots such as Mobley’s mainly concerns one thing.
“Everything is all about football now,” restaurant owner Roy Black said. “Everybody’s looking forward to Saturday.”
For older residents, Burke County’s deep playoff run brings back memories of 1957, when Waynesboro High School won the town’s only state title. Sardis-Girard-Alexander and Waynesboro high schools were consolidated in 1987, forming Burke County High School.
The Bears won their first state playoff contest in 1997. Jenkins, the owner of Goldberg’s Furniture, remembers the thrill of that season, when his daughter was a team cheerleader. Burke County reeled off a 10-game winning streak and advanced to the state championship, losing at Thomas County Central, 21-19.
Farmer Matthew Jenkins, a 1996 Burke County graduate, is a regular attendee at football games. He said he is excited about the team’s chance of finishing where the 1997 team left off.
“They’ve played hard all year,” he said. “We’ve been talking about how good their running game is and how fast the players are.”
While many fans will travel Saturday to Atlanta, several people will remain home. Black will be in town the day of the big game, running his restaurant.
On Waynesboro’s main drag, Burke Perk will be open. Debbie Salter, a lifelong Waynesboro resident who works at the full-service bakery with her daughter and co-owner Sarah-Ann Kelly, said a large projector screen will be brought in for the televised contest. Last week, Burke Perk personnel placed a projector screen in front of the piano up front for the SEC Championship Game. Many people gathered around it.
“I was working in the kitchen, and you could hear the hootin’ and the hollerin’,” Salter said.
Salter said that though she and her family will remain in town, they will root for Burke County.
“We’re all excited about the game,” she said. “We’re going to be here supporting the team. We’re ready.”