Originally created 12/20/96

Sandersville wish: a state championship for Christmas

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. - Preacher Bob Raiford is eating barbecue chicken and talking football.

It's lunch hour on the town square and the tea is sweet at Dye's Barbecue. The football nuts who gather here each day are revving up for Saturday's state championship high school game between Washington County and Americus.

Outside on the curb, the preacher's pickup has the other team's bloodied panther mascot tied on. It's championship week in this town of 7,000.

"It's huge," Mr. Raiford said of the impact the 14-0 Golden Hawks have had on the locals. "You're always trying to pull the community together. This actually does. Everywhere you go people are talking about it."

High school football is alive and well in Washington County. They're estimating 2,500 black-and-gold-clad fans will trek to southwest Georgia for Saturday's game in Americus.

How's this for impact. Forecasts for Saturdays game have the temperature in the 20s or 30s. The local Wal-Mart has had a run on thermal underwear, insulated boots and other winter clothing.

"It's not are you going," said booster Tony Anthony, who runs the Shop Rite Drugs. "It's when are leaving."

Storefronts along Harris Street are painted like it's a college homecoming week. Harris is the main drag where the whole town showed up for the victory parade following the team's Class AA championship in 1994.

The town is hoping for another celebration with a victory Saturday.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said Beth Wright, Class of 89. Ms. Wright has two nephews on the team. Her and about 12 family members plan to go Saturday. "I wouldn't miss it."

The only thing that won't be going is the ROTC cannon that is fired after every home game score in Sandersville. Instead, a couple thousand yellow signs have been printed up that say "Boom."

This is how serious this town takes its football. They don't have pep rallies because they think it will distract the team from the matter at hand - winning.

Most folks are concerned about making bold, public predictions. They don't want anything that might inspire the other team.

Bruce Dye owns the barbecue joint where about 15 boosters meet every Friday to discuss the coming game. He said the game is what everybody's been talking about.

Mr. Dye said even the private school has showed its support, he said.

"I'm a big football fan," Mr. Dye said. "When something like this is going on, I want to be in the middle of it. It's amazing what football can do for a town."


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