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Remembering ‘The Team’

Decatur Editor's Pick

Remembering ‘The Team’

Photo provided by George Lancaster
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By George Lancaster, contributor 

In the foyer of Decatur High School (DHS) stands a large cabinet immortalizing past athletic prowess. Behind tall glass doors sit trophies and medals. And champion team photos.

At first glance I can’t see the one that means the most to me, that of the 1977 Georgia State Championship winning soccer team. Oh. There it is. In the middle, propped sideways against a glass divider. Hard to notice absent a trophy.

Wait. I know we got one. So where is it?

Bending down for a closer look I smile at the pride on display in my younger self and on the faces of my teammates. But of the history, the determination, the grit, the camaraderie? The magic? Well, the picture tells nothing. Only words can bring that alive.

Scenes from that championship flare in my brain. Bright lights against a black-ink sky, green, manicured surface (no mud!), screaming girls (screaming girls!), and not an empty seat in the place. The news reported roughly 4,000 people in attendance, which may not sound like much, until they surmised it to be the largest crowd ever assembled in the state for a high school soccer game.

All these years later goose bumps erupt just thinking about it. None of us had ever seen so many people gathering to watch us play and as we ran out onto the field, the voices shouting “Decatur! Decatur!” easily drowned out those calling for our favored opponents, Lakeside. Lesser teams might have wilted under such unfamiliar scrutiny, but not us. We rose to the occasion. And then some.

The memories are but short flashes. Mere fragments, incomplete. Some from the game, others of the season. And some from further back. Over 40 years have passed since that time and though I want to tell the full story, I realize I can’t do it alone.

The Wildcats and the Panthers

I need others who lived through it to help me out. For the full story is more than that championship year. It starts earlier, when we played with and against each other on teams of the Decatur-Dekalb YMCA, a neighborhood sports organization housed in that brick edifice on Clairemont Ave. I remember like it was yesterday, that tickling tang of chlorine emanating from the indoor pool that permeated the entire facility. It was there, in 1967, that the city of Decatur’s first soccer program was conceived, with two seasons, fall and spring, made available per year. By the time I moved there in 1972 the rivalries were already set, none fiercer than that between the Wildcats and Panthers.

The Panthers, pulling players from the Winnona Park neighborhood, were led by two coaches – Larry Fossett and Michael Brown – and it was never confusing as to who was who. Coach Fossett, a demonstrative man plying the real estate trade, was heard before seen, his loud voice barking above all others. For many of us, his shouting, “When in doubt, kick it out!” is the lasting impression we have of him. Coach Brown, an Englishman and professor at the private Agnes Scott College, seemed content to be the quiet one.

Coach Fossett had been active at the Y and when soccer teams were introduced, he volunteered to coach despite knowing nothing of the game.

Coach Fossett needed help, so he asked around and was told of an Englishman teaching at Agnes Scott. Figuring he’d know about the game, he gave him a call and Coach Brown, unfazed by the out-of-the-blue request, readily accepted. He’d never coached before but was indeed familiar with the game. He also had a son, Colin, who was the right age for the team. From a random set of events an unlikely partnership was forged and it lasted until the mid-70’s.

Somehow their chemistry worked. But one critical factor is remembered differently; the team formation. For those who aren’t familiar, soccer team formations are counted from the back, starting with the defenders (the goal keeper is not counted as the position is a given).

So, for example, 3-3-4 means three defenders (or fullbacks), three mid-fielders (or halfbacks, as we called them back then) and four strikers (or forwards). This is the formation we used but it is rarely seen today, where the standard formation is either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, with coaches preferring stronger defensive or midfield positions and one or two highly talented forwards. But when I asked Coach Brown about this recently, he insisted we’d played a 2-3-5. “I’d grown up playing in England and the only thing I’d ever seen was 2-3-5. That was the arrangement God had decreed at the start. And it worked beautifully. It produced GOALS!”

I have no memory of ever playing with five forwards, and checking with Coach Fossett he assures me it was 3-3-4. According to him, “The formation was my idea. Made sense to me. Another idea was to move players to different positions during the game, as I observed their reaction time, energy levels and the league’s rule of everyone playing half a game. Walter Grey, an acquaintance from Austria once said to me, ‘Give me 10 utility players and a good keeper and they’ll win nine out of 10 games!’ Seemed to work for the Panthers.”

It certainly did.

Learning the game

The Panthers’ nemesis, the Wildcats, were coached by Pat Murphey and based in the Westchester neighborhood. This was my first team, my first brush with soccer, and I didn’t realize until later Coach Murphey knew as much about the game as I did.

Unlike Coach Fossett, he’d first volunteered as an assistant coach for two years before taking on the head coach role. Asked about those early days, he says, “I knew zilch. Well, my son Bill had played for two to three years in the DYSA league, so I’d seen it played, but I wasn’t really up on the rules and regulations.”

Bill played for his dad, and though I lived in the Panthers’ catchment, our friendship made it an easy choice to join the Wildcats. He stopped playing soccer by high school, but others from the Wildcats – me, Rob Montgomery, Scott Walker, Freddy Sandow, Bobby Mills, David Weitnauer, Greg Hughes, Sandi O’Toole, and Michael Harderson – were part of the core DHS team.

By 1974 I’d switched to the Panthers. Proximity of my house to their practice field at Columbia Seminary had a lot to do with it. Here I joined the likes of other future DHS players Skip Fossett, Bill Cousar, Colin Brown, Robert Cozine, Greg Miller, David Maifeld and David Huie. We won a lot of games together, including both fall and spring season championships, and shared a memorable experience one year traveling to New Orleans for a weekend tournament.

It was mid-July, hot, humid and steamy, and in the group stages we battled a Texan team filled with fast and physical players. Though we tied them, they went on to win the tournament. The memory is still fresh for Coach Brown.

“I remember our trip to New Orleans – how good we were, how close we came, and what a time Larry and I had getting you all to rest between games,” he said. “We just wanted you in your beds.”

I remember it too, the intense heat during the games, but mostly the vivid French Quarter scenes, my naïve young eyes darting this way and that trying to take it all in.

No expectations

As we continued to refine our team identity, the soccer program at Decatur High School was just getting started. Though today there are 521 high schools across Georgia with varsity boys soccer programs, in the mid-‘60’s few teams existed. A note at the bottom of the 1977 official state tournament program states, “Prior to 1966 only 12 Atlanta-area high schools included soccer in their athletic program. In 1966 (the year the Georgia High School Association added soccer to their program), there were twenty teams divided into three leagues. By 1977 there were 89 teams divided into 12 leagues – involving over 4,500 players at the varsity and sub-varsity levels.”

It wasn’t until the early ‘70’s that a team formed at DHS. And it came about not through any planning by the school administration but by the hard-fought efforts of two students – Joe Maifeld and Tyrone Taylor – who petitioned for it.

The school’s single playing field posed one hurdle. The sports year cycled through football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball and track and field in the spring. Except for basketball, the other programs used the one field, and non-use over winter allowed it to somewhat recover between sports. Another challenge involved coaching, for the school didn’t have the funds to hire an expert and no existing teacher knew anything about the sport. Yet Joe and Tyrone persevered and the first DHS soccer team took the field in 1972.

And the subsequent teams all had to suffer the consequences.

First, the winter season. In the searing cold, starting in mid-November and ending in late February. Decatur winters are frigid and wet, and no one in their right mind should be out in that harsh weather wearing skimpy shorts and a T-shirt. Second, inadequate coaching. Either a coach from football or basketball stepped in or teachers with no prior coaching in any sport were coaxed to oversee the season. Though the players gave it everything they had, there was little support for the team shown by either the administration or school body. It wasn’t a matter of low expectations of success; it was a matter of having none at all.

This situation is hard to fathom today. Soccer is now the most popular sport for youth across the US, and even Georgia produced two players – Josh Wolf from Stone Mountain and Clint Mathis of Conyers – on the US Men’s National Team in the early 2000’s. And two women from Georgia, Kelly O’Hara from Fayetteville and Morgan Brian from St. Simons, have played for the US Women’s National Team. But back then soccer didn’t register the slightest blip on the radar. I doubt anyone in the States outside European immigrant enclaves in New York and Chicago noticed when American amateurs beat England 1-0 in the qualifying stages of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, a feat that sent shockwaves around the world and brought stalwart Englishmen to tears.

No, in our youth it was all about football, basketball and in particular baseball, the outdoor sport which most overlapped with soccer. As Bill Cousar says, “We should thank Coaches Fossett, Brown and Murphey for taking us away from baseball at an early age, in fact fourth grade for me, and creating a fun environment for us to keep playing soccer all those years.”

To our small group of players, soccer meant everything. For the population at large the sport solicited a collective, “Huh?”

Largely ignored

Against this backdrop, in the winter of 1974, the future state champion players from the Wildcats and Panthers first merged together to represent our respective schools – the eighth graders from each team for Renfroe Middle School and the ninth graders for DHS. I played for Renfroe and remember very little about the experience, other than the practice field being more dirt than grass. Luckily Ed Legge has a better memory of that year, which turned out to be the last he played soccer.

As he tells me, “I played two years – once on the very first Panthers team and then in eighth grade, probably at your encouragement. In one game I even remember you dribbling from the backfield all the way to score one of our goals! We went undefeated, including the last game, when we played against the ninth grade Decatur High team.”

Again, the memory lapse for me, even when he added, “Yeah, don’t you remember? We beat the ninth graders! It was incredible. 2-1 or 2-0 or something. It was a sunny day on the DHS field, which was special because until then we’d only practiced there.”

You’d think I would’ve remembered at least some of that. As Robert Cozine says now, “The core players from each of those teams came together in time and formed the state winning team three years later. But on that day we eighth graders were better overall. And we proved it on the field.”

Despite their bruised egos, when we eighth graders moved up to high school the following year the now 10th graders welcomed us, and for the next two years we honed our team play. But as we failed both years to make the playoffs, our efforts were largely ignored by everyone else.

The unheralded season

Thus the ignoble start for the 1977 season which began in November, 1976. No fanfare, no booster club rallies, no notice. Just us huddling in the dank and smelly locker room preparing for nature’s wrath. During practice bitter winds blew icy rain across the frozen ground, where the departing football players had laid waste to the grass, leaving deep pits in a rock-hard expanse. Some days our cleats crunched through ice formed in puddles, and somewhere there’s a picture of me running down the field with both hands stuffed down the front of my shorts as I vainly tried to keep frostbite at bay.

In such dire conditions few people were willing to sit in the open stadium to cheer us on; some games we were lucky to attract five spectators.

We could always count on one, though – Kathryn Dunn [nee Brown], Coach Mike’s daughter and Colin’s younger sister, who volunteered as the team’s statistician. “I remember standing on the sidelines freezing to death during many of those games,” she says. “But it didn’t matter – I got to watch you guys run around in your shorts!”

And nobody seemed to care about our success. As David Weitnauer remembers it, “Most students didn’t give a damn when morning announcements had something to say about our latest win.”

It wasn’t even a given that parents came out for games. They were smarter than that. Our coach, a mild-mannered science teacher named Don Smith, had little knowledge of soccer and no prior coaching experience. His humble, good-natured attitude served him well, though, as he worked to corral a bunch of kids who knew more about the game than he did, including the ideal formation, the 3-3-4.

But none of that bothered us. We were in our element, doing what we loved and confident in our abilities, despite extremity-numbing temperatures, others’ disinterest and strange coaching decisions. We were a mix of seniors – Bobby Mills (goal keeper), Skip Fossett (forward), David Huie (halfback), David Maifeld (forward, Joe’s younger brother), Rob Montgomery (defender), Greg Miller (halfback), Colin Brown (defender), Freddy Sandow (halfback), John Folta (halfback), and Fritz Prothro (halfback) – and juniors – me (halfback), David Weitnauer (defender), Robert Cozine (defender), Bill Cousar (halfback), Greg Hughes (forward), Scott Walker (defender), Eric Fielding (keeper), Sandi O’Toole (defender), and Michael Harderson (forward) – all working toward the same goal: the state championship.

Two special players

The last two players bear special mention. No other boys’ team that I know of from that year had a girl on the roster. Sandi wanted to play, there was no rule against it, and we welcomed her.

“I grew up with six brothers and sisters in a neighborhood filled with boys. I jumped trains, played in the creek, and stayed outside all day,” says Sandi, adding, “In high school I wanted to play soccer but there was no girls’ team. It was Suzanne Carter, my Spanish teacher, who encouraged me to go out for the boys’ team. It didn’t hurt that David Maifeld and Rob Montgomery, soccer players but also the cool guys in band, said I should try out too.”

She was seasoned and tough, and froze out in the rain with the rest of us.

The other, Michael Harderson, was our deadliest striker and one of two black players on the team.

Sadly, he passed away in 1995.

Sweet indeed

The season started on December 18 against Cedar Shoals, a high school in Athens, an hour-and-a-half drive away. A home game for us which we won handily, 6-2. Some might wonder why we were playing a team from so far away when there were high schools within our own Dekalb County with great soccer programs. Blame it on the fact that Decatur had its own independent school system.

Though located within the same county, our team was excluded from the year’s game scheduling worked out by the Dekalb County school administration. As a result, our opponents were in counties farther away – Gwinnett, Hall, Clarke, Forsyth and Cherokee. We wouldn’t confront the talented Dekalb County players we knew well, who now attended Druid Hills, Briarcliff, Lakeside and other nearby high schools, unless we made the playoffs.

In the regular season we won every game, often ridiculously, against the likes of Marist and Central Gwinnett. Against Forsythe it was 7-1. Some high schools we encountered had just risen from pastureland in the recent past, anchoring new communities formed by sudden migration from integrated cities like Decatur, and they were yet the sports powerhouses they are now.

In fact, we predated the Statewide system confining competition between like ranks based on student body size – 1A for the smallest up to 7A for the largest – by 17 years.  But our being pitted against much larger schools posed little challenge. We beat Parkview and Berkmar with ease, a feat unimaginable today.

For Norcross, another large high school from another county, playing us must’ve been a nightmare. Not only did they have to travel to our school, they faced a skilled team fronted by a striker that together shredded their defense 14 times. That 14-0 annihilation was sweet indeed. For all of us.

I can’t recall any additional attention from other students at our 10-0 perfect record. And none of the players mention it in their notes to me. The probable reason? Basketball, the season for which ran concurrently with soccer’s. DHS had a proud history of excellence in the sport, and at the time the program was led by the charismatic Coach Reinhart, who guaranteed playoff contention every year. Whatever success the soccer team enjoyed would forever be overshadowed by his team’s exploits on the boards.

But I also have no memory of feeling bad about it. It was just the way things were. And besides, deep down, none of us felt we’d been truly tested. Yes, we had a perfect record, but against weak opposition. The closest game was the 6-4 win against Berkmar and the score belied the actual contest. True competitors awaited for us in the playoffs, and through every successive win maybe we could earn the attention and respect of the other students. And achieve the satisfaction of a job well done in our own minds. We couldn’t wait for the state tournament to begin.

The real season

In the first round on Saturday, March 5, we faced Briarcliff, finally giving us a chance to take on one of the strong Dekalb County teams. Whether through complacency on our part, being battle-tested on theirs, or a combination of the two, at halftime we found ourselves down 3-1. Never before had we been behind, and it was happening during the state tournament, when a loss meant a quick exit. The sense of shock is still palpable.

Thinking back on that game, Rob Montgomery says, “I remember trying to calm people down at the half by saying, ‘Don’t worry, guys, we got this. With the number of shots we’re making, one’s gotta go in soon.’”

With the start of the second half my sense of doom didn’t lessen until I saw our defenders – first Colin Brown, then Robert Cozine – take down several of their forwards with crunching tackles. No yellow cards were given, nor red, but they could’ve easily gone that way. Their physical play gave us all a needed boost.

And then Greg Hughes dispensed some timely magic. Greg Miller remembers, “Hughes had a stellar second half. He ripped at least one in, maybe both of them, to get us tied before full time. The relief I felt at our third goal was unforgettable.”

Better to have Greg Hughes speak for himself, I know, but he can’t. In 2014 he died in his sleep. He was funny, the best all-round player we had, and blessed with a self-propelled rocket of a kicking foot.

In the overtime period the momentum solidly shifted our way. By the final whistle we had scored two more goals, taking the tally to 5-3. We didn’t appreciate it at the time but overcoming a near loss in that game prepared us well for the rest of the tournament. And Lakeside players were in the stands, which may have led to their underestimating us in the final.

The next two games, held on Tuesday, March 8 and Thursday, March 10, were less memorable for being perfunctory, in line with our regular season – 4-0 against Campbell-Smyrna in the quarter-final and a 3-1 win in the semi-final against Forest Park. After beating Forest Park at Lovett Stadium, we left whooping and hollering in the school bus, knowing that in two days’ time, at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, we’d be in the final.

Except that didn’t happen. Torrential rains on Saturday forced postponing the championship game to the following Monday night. The pent-up energy timed for Saturday had nowhere to go and all weekend I fidgeted in my room and snapped at my parents, my mind roiling with worry. About our playing under lights for the first time. Whether spectators would show up after the last minute scheduling change. About the dangerous players known from the old days who now played for Lakeside. And whether I’d make some bonehead play, resulting in an own goal. Sitting through classes on Monday was torture. Though students were aware of that night’s match and wished us well – friends and strangers greeted us in the halls with high fives and “Go Bulldogs!” “Go Decatur!” – I was too focused to reciprocate. All I could think about was the game.

Go Bulldogs

When we stepped off the bus at Sandy Springs stadium we knew it was a special night. Cars filled the parking lot and hundreds of people milled about the entrance. Beyond the high sides of the stadium, bright light glowed magically and we heard the low buzz of the crowd within. I can recall nothing of the pre-game banter as we dressed nor of any last minute instructions from Coach Smith. What I do remember is first feeling shock, then pride, when DHS’s legendary basketball coach deigned to step into our locker room.

As Robert Cozine describes it, “We were all surprised when Coach Reinhart came in. Never happened before. Didn’t think he knew we existed. Then he gave one of his rousing pre-game speeches. We would’ve run through concrete walls after that!”

We burst out onto the field and I couldn’t believe it. Decatur cheerleaders, those cheerleaders we all knew from football and basketball, those cheerleaders we didn’t think gave a hoot about us, were all there, on the sidelines, looking our way, smiling and waving their blue-and- gold pom-poms. The tiered stands on both sides of the field were filled to bursting and from everywhere rained down “Go Decatur!”

I didn’t know it at the time, but except for those from Lakeside, everyone else was rooting for us. Of course there were our fans from Decatur. But the players and their families from many of the other high schools in the area were all supporting us too because they couldn’t stand Lakeside, who beat everyone during their regular season in smug and arrogant fashion. It was probably more the case of “Anyone but Lakeside!”

And since we were considered the likely loser, perhaps they wanted to bolster our spirits. For us used to five spectators at a match the supportive din was more than surreal. Standing in my spot waiting for the starting whistle I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.

The game commenced at a furious pace and the action flowed up and down the field. Lakeside had a few early shots but nothing our keeper, Bobby Mills couldn’t handle. He was fearless, crazy, as all keepers must be, and never hesitated to place his body, and sometimes his head in harm’s way. Too bad he can’t contribute any memories about the game. He’s the third member of that DHS team we’ve lost for good.

But this night he was in rare form, keeping us in the game as he parried shots and safely gathered up the ball. Though we held up defensively, we didn’t effectively penetrate Lakeside’s goal area. Their defenders, sometimes two at a time, closely marked Michael Harderson, the top scorer in Georgia that year with 35 goals, considering him our primary threat. He made passes but couldn’t turn to shoot.

The shot we all remember 

Then, about midway through the first half, the ball bounced toward Greg Hughes. He was 25-yards distant from Lakeside’s goal when he connected with the ball. No trapping it first, no extra pass to himself to set up the shot, no hesitation. He just charged ahead at full speed and crushed it. It’s called a half-volley when you kick the ball as it’s bouncing in the air, and it’s difficult to control, much less aim. Forty-nine times out of 50 a ball kicked that way sails harmlessly over the goal. But if struck just right, the exit velocity can be incredible.

We all heard the impact, then watched the ball tear into the top left corner of the goal so hard the back netting billowed outward. It happened so fast their goal keeper didn’t move. For a brief second no one else did either. It was arguably the best goal I’ve ever personally witnessed. Then we yelled, the crowd roared and suddenly Lakeside didn’t seem so mighty anymore. Interesting that today, some 40 years later, Greg’s shot is the one aspect of the game we all clearly remember.

Too soon, though, Lakeside slipped one through and we were back to a tie game. Both sides held firm until eight minutes before the half, when David Maifeld got the ball down the left side, dribbled around one of their defenders and the keeper, and deftly poked the ball into the goal with his left foot. Again, the crowd went crazy, and we attacked David with congratulatory back slaps and high fives before we slowly jogged in a tight group back to our side of the field. At halftime the score stood Decatur 2, Lakeside 1.

The second half offered no clear opportunities for either side until about twenty minutes in. Lakeside gave away a corner kick and the indomitable Greg Hughes trotted to the corner flag. When he lofted a perfectly placed ball, Skip Fossett rose to meet it and expertly headed it past the keeper and into the goal. The euphoria was indescribable.

Yet being ahead 3-1 with a quarter of the game left to play offered no assurance of winning. Briarcliff had found that out against us in the first round.

Believe

The action turned brutally physical, as Lakeside players took out their frustration with clumsy tackles and unnecessary fouls. In their desperation they abandoned teamwork in favor of individual effort, a clear harbinger of team sport defeat. Sure enough, the breakdown of their team play led to a defensive mix up in front of their own goal. When the ball skirted clear six yards out Bill Cousar reacted fastest and kicked it into the empty net. 4-1. 4-1! 4-1!!!  I finally started to believe. There’d be no miracle comeback from that.

With 10 minutes to go Coach Smith called for substitutions, including Sandi O’Toole. I doubt before or since a girl has played in the championship game of the Georgia State boys’ soccer tournament. And I doubt the Lakeside players were pleased to see her on the field. Like rubbing salt in their festering wound.

For us, though, it was normal. She was on the team and deserved to be on the field. As Sandi recalls, “I was so excited. My mother saw me in a game for the first time ever. Coach Smith put me in defense, in right fullback, and almost immediately I got tested. One of their players came tearing down the left flank and I got the ball away from him. The crowd went nuts but I actually felt bad for him. Otherwise, I think I only touched the ball that one time. Whenever the ball got anywhere near me David Weitnauer or Robert Cozine rushed over to help. They had my back!”

Still we weren’t finished. With mere minutes to play Greg Miller got the ball and let fly from 10 yards out. Goal five for Decatur! No team had scored more in a final in the 10-year history of Georgia soccer. Adding these last five, we scored 102 goals in the season and had two of the top three scorers in the state – David Maifeld tied for second and Michael Harderson at number one. Michael never found the back of the net in the final but he didn’t seem to mind; he’d scored in every game leading up to it. And it hadn’t hurt us. The game confirmed the truth of Coach Fossett’s Austrian friend’s philosophy regarding utility players – of the 11 on the field, five different Bulldogs scored that night. Interviewed by a newspaper reporter after the final, Michael said, “I didn’t have the freedom I usually have. They just wanted me and they got me. But as long as I make the passes that’s okay.”

At the final whistle we all jumped crazily about, pointing our index fingers to the heavens and shouting “We’re number 1!”, and ran around hugging each other and many of the spectators who soon joined us on the field. The Lakeside players stayed rooted in place, on their haunches, many with tear-stained faces, the shock of defeat overwhelming. I thought their reaction a bit much at the time, but then again, we hadn’t lost 5-1 in front of 4000 people.

The underdogs

In the end we proved my weekend angst spectacularly ill placed. Under lights we’d performed better than ever. Perhaps the best we’d ever played. Shifting the game from Saturday afternoon to Monday night raised the level of excitement in the stands and the number of spectators. People just prefer night games. Football and basketball know this well, and by playing at night, the championship final raised our sport to their level. And despite the lopsided score, individual Lakeside players were excellent, and threatening. We knew from experience their forwards could score at will.

But our defense and midfield held firm, robbing them of momentum, and in equal one-on-one contests, we beat them to the ball. Time and again. They could not match our teamwork and hustle, and the more desperate they became, the stronger we played. And the best part? I made no bonehead move resulting in an own goal. I can’t remember how I played that night, but I do know I didn’t embarrass myself. If I had, rest assured I’d still be hearing about it.

Looking back, what made the win particularly satisfying was our underdog status. And the fact we looked the part. David Weitnauer says it best. “Our team had a rag-tag appearance, with tired and often unmatched uniforms and scruffy guys in need of shaves and haircuts. But we wore that look proudly, and it felt especially fine when we rolled into private school campuses and large suburban schools where we didn’t exactly fit in.”

Yet we accomplished the improbable, emphatically vanquishing all before us. We didn’t care what we looked like. We had each other. And the bonds formed in the years playing together under the watchful eyes of coaches Fossett, Brown and Murphey knit us together into a seamless whole. On that night the stars aligned and the world seemed in rightful balance, and we stayed on the field, savoring the victory, until the lights went out.

That reporter’s article hit the next day’s Atlanta Journal, along with a photo of us in joyful celebration. Someone should enlarge that article, frame it, and place it next to our team photo in the trophy case.

And maybe one day it can be there alongside the to-be-recovered trophy, which needs to be returned. The team deserves it. Decatur High School deserves it. And future students need to see it, to appreciate our achievement, to perhaps spark a similar drive in themselves.

The trophy was stolen once before, and returned, after Joe Maifeld, the same guy who petitioned for the team in 1972, found it in a local pizza joint. Now that it’s gone again Joe is on the hunt. For all of our sake, let’s hope he finds it.

About the author: Born of Presbyterian missionary parents in Japan, George Lancaster moved to Decatur as a twelve-year old in 1972. Upon graduation he matriculated to Earlham College, a Quaker institution in Richmond Indiana, then returned to Atlanta to build a life. During a work trip to Manhattan over thirty years ago he met an Aussie gal in a dive bar and the rest is history. They and their two children now reside permanently in Australia. You can read more of his work by clicking here.

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