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Several ’20s stars excelled in college ball

POSTED: March 10, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Several players on the undefeated 1923-25 Gainesville High School football teams went on to greater things, including athletics.

Bennie Rothstein and Tom Paris played for the Georgia Bulldogs.

At Gainesville, Rothstein ran the ball, kicked off, punted, kicked field goals and extra points and played on defense. The speedy back was noted for his runs around end, and it is said his father would race up the sidelines with him when he carried the ball wide.

At Georgia, Rothstein also played both ways. In 1928, an Athens shoe store awarded him a pair of shoes for scoring the first touchdown of the season.

One of his career highlights came in one of Georgia’s historic games on one of the university’s most momentous occasions. In October 1929, Georgia would dedicate its brand-new $250,000 Sanford Stadium by playing Yale University. It was a big day for that reason but also because Yale was one of the nation’s top teams and rarely traveled out of the Northeast for a football game.

Much hype and hoopla were made of the event; so much so that it seemed the game itself would be secondary. Yale was heavily favored, but Georgia won 15-0, with Rothstein the leading rusher. His greatest accomplishment, however, was intercepting three straight passes from the Yale quarterback. A record 30,000 fans watched.

Rothstein also played baseball for Georgia.

Paris was one of the greatest all-around athletes ever to play for Gainesville. In addition to four years of football, two years as captain, he played basketball and baseball four years, and ran track four years, winning district and state titles in dashes and hurdles.

He also played in that first Sanford Stadium game for Georgia.

Cy Bell played for Oglethorpe University. He became the Stormy Petrels’ star running back and was praised to high heaven by Atlanta sportswriters, one calling him the greatest running back in the country. Bell led Oglethorpe over Georgia and Georgia Tech. As a sophomore, he scored a touchdown to upset Tech in Atlanta 7-6. In the Georgia game in 1929 as a senior, Bell broke a 7-7 tie, scoring the winning touchdown on a 60-yard run.

Players on the 1920s Gainesville team had a lot of nicknames. “Cy” was Bell’s nickname, but he also was called “Whop-It” Bell. His real name was John Columbus Bell.

Tom Paris was known as “Little Tom” because of his size. Bennie Rothstein was called “The Sheik,” Johnny Miller was “Bear,” Lawton Wofford “Bud,” Clyde Payne “Coach,” Herbert Edmondson “Pie” or “Pie Face,” W.F. McDonald “Guab,” George Pilgrim “Goat,” Bill Carter “Weaver,” Francis Clark “Bull,” Ralph Pierce “Fatty,” Charles Hardy “Little,” Ernest Palmour “Hippo” or “Hip,” “Squab” Owens, Charles “Booger” Thurmond, “Lefty” Purcell and “Snooks” Porter.

After his football career, Paris became a successful business owner in Gainesville. Wofford, Payne, Pilgrim and others also were local businessmen. Thurmond was a lawyer, poultry executive and served as mayor. Edmondson was a superior court judge, Palmour a lawyer, county and city attorney and legislator. Pat Ledford was a popular sign painter. Milton Hardy ran a photography and engraving studio and also served as mayor. His brother Charles Hardy succeeded his father as a newspaper publisher.

Pittard, “Coach Pitt,” as he was known, coached at Gainesville High from 1923 to 1934, compiling a record of 92 wins against only 13 losses. He also had winning teams in other sports. He became head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Georgia Tech.

Bell’s son, Jack, a Gainesville lawyer, played football for Gainesville High School and at Georgia before injuries ended his career.

Tom Paris Jr. played quarterback for Gainesville and at the University of Georgia played on defense, running back and punter.

Bud Wofford’s son, Lawton, played for Gainesville High School. Pat Patterson played at Southern California, and his son, Jimmy, followed his father’s footsteps as a Gainesville Red Elephant and as a Navy Midshipman. W.F. McDonald’s son Bill also played at GHS.

“The Red and White” was the only nickname the Gainesville team had in its early days and all the way through the successful 1920s. It wasn’t until 1935 that an Atlanta sportswriter referred to Gainesville as “the big Red Elephants.” The nickname caught on after that and has stuck with the sports teams since, though they also are called “Big Red.”

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.

 


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