It’s hard to imagine, but the Gainesville Red Elephants have been playing football at the same place for a century.
It was a piece of land given to the city by the Banks family.
A lot of memorable games have been played there over the years, including some with schools no longer in existence because of school and district consolidation.
Sammy Smith, whose devotion to Gainesville High School, has earned him accolades as one of the school’s most knowledgeable historians, has put together a collection of stories covering the past 100 years. The book is called “The Ghosts of Bobby Gruhn Field.”
Gruhn was the coach of the Red Elephants for 30 years, ending in 1992. The school honored him by naming the field at City Park in his honor. He is just one of the 60 stories featured in the book, which was compiled by Smith and includes previously written works by retired Times editor Johnny Vardeman, the late Times sports editor Phil Jackson, former Times staff member Phil Hudgins and longtime Gainesvillian Heyward Gnann.
Smith also wrote some of the stories and updated others.
The stories are not just about those who wore leather helmets and suffered broken teeth and noses. It is about civic leaders such as Dr. John Jacobs Sr., who helped raise money to pay for uniforms during hard times.
The book also features the story of Sunny Nivens McDonald, a cheerleader who kept a close friendship with her fellow cheerleaders for the remainder of her life.
Billy Lotheridge, who went from Gainesville to Georgia Tech and finished second to Roger Staubach for the 1963 Heisman Trophy, is mentioned. He went on to play pro football, including the inaugural season of the Atlanta Falcons. He died in 1996.
There are also stories of medical doctors who put the players back together when protective playing gear was almost non-existent.
While the book contains many columns written by Jackson, it includes a tribute to the longtime sportswriter who also served as the radio play-by-play voice for the Elephants.
Just as Jackson was a memorable part of the schools history, the same is true of longtime radio personality and Gainesville Mayor Jim Hartley, who was awarded a letterman’s jacket for his years of serving as the public address announcer for the team.
Smith also included a story about a visit to the Gainesville Touchdown Club by Bud Wilkinson, veteran coach who led Oklahoma to three national titles.
He also included a column by iconic sports columnist Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, listing the Red Elephant mascot as one of the best team names. Others earning mention included Macon’s Lanier High School, whose team was known as the Poets.
Other non-player stories feature coaches, popular teachers and administrators who contributed to the football program.
Smith will have a book signing from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, at The Collegiate Grill. Other signing events will take place closer to the holiday season.
He says a follow-up edition is already in the works for 2018.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.