While Col. Ed Kenyon was officially Gainesville High School’s first football coach, starting in 1910, the sport in Gainesville goes back further, even to 1905.
Games were played then at Chattahoochee Park, a park now known as the American Legion park at the end of Riverside Drive.
What is now the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, then North Georgia Agricultural College, had football teams very early in the 1900s and played games at the Gainesville park. Sometimes the team would play doubleheaders. It played Stone Mountain University in Gainesville in the fall of 1904.
A high school team from Gainesville lost to North Georgia in November 1905 even after North Georgia had played Locust Grove. The Gainesville High team lost again 40-0 that same December.
Gainesville played North Georgia again in October 1906, but newspapers of the day didn’t report the results.
In October 1907, the Gainesville News reported Gainesville High lost 6-5 to Boys High of Atlanta. However, the paper reported fullback Howell Smith scored a 35-yard touchdown with 2½ minutes left to play, which would have given the team six points. In the same year, Gainesville beat Boys High 6-0 in a downpour of rain.
In 1907, Walker Smith was listed as coach, but in those days players elected a captain among themselves, and he also acted as coach. The Gainesville team, now named the Red Elephants with red and white colors, had white and black as its colors in those days.
Right end John Byers also was listed as captain of the 1907 team. Other players included Sandy Evans, Earl Smith, quarterback John Harbison, George Finger, Will Bagwell, Ernest Sumner and Ed Knott.
The field at Chattahoochee Park was fenced, and admission was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.
Col. Kenyon is credited with being the first official coach, both in a history of the Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar law firm, which Kenyon founded, and histories of Gainesville High School football. He was a teacher at the school at the time.
In those early days of football, there appeared to be considerable opposition to the sport. There was little protective gear, and Gainesville players were said to have wrapped potato sacks around their shoulders as padding.
The 1910 season when Col. Kenyon was coaching ended before it started after one of the players, Fred Kimsey, broke his arm during practice. Mothers of the players were so upset they wouldn’t let their sons play.
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Col. Kenyon started his law firm in 1914 as a sole practitioner. He later partnered with Judge A.C. Wheeler, and still later his son, A.R. (Dick) Kenyon, joined him, along with Dick’s law classmate, W.B. (Bill) Gunter. The firm became known as Kenyon, Kenyon & Gunter.
Gunter served in the state legislature, became a state Supreme Court justice and was instrumental in Jimmy Carter’s gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
Dick Kenyon became a revered superior court judge, founded the first halfway house in Georgia and the first shelter for battered women. He declined appointment to a federal judgeship to continue work as one of the developers of a judicial training school.
Richard W. Story, who was with the firm from 1978 to 1986, is a federal district judge, and J.D. Smith, who was with the firm 1972-83, served on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
The firm’s name has changed eight times through the years. The present name, Hulsey, Oliver & Mahar, comes from Julius Hulsey, the late Sam Oliver and James E. Mahar. Hulsey joined the firm in 1966 and Mahar in 1974.
Julius Hulsey’s great-grandfather was Burrel J. Hulsey, who fought in the Battle of Atlanta in the Civil War and at one time lived in the old Clark House, the brick home that still stands next to the Olympic rowing venue at Clark’s Bridge. He helped build Airline Baptist Church, in whose cemetery he and his wife, Nancy Shockley, are buried.
Also buried in that cemetery is Laurette Bates Hulsey, whose father, John Bates, was one of five original justices who named Gainesville and secured it as Hall County’s seat.
The last Burrel J. Hulsey homeplace still stands today on Riverside Drive, where another great-grandson, B.J. Hulsey, and family continue to live.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.