Hall’s home fields
In honor of high school football season, The Times continues a series on Hall County’s high school football stadiums: Their histories, key memories and what makes them unique. Next week: Billy Ellis Memorial Stadium at R.W. Johnson High School. Fans who would like to share their memories can email Dallas Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It took a while for the Riverside Military Academy Eagles to find a permanent home.
The turf now known as Maginnis Field was first Strupper Field.
"It was named after Everett Strupper, who was an All-American at Georgia Tech," said Errol Bisso, director of alumni relations and assistant athletic director at Riverside. "He was a consensus All-American, one of the first in the South."
Strupper was a cadet at Riverside in the early 1900s. While he was at Tech, he scored several of the touchdowns in the 1916 game against Cumberland College. Tech won that game 220-0.
Strupper Field was renamed Maginnis Field in 2001 to honor Col. Bill Maginnis, who began coaching at Riverside in 1952. He left in 1958 for a year of coaching freshmen at Tulane University, but came back to his Eagles soon after.
"Bill had been a fixture here," Bisso said. "He was the principal, head football coach, then he became superintendent. It was just fitting to name it for him."
And to add another twist in the tale, the Eagles didn't start playing on Strupper Field until the 1975 season.
Prior to that, they played on Vaden Field, which is now a parking lot across from the water works, Bisso said.
"Strupper was known as the track field but we didn't play football up there at that time," he said. "Then I had the bright idea to move up there."
Bisso played football for Riverside on Vaden Field before going off to Delta State University in Mississippi.
"The day after I graduated, I came back," he said.
He started as assistant coach under Maginnis and took over as head coach in 1969. He continued in that position until 1989.
In addition to switching fields, Riverside switched opponents.
They used to be members of the Old South Association, playing teams such as Darlington School and Columbia Military. When that group broke up the school became an associate member of the Georgia High School Association.
"We sort of bounced around from (Class-A) to (Class-AA) and back," Bisso said. "Our old rivalry used to be Georgia Military Academy, which is now Woodward Academy ... As associate members, we sort of played whoever was left."
In 1984, when Riverside sold its Florida campus, the school was able to become a full-fledged member of the Georgia High School Association, allowing the Eagles to play local teams.
Having new kids transferring to the school every year made it hard for the Eagles to have a consistent football team, but they had their fair share of wins over the years, Bisso said.
"The challenge is you rebuild every year," said Sheldon Ward, head football coach and athletic director. "You come in over the summer and see all these new kids. You have to get them to gel together and be one team."
Despite the turnover of players, there is one strong tradition that remains — the Eagles' march-on, which includes cannons and the band on the field in uniform.
"Our march-on is something just like you'd see at West Point or at Annapolis," Bisso said.
There are some Eagles who've made a mark on the collegiate and professional world after graduating from Riverside.
"In 1985 when we played Banks County, that's when Terry Allen was a senior at Banks," Bisso said. "We had my son and Chris Lancaster and we upset them."
Both Allen, who later went on to play for the Minnesota Vikings, Washington Redskins and New England Patriots, and Lancaster, who came back to Riverside to coach, were being recruited by the University of Georgia at that time, but Allen was too small and Lancaster too slow to play for the Bulldogs. But the two got their revenge when Clemson University got them both and proceeded to beat UGA in Athens shortly thereafter.
In addition to Lancaster, some of the more well-known Eagles include Furman runningback Tersoo Uhaa and defensive tackle Colton Keig, former UGA All-SEC safety Buck Swindle, former Vanderbilt receiver Bucky Curtis, former Duke University quarterback Tommy Prothro, who went on to coach at both the collegiate and National Football League levels and Red Bethea, a former halfback at University of Florida.
But at Riverside, football talent is only part of the lesson. Though Ward is only partly through his first season coaching the Eagles, he wants them to learn not just how to throw, catch and tackle, but how to be responsible, respectable young men.
"I want to teach them more than football. If I leave this place and that happens, then I'll feel good," Ward said.