Gainesville High School prides itself on its past, and for good reason.
Its history goes back 117 years and its football team has more than 650 wins and more state semifinal appearances (17) than any school in the state.
Early in the 20th century, E.D. Kenyon lit the torch. According to local legend, football was played as early as 1908 at Gainesville High School, when a bunch of roughneck schoolboys strapped potato sacks to their shoulders in lieu of proper pads.
A few years later, Kenyon organized the boys, coached them, and made them a legitmate team.
In the 90-plus years in between, they’ve been given a name, earned a reputation, and become one of the winningest programs in the country, not to mention the state. College greats, All-Americans and NFL players have been Red Elephants, proud to call Gainesville High home.
They helped create a Friday night heritage that has been passed down proudly through generations.
Tradition, as they say, never graduates.
But one honor has eluded Big Red. One trophy is still missing from the overflowing cases: the Georgia High School Association state championship.
That’s where the past gives way to the present.
Saturday, when the Red Elephants trot what could be the most talented team it school history onto the Georgia Dome turf for the Class AAA state championship game against Peach County, it could be the culmination of a proud program’s march through history.
No teams may ever match the achievements of the 1923-1925 teams, which under coach Joel H. Pittard, went 29-0 and outscored its opponents 1,200-65. And no team may boast three future pros like teams of the late 1950s.
But make no mistake, this year’s team, these coaches and these players are some of the best the school’s ever produced.
They’ve bullied opponents and broken school records. They’ve beaten both of the teams that played in last year’s championship game and slayed the stereotype that North Georgia teams can’t run with teams from the southern half of the state. They’ve broken opponents’ will and showed indominatable spirit in an unlikely comeback.
They’ve earned the right to play for a title, and put their names with those that won’t be forgotten.
Julian Howard Pittard, Drane Watson, Bobby Gruhn, Bruce Miller.
Tom Paris, Jack Roberts, Billy Lothridge, Billy Martin, Preston Ridlehuber, Tommy West, A.J. Johnson, Blake Sims.
The most recent additions might seem out of place on such a lofty list of GHS greats, but as the keepers of the Big Red flame lit a century ago, they’ve already proven that’s where they belong.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.