By John Barnett
We’ve heard the cliché hundreds of times in our lives: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Like most of us, Larry Chalker has had his share of difficulties and disappointments in life, but he has never let those hardships keep him down. He readily credits learning to get tough when circumstances are tough to his mother, Ellen Kennedy, and his coaches.
By the time Larry Chalker was 5, his mother was twice-widowed. Her first husband, Sam Amerson, was killed in a trucking accident and in October 1953, her second husband, Leonard Jeff Chalker (Larry’s father), died in an automobile accident. Living in Glascock County and working in Thomson, she reared three young children alone. In 1956, Ellen married Dorsey Kennedy - himself a widower with three children - and the family moved to Thomson. The new family would add a son, Jimmy in 1959. The tragedy that brought Larry Chalker to Thomson would prove pivotal in his athletic career. Had he continued to live in Glascock County, one of Thomson’s greatest all-around athletes, would not have had the opportunity to play organized football, baseball, or run track. Glascock County only fielded a basketball team at that time.
During Larry’s career at Thomson High School from 1962-65, he amassed 12 letters in four sports: four in basketball, three each in football and baseball, and two in track. Chalker played under four different basketball coaches at Thomson High, which he said hampered their performance. His junior year saw the Bulldogs finish 18-3, but they lost in the playoffs to a powerful Cochran team led by legendary baseball coach Terry Holder. His senior year saw the Bulldogs again fall short in the playoffs despite going 17-4 after they lost a huge halftime lead to Commerce.
Chalker was part of the resurgence of Thomson High Football under Coach Paul Leroy. In his senior year, the Bulldogs won their first region crown since 1954. They posted a 10-1 record, losing a 20-14 heartbreaker in the South Georgia Championship game to eventual champion Americus. When discussing the loss, which Chalker characterizes as “devastating,” you can still see the anguish in his face as he ponders what might have been. Still, the Bulldogs were outstanding in 1965. Coach Leroy describes Chalker as a “perfectionist who constantly worked on his technique to improve. He was the first real placekicker I had in Thomson and was one of the finest athletes that I coached in Thomson.” That team shut out seven of 11 opponents and surrendered only 50 points. Another amazing accomplishment of that team was that Chalker, Al Guy, who rushed for over 1100 yards, and Phillip Russell made first team all-state. Halfback Barry Hanson, QB Ronnie Heacock, and Tackle Judson Lazenby made honorable mention. The entire right side of the offensive line was all-state: Chalker at guard, Lazenby at tackle, and Russell at end. Chalker, Russell, and Guy all played in the Georgia High School All-star game.
Chalker was also an outstanding baseball player. He particularly excelled as a pitcher until shoulder problems made it necessary for him to play other positions as a senior. As a sophomore, he registered a 7-1 record on the mound.
After high school, Chalker attended Georgia Southern and Augusta Tech, but opted to go to work and joined the National Guard in 1968. In June of 1969, at only age 21, he became the head of the Thomson National Guard when he became administrator and supply technician. He served not only as part of the Federal Civil Service, but was also in the Guard. He spent 36 years in Thomson and achieved the rank of Sergeant First Class upon his retirement in 2003. However, his country was not through taking advantage of the former Bulldog’s talent. He spent an additional year as administrative team chief in a unit in Decatur in which he helped prepare units for deployment to Iraq until March of 2004. In his “retirement,” Larry works as an independent courier delivering medical supplies to health departments, pharmacies, and hospitals. He’s the kind of man who has repeatedly overcome adversity and despite disappointments has worked hard and is devoted to his family, friends, and country.
John Barnett has been playing, coaching or observing Thomson sports for six decades.