The Columbia County of today is not what it was in 1958 when the Evans Knights played their first football game.
Modest homes, farms and dirt roads have given way to subdivisions, busy four-lane roads and shopping centers. Evans Consolidated School housed students from first through 12th grades. There was a true sense of community in that people really took care of each other. Many Evans residents miss the closeness of this once-rural community. That close-knit community is what prompted Evans to grow into what we have today.
Before the 1950s, basketball was the only organized sport for Evans. A football program required a playing field, equipment and coaches, resources that the community and school would have to provide.
In April 1958, then-Superintendent of Schools John Pierce Blanchard and members of the Board of Education met with about 20 people to form the Evans Touchdown Club. This organization would oversee all efforts in establishing a football program, from fundraising to naming the team and mascot: the "Black Knights."
The stadium would be built on top of the ruins of the original school building, which burned down a couple of years earlier. Parents and members of the community helped with each aspect of providing this facility, from donations to elbow grease. Materials from local hardware stores and expertise from brick masons, electricians and building contractors were freely given.
The Evans faculty was instrumental in building the stadium. The new football coach, Red Bullock, and school principal, C.W. Griffin, were digging holes for light poles the day after they moved to Evans. Many former students remember seeing parents stop at the field each day after work to see what needed to be done. A strong commitment from the community made this stadium possible.
By late summer of 1958, the first football team assembled for practice. The newly-formed team was led by head coach Bullock and assistant coach Mitchell Mitford. Bullock, a graduate of Valdosta High School and Georgia Teachers College, brought 10 years of coaching and teaching experience to this young team. He also served as an assistant principal for Evans High School. Mitford, a history teacher at the school, was a graduate of Georgia Teachers College and also served as the school's basketball coach.
The same community effort that built the Evans stadium was helping Harlem build theirs. Evans was selected as the site for the first football game, which they won. However, later that season when Evans played at the new Harlem stadium, they lost.
These "old school" players remember a simpler, if not rougher, way of doing things. Coaches didn't believe in water breaks like they do today and they even took salt tablets.
They wore the same pants to practice and games, but the jerseys were reserved for games only and used one year to the next. Old T-shirts were worn over their pads during practice. Without a locker room, the football players dressed out in the old gym. The metal cleats had to be put on outside to spare the gym's floor.
Players also remember some of the obstacles of a new field built on top of ruins of the old school. If you were tackled and felt something harder than the ground, it was probably a brick or a rock. The referee would call a time out and children would run out on the field to gather the debris.
Drainage was a problem in one end zone. "You could actually drown if you were tackled in the end zone after it rained," recalled one former player.
With all of the growing pains of a new program, the team went 6-2 that first year -- a record impressive enough for an invitation to participate in the first Shrine Bowl game that November against Aquinas High School.
Special football awards of that season included Outstanding Lineman Award, Douglas Partridge; Most Valuable Player, John Rhodes; and, Outstanding Back, Melvin Gray.
Many members of this team still live in the Evans area.
At least 12 of them, known as the "Over the Hill Gang," get together each month for dinner.
The closeness of a small community and a group of exceptional young men who worked together to establish football in Columbia County still remains through nearly 50 years of change.
Anna Olliff is media specialist at Evans Middle School. Her information comes from old Evans yearbooks, The Columbia County News-Times and conversations with EHS alumni Peggy Stewart, Judge Jim Blanchard and Bill Bailey.
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