In Harlem, things still move so slowly that we waited 51 years to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the football team.
It probably would have helped, though, if the newspaper had done a better job of reminding everyone that it was in 1958 that the county's two high schools, Harlem and Evans, started football teams.
As it is, Evans alumni were on the ball and celebrated their 50th at the team's actual five-decade mark last year. Harlem did an outstanding job of punting, though; on homecoming night recently, the school celebrated their team's 50th anniversary a year late by noting that 2009 marks 50 years since the graduation of the seniors on that first team.
So we fumbled, but they made a nice recovery. Incredible, too, that so many of the old players are still with us; just three have passed away.
But our oldest high schools have been around a lot longer than 50 years. The Evans "consolidated" school was dedicated Dec. 31, 1926; Harlem was established at least five decades sooner.
So: If our schools have been open since before 1926, and if football didn't start until 50 years ago, what did students play before 1958?
The answer: basketball.
While football is now the largest high school sport, basketball was played far earlier in Columbia County schools. It makes sense: Basketball teams are smaller and there's less equipment, so it's easier to get up a game than for equipment-intensive football.
In fact, basketball was once the only form of physical education in our schools - and it was reserved for a select few. It wasn't until the intervention of World War II that every student got in the game, so to speak.
A valuable find in the newspaper archives perfectly encapsulates Columbia County's transition from spectator sports to school PE programs. This is from the Aug. 27, 1942 edition of The Columbia News, headlined "New Plans For School":
"The athletic program which developed some of the finest basketball teams in this section of the state is now out for the duration of the war for reasons that are familiar to the citizens.
"The Board of Education and a mass meeting of county citizens have approved a voluntary military training for the boys and a regular program of physical education for the girls.
"Heretofore, it has been the custom for seven or eight boys and a dozen girls to receive the basketball training and physical development while the rest of the student body watched the games. Instead of that, it is the desire of the Board to have every boy taught the fundamentals needed in becoming good citizen-soldiers and to give every girl a system of physical culture that will help her to develop a healthy body and will fit her for her place in the home and nation.
"The schools affected by this program are Harlem, Evans and Leah. The three have made a wonderful record in basketball tournaments and district contests. It is hoped in time, as the war continues, to extend the training to the larger boys in the grammar school.
"This program is intended to take care of the excitement and thrill found in competitive sports and to give the entire student body training which will strengthen and harden them physically, instead of developing a chosen few athletes.
"Students will be equipped with uniforms and will drill once a week with the Columbia County unit of the Georgia State Home Guards at Evans."
Notice a few of details. Before this change, there were no school PE programs. Instead, a handful of students played basketball while the rest of the students watched.
Also, we weren't quite as concerned about "sexism" in those days, so while the boys drilled, the girls were developing "healthy bodies" so they could take care of "her place" in the home.
So, there you are: The origin of PE in county schools, and the forerunner of JROTC, too.
I suppose we can celebrate the 67th anniversaries of both this year. Or maybe we can just come back in 2017 to celebrate the 75th.
We'll try not to forget.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail email@example.com.)
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