2011 can best be described as a year of change and tragedy.
While the change has had its positive elements, the tragedies have been difficult to process for many of us. We knew the 2010 football season would be Luther Welsh’s last patrolling the Bulldog sidelines. While we knew he and his devoted wife, Anne, had serious health issues, we held out hope that somehow, some way, they would, again, defeat that Satan we call cancer.
In February the community came together to honor coach with his day. Hundreds attended a ceremony and reception at The Depot to honor the man who brought so much joy and pride to our county in 19 seasons during two tenures as our coach. Friends and family from all over the two-state area paid homage to Luther and Anne and saw what those close to them knew, but didn’t want to accept: their health was failing rapidly.
The end came in July as they succumbed within a week of each other. I think about them every day, and it’s still heartbreaking. Even in death, coach remains a part of us. In a great gesture of tribute and class, the new Bulldog coach, Milan Turner, had this year’s Bulldog team wear an “LW” on the backs of their helmets.
The honors continued for coach after his death. The ESPN Rise/WJBF Coach of the Year Award has been named for him. The year closed with Luther being inducted into the Sumter, S.C., Athletic Hall of Fame, joining his friend Bobby Richardson, the great New York Yankee second baseman. Finally, Coach was named to the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame and will be inducted June 2.
The Bulldog nation suffered another loss when Norman “Bulldog” Dent, longtime booster and head of our chain crew, died unexpectedly from a heart attack just before Thanksgiving. Games at our Brickyard won’t seem the same without Norman in attendance, but such was the year.
2011 was not without its triumphs. Our baseball team again won the region and made an impressive run to the semifinals of the state playoffs. Several Bulldogs will play at the next level, and this group, led by Jason Osborn, gave McDuffie County a tremendous amount of pride and joy. Change again occurred when coach Osborn decided to move on, and now the Bulldogs will be ably led by Aaron Hall, who has earned the opportunity to lead after serving successfully as an assistant for many seasons.
As previously noted, the new football coach, Milan Turner, led the Bulldogs to a successful season in a partially renovated Brickyard. The work, thus far, is beautiful and impressive and we have the finished product to look forward to because the SPLOST passed in November will enable further modernization and improvements. I remember the pride I felt the first time I entered the stadium shortly before we opened our home schedule with Hephzibah. The best is yet to come.
Other local triumphs include the great season by former Bulldog Darius Eubanks, who helped the Georgia Southern Eagles to the semifinals in their division for the second consecutive year. Eubanks, a junior, finished third on the team with 69 tackles and also had two interceptions.
Another former Bulldog wasn’t quite as lucky. Jasper Brinkley spent this season as a Minnesota Viking on the injured reserve list with a hip injury. I read with pride just this week how he spent time with teammates serving needy families during the Christmas season.
Another of our athletes, LaBrandon Hudson, obtained a degree from Fort Valley State University. Though he battled injuries at times and his team didn’t win often, he kept his eyes on the prize and that’s what playing college sports should be about.
Unfortunately, the year was not without controversy. Our neighbor to the west had a difficult year. Just prior to the start of the season, Warren County head football coach Marleau Blount left the school after taking responsibility for allowing players to practice without physicals. The team, led by David Daniel, was on its way to a fine year, but its accomplishments went somewhat overlooked because the team was brutally attacked after a victory in Sparta against Hancock Central. Coach Daniel continues to recover from his injuries. After an investigation by the GBI, the case has been sent to a grand jury in Hancock County. We have to trust the greater good will triumph in 2012.
As I reflect on the year that was I feel sadness at our losses, disappointment in our controversies and pride in our successes. I’m looking forward to a 2012 that will, hopefully, be filled with positive change and a very limited number of controversies and losses.
Happy New Year and go Dogs!