1962 was a tough season for the Thomson High football team.
In Coach Paul Leroy’s first season, a very young Bulldog team finished 3-6-1. Little did Bulldog fans know that economic down-sizing of a lumber company near Manning, S.C., would help put the Bulldogs back on the road to respectability and set the stage for great things to come.
When Colin Ard learned that Georgia-Pacific had bought the company that he worked for, fearing he would lose his job in the reorganization, he made the difficult decision to move his family to Thomson to take a job with Thomson Oak Flooring. This meant that his son, Ricky, would leave his starting position on the powerful Manning Monarchs football team and join the Thomson Bulldogs.
Following his older brothers, Herman and C.W., Ricky was a two-year starter at halfback and defensive back for Manning in 1961 and ’62. Interestingly, as a freshman backup his 1960, Manning’s team had once lost to a little school named Maywood, who was coached by Luther Welsh.
While gathering interest from several colleges, Ard, who admitted that he was not as serious about his grades as he should have been, couldn’t meet the entrance requirements. Instead, he was drafted and spent two years in the Army, stationed in Korea, where he played two seasons on the base football team. After his discharge, he earned a scholarship to Lees-McRae Junior College, despite trying out while suffering from a fractured ankle. His team would lose the Junior College National Championship to Northeast Oklahoma State University. After the 1968 season, Ricky earned a scholarship to Gardner-Webb College. Ard would play only one season there because, now married, he felt the need to go to work to support his family.
He moved back to Thomson and began working in the textile industry at Milliken. Lacking only a few courses to earn his degree, he asked the plant manager, Charlie Hill, if he could transfer him to a plant close to Gardner-Webb. Hill, who later spent many years as an educator in Thomson, granted the request and Ard earned his degree and entered Milliken’s management program. Ricky spent many years in several locations working in that industry. Eventually, he would move back to Thomson and worked first at King Mill in Augusta and then to the Avondale Mills in Graniteville.
Often you hear coaches talk about the life lessons that athletics teaches. Things like toughness, determination and never-quitting come to mind. Ricky Ard will tell you quickly that those lessons helped to save his life. On Jan. 6, 2005, two Nashville Southern Railroad cars collided near Avondale Mills. The damage to one car resulted in 90 tons of chlorine gas being released. Ard, who was driving between buildings of the plant was initially not alarmed at the cloud of smoke he saw because small fires were common around the textile mills. Upon investigating, though, he was overcome by the gas as his eyes began to burn and his lungs filled with the chlorine. He knew he had to fight to survive and had to move and resist the temptation to collapse in pain. His determination to remove himself from harm’s way allowed a passing motorist to pick him up and get him away from the worst of the danger. Like Ard, 250 people had to be treated from the spill. Tragically, nine people died that day. If not for the lessons of toughness and determination he learned as an athlete, Ricky Ard might well have been No. 10. You never know, the things coaches teach you may save your life 40 years later.