THOMASVILLE — The grainy, black-and-white images on the screen may have been a bit fuzzy, but they brought back some distinctly poignant memories.
A few players — and even one of the coaches — of a youth football team in Thomasville recently reunited to reminisce about the good ol’ days, when they won the 1972 state Little League championship. And highlighting the reunion was the screening of an approximately 12-minute film from the championship game, which most of them had never seen.
“I just thought it would be great to get that group of guys together again,” said Don Osborne, one of the team’s coaches, who’s now 88 and still lives in Thomasville.
“They were a great, great group of kids, and some of them went on to do great things. Unfortunately, we didn’t have many who could come — some of them are deceased, and there were some we couldn’t locate — but for those who came, we had a great time reminiscing.”
Among those players at the reunion was Billy Freeman, who is now the CEO of the Tom A. Finch Community YMCA and who hosted the reunion at the Y. Freeman said the reunion brought back some great memories of one of the highlights of his youth.
“At that time in our lives, it may as well have been the World Series or the Super Bowl,” he said. “It was the ultimate game that you could win. It seemed like big-time when the other team came in here on a bus from some far-off place. And then to win and see your picture in the newspaper, it really made us feel big-time.”
Other players who attended the reunion were Jimmy Sanders, Jeff Maley and Mark Hutchins.
The 1972 Thomasville All-Star squad, selected in the fall of the year, consisted of 32 of the best 12- and 13-year-old players from the four teams in the city’s Little League football division — the Colts, Giants, Redskins and Eagles. They were coached by Dalton Myers and Billy Borders, both of whom are now deceased, along with Osborne and Bobby Hall.
The team gelled fairly quickly, beginning with a 22-8 win over the High Point All-Stars in an annual game called the Optimist Bowl (it was sponsored by the High Point and Thomasville Optimist Clubs).
They followed that up with three straight wins in the N.C. Recreation Society Little League Football state tournament to advance to the championship game. The wins came over Alamance County (6-0), Burlington (a 6-6 tie, with the win awarded to Thomasville on the basis of total yardage accumulated in the game), and Shelby (22-0).
Osborne remembered that Shelby players had done some trash-talking before the game, so that win was particularly rewarding.
“They had beaten Thomasville every year,” he said. “As they rode in on their bus, they rode around the field singing what they were gonna do to us, but we beat ‘em.”
In the championship game, which was played at Thomasville’s Memorial Park Stadium, the local All-Stars took on a much smaller team from Henderson.
“It rained the whole game,” Osborne said. “I was in the field house with the team before the game. The other team didn’t want to go out there in the rain to warm up, but I told our guys to get out there. They said, ‘But, Coach, it’s pouring down rain.’ I told them once they got out there and started warming up, they wouldn’t even notice the rain.”
It must’ve helped, as Thomasville blanked Henderson, 26-0. The team got two touchdowns from running back Jeff Maley, as well as scores from John Allgood and Jackie Hoover — the uncle of future Ledford High School and Carolina Panthers star Brad Hoover.
Fortunately for those who attended the team’s reunion, Jimmy Sanders’ father had filmed the game on a 16mm camera, and Sanders still had the film. Osborne had it converted to a digital format, and the attendees were able to relive the glory of their championship as they watched the grainy footage.
Freeman pointed out, however, that rewatching the game meant more to him than just reliving the victory.
“It just brought back a lot of good memories,” he said.
“There’s a song lyric that says, ‘You can’t make new old friends,’ and that’s so true. This reunion just got me reminiscing about those guys I went to school with and played with, and the great coaches we had. It was just a different time in my life, and it was all good memories.”
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