August 15, 2012 12:39:20 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
James Lawson still remembers the summer of 1962.
The Lee High School Generals knew they had a new coach, but they had no idea what their new leader had in store for them.
When the players reported, Billy Brewer bundled them up, put them on buses, and took them to Camp Pratt for a week of conditioning.
"It was unbelievable conditioning like I never went through," said Lawson, a linebacker/guard on the team. "He had set an agenda for everybody to do a weight program. We never had a program for weights. We only did it on our own."
That week of conditioning meant a lot to Lawson and the Generals. Lawson, who said he gained 15-20 pounds that season, saw a team come together. He watched Brewer sow the seeds of attitude, camaraderie, and sacrifice at that camp, and then he played a role in helping Brewer have a first season to remember with eight wins.
The road didn't stop there.
Lee High's success earned it a spot against the H.V. Cooper High Greenies in the inaugural Red Carpet Bowl in Vicksburg. The game was established as a postseason matchup to benefit Leo Puckett, a local high school student-athlete who was injured during a high school football game in 1953.
Cooper High won the game 13-6 thanks to a Wayne Roberts touchdown, but the memory of that score and the game will live on Thursday and Friday when members of both teams gather in Vicksburg for the 50th anniversary of the Red Carpet Bowl.
Brewer will be in attendance along with Lawson and many of his players who represented Columbus in the historic game.
"I was absolutely amazed they had this bowl game every year for 50 years," said Lawson, who has lived in North Carolina for the past 15 years. "It's quite a deal."
Lawson and his wife, Andy, have helped organize the Lee High contingent that will return to Vicksburg for part of a two-day reunion. The players will come together Thursday for a reunion and then will be honored Friday during a doubleheader that will feature Vicksburg vs. Pearl and Brandon vs. Warren Central.
"It has been rewarding because some of the played I haven't talked to in 50 years," Lawson said. "It was a warm feeling to remember who they were and what their nicknames were and the things we did together and all of the great times we had growing up in Columbus. Those were the best of years for us. It was a great time."
The game came together for a great cause. After Puckett's injury, Gene Allen, the coach of the H.V. Cooper High football team, businessman Harold Baldwin, Vicksburg Evening Post sports editor Billy Ray, and Travis T. Vance Sr., mayor of the city of Vicksburg, formed the Red Carpet Bowl committee to help Puckett, who was rendered a quadriplegic, meet his financial needs.
Travis Vance Jr., who played on the 1962 team and is the son of Travis Vance Sr., said all of the committee members are volunteers and take great pride in carrying on a tradition that everyone in the Vicksburg-Warren community believes is special. They also take immense satisfaction in their ability to use the proceeds from the Red Carpet Bowl to award scholarships to graduating seniors from the local high schools.
Vance has taken over for his father as a key organizer for the event. His involvement is special because in 1962 he was an offensive end who laid a block on a defensive back who was set to tackle Roberts. Vance said the block freed Roberts to score the points that helped seal the victory.
Fifty years later, Vance had no idea the game or the spirit behind still would be going strong today.
"I was 16. I just wanted to make it to 17," said Vance, who recently turned 66 and lost his father to prostate cancer at the age of 62. He is a prostate cancer survivor. "We never thought about 50 years later."
Time has helped Vance appreciate the special nature he and his football teammates had. Players from his team went on to play at Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama, just to name a few, while the Generals sent players to Georgia Tech and Auburn University, to name just a few.
Brewer, who played for the NFL's Washington Redskins in 1960, went on to a long coaching career that took him to the University of Mississippi as well as a host of other destinations. He said his time at Lee High was special in that he helped build something at a school that hadn't won in 20 years. That was especially sweet for someone born and raised in Columbus, as it was to play in the inaugural Red Carpet Bowl.
"I really didn't want the job, but it came open," Brewer said. "We started a lot of traditions they used to do, like going to Camp Pratt, like coach (Bear) Bryant used to do at Texas A&M. (Going to Camp Pratt) developed us 15- and 16-year-old kids into young men and helped create an attitude, work habits, and discipline.
"We just changed their mind-set and told them, 'You are going to win. You are not a loser. There would be no more losing here. You would compete every time you went on the field You will always be competitive with a chance to win,' and they did that. The people brought into that. It was excitement like you have never seen before. It brought this town together."
Brewer also remembers flying from Columbus to Vicksburg in a Southern Airways 43-passenger DC-3 and staying in a downtown hotel. With the whole school in that hotel, Brewer said there was no sleep to be gotten.
"It was bedlam," Brewer said. "We were a well-disciplined football team, but those kids were excited. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal."
That's why Brewer wanted to be a part of the reunion. He is proud of what he helped Lee High accomplish, and will enjoy telling some of those stories with his former players.
"I am looking forward to it," Brewer said. "It is unbelievable for the community to keep this going. It will be one of the highlights of my career, and I have had a lot of them in athletics."
Now that their playing and coaching days are well behind them, Lawson, Vance, and Brewer take pride in all of the good that the game does for others.
"I feel like it is what you should do daily not just every 50 years," Vance said when asked what the Red Carpet Bowl means to him. "I know I fall short quite a bit, but I feel like everybody -- young, old, black, white, male, female -- we are all God's children and we were put here to help one another. I look back on the Red Carpet Bowl and the Red Carpet Bowl has helped Travis Wayne Vance to exert some of his energies to helping these people in Vicksburg, Columbus, Pearl, Brandon, Gulfport, and Picayune."
Here is traveling roster for the Lee High Generals for the 1962 Red Carpet Bowl. Andy Lawson and Jim Lawson (No. 60) helped organize the Columbus participants for the reunion.
No. 10 Doug Dale will attend with wife Clare
No. 12 Dennis Lawson will attend without wife
No. 15 Bill Eastman will not attend
No. 20 Hubert Barnhill will attend with wife
No. 22 Tommy Keeton deceased
No. 25 Ronnie Carter will not attend
No. 30 Dennis Cooper will not attend
No. 31 Bunk Harpole will not attend
No. 34 David Kennedy will attend with wife Diane and daughter
No. 35 Mike Kendrick will not attend
No. 36 Will Henry Vaughn deceased
No. 41 Bill Brigham will attend with wife Allegra
No. 43 Ron Cherry will attend with wife Penny
No. 44 Gerald Crowe deceased
No. 50 Greg Robert will attend
No. 52 Henry Gentry will not attend
No. 54 Paul Swain will attend
No. 55 Bobby Morgan will attend with wife Becky
No. 55 Jackie Reese will attend with wife Nancy
No. 60 Jim Lawson will attend with wife Andy
No. 61 Larry Greenhaw will not attend
No. 62 Charles Swoope will attend with wife Shirley
No. 64 Doug Smith deceased
No. 66 Roy Sherrill deceased
No. 67 Chuck Harkins will attend with wife Karla
No. 68 Don Grizzle will not attend
No. 70 Nelson Adams deceased
No. 71 Pete Brandon will not attend
No. 72 Doug Moran will attend with wife Patricia
No. 73 Rocky Everette KIA in Vietnam
No. 75 George Fulton deceased
No. 77 Bill Steverson will attend with wife Donna
No. 78 David Martin will attend with wife Diane
No. 79 Billy Kimbrill deceased
No. 81 Ronnie Harrison will attend with wife Pam
No. 82 Bill Kibe will not attend
No. 86 Tommy Webb will attend
No. 87 John James deceased
No. 88 Mike Depta will attend with wife Ellen Hart
No. 89 Paul Mims will attend with wife Sandra
Coach Billy Brewer will attend with guest
Coach Robert Youngblood will attend with wife MaryMac
Patsy Puckett Gray will not attend
Katherine Robinson will not attend
Beth Edmonson Callaway will not attend
Nancy Moore Reese will attend with player husband Jackie (No. 55)
Sandra Stoddard will not attend
Becky Beard Morgan will attend with player husband Bobby (No. 55)
Jan Eastman will attend
Betsy Caldwell Dale deceased
Cotton Taylor will not attend
Bill Fleming will not attend
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.