Just a Few Little Things I Noticed

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 20, 2018, 11:10 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Laurens Academy is up on a hill on Highway 49, out in the country a ways, between the highway’s intersections with Interstates 385 and 26. The basketball games began at 4 p.m. on Friday, with middle-school girls and boys, and varsity girls and boys, taking on Richard Winn Academy of Winnsboro. The Crusaders won three of the four games, losing only the first, 10-7, in overtime. The game’s leading scorer had three points in middle-school girls.

Ruthie Moore

When I go on assignment, I try to be an observer of more than just points and rebounds. I had never been to basketball games at Laurens Academy. Two years ago, I wrote about a couple playoff baseball games. Perhaps this is why the people were so nice to me.

Travis Plowden

For instance, after the boys’ varsity game – the Crusaders won, 45-33 – head coach Travis Plowden and I talked about books: mine, others, books in general. I told him what makes it difficult is that more and more people write, and less and less people read. This is a view of mine I’ve expressed in other places, but never to a coach after a game. We talked about the game, too, of course.

I try to notice things I’ve never seen before. In this instance, it was the first time I watched basketball games in which all of the officials were black and none of the players were. This was only true of the varsity games, though the officials were all African-American in the middle-school games, too.

What else occurs to me? Prejudice wasn’t an issue.

Taylor Campbell

It’s not an issue frequently voiced in public, but it’s an underlying suspicion that intrudes in the minds of white players toward black officials and black players toward white. It can be seen in the eyes and expressions. I’m not making judgments, just observations. Motives are questioned even when they aren’t publicly disputed. In defense of the officials, motives are often questioned when there is no evidence that they should be.

By the way, three years ago, I watched a college baseball game in which a team with all white players and a black head coach played a team with all black players and a white head coach. Again, no judgment. Just observation. It occurred to me, but I suppose it might not have if I were color-blind. It might not have been worth noticing if the world were color-blind. The world isn’t. It was just something I had never seen, like a left-handed third baseman.

Jason Marlett

The Laurens Academy girls’ team, coached by Jason Marlett, is impressive. It’s the most cohesive team I’ve seen all year that wasn’t on TV. I am positive that the boys’ teams of the county’s two public schools would swamp the boys’ team at Laurens Academy. I’m not sure of that with the 19-1 Lady Crusaders. I’d like to see Laurens Academy play Laurens District High School. I’m not claiming Laurens Academy would win. I’m just claiming it would be worth seeing.

Most of the times I watch girls and boys play back-to back, the most noticeable change is in speed. It looks as if the girls’ game is a record played at 33 rpms, and a boys’ game is at 45. It’s the only comparison I can retrieve, and many people today haven’t ever used a record player, so, okay, let me try another. It looks as if the girls’ game is on cruise control, and the boys’ game has no speed limits. I rarely see officials unable to keep up with a girls’ game, but I see their limits tested quite often in boys’ games.

Jennifer Wu (22)

The Laurens Academy girls and boys play at very close to the same speed. They are both fundamentally sound. When the Crusaders won the boys’ game, I was somewhat astonished because, in the warm-ups, I noticed that Richard Winn Academy’s players were quite a bit larger. Winn took an early lead, and I was paying more attention to taking pictures than notes for a while. Then, all of a sudden, I looked up, and the Crusaders were up, 24-16. It was 26-19 at half. The Eagles made a bit of a third-quarter run, but the Crusaders never lost the lead.

It was impressive.

Blair Quarles (5)

The whole night was impressive. I knew that the LA girls had a senior point guard, Taylor Campbell, who is going to Newberry College next year on scholarship. She played despite an ongoing bout with the flu, but a junior guard, Ruthie Moore, just carried the team, scoring more points by herself, 26, than the total of the opposition. The final score was 41-20.

Here’s my GoLaurens story on the evening.

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Sometimes You Can’t Win Either

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, January 13, 2018, 11:07 a.m.

By Monte Dutton

Newberry, a rival of historic significance, won both the high school basketball games played at Clinton High School on Friday night, and I suppose the Bulldogs’ 71-68 victory in the boys’ game was a bit historic in that it ended a 12-game streak of Red Devil Region 3-3A victories over the past two seasons.

The second and fourth quarters were stalemates. Clinton (9-5, 2-1) dominated the first, and Newberry (10-3, 3-0) dominated the third. It was a great game, played at a frenetic pace, and the two teams mainly shot the same, rebounded the same and made about the same number of turnovers. Newberry is deeper and more experienced. Clinton might be a bit more athletic. I hope to see the game the two teams play later in the season in Newberry.

I like both coaches, Newberry’s Chad Cary and Clinton’s Eddie Romines. As I am a graduate of Clinton High School, I would have preferred a Red Devil victory, but it was an enjoyable night on the local sports beat, anyway.

Newberry has a girls’ program that lost in the 3A finals last year, and I suppose the Lady Bulldogs played the kind of game that should be expected of a team that is ranked No. 1 in the state and wants to stay there. The score was 58-26, and, from the perspective of a Clinton program making its way slowly up a comeback trail, it didn’t really seem that disappointing. Newberry pressed from the opening tap until 1:38 remained in the game, and there were long periods in which it was all the Lady Red Devils could do to get it across the time line. Clinton (7-10, 1-2 region) committed 47 turnovers.

The distance between first and second in the region is almost the same as the distance between first and sixth. I think it likely that both Clinton teams will make the playoffs. Last year the boys went 21-4 and advanced all the way to the Upstate finals. Given the significant losses to graduation, this year’s Red Devils are hanging tough.

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For the story I wrote on the game for the GoLaurens/GoClinton web site, click here.

Love Among the Ruins

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, December 20, 2017, 3:30 p.m.

One characteristic of most ivory towers is that they are imaginary.

By Monte Dutton

Last night, I was on the top floor of an ornate Greenville building, nibbling away at finger foods and hobnobbing with former football players and coaches who served at the foot of the inimitable Cally Gault.

It was a privilege, particularly since I didn’t even attend Presbyterian College and was there because someone invited me. I have merely known Coach Gault for almost my entire life. What made the affair, held to honor Cally for reaching the illustrious age of 90, so meaningful was at least a dozen ways he represents the declining nobility of intercollegiate athletics.

Cally Gault

Today PC football is under siege and bound for planned oblivion. Most everyone there had this on their minds, but they commiserated among themselves in private because they didn’t want to detract from the grace of the affair and its honoree. Everyone there loved Cally. Most everyone there wanted to attest to it publicly. No one wanted to dwell on the sordid and disgraceful present. What Cally devoted his life to building is being euthanized.

Cally defines the word “affable.” He played for the Blue Hose in the 1940s, coached them in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, kept on running the athletic department for many years afterwards, and still attends football and basketball games. Many legends have passed through PC athletics. Not even Walter Johnson and Lonnie McMillian stood the test of time like Cally. In 22 seasons, Cally’s teams won 127 games, lost 101 and tied seven.

I’ve never known a coach exactly like Cally, though he and Art Baker, once Blue Hose teammates, are pretty close. Art was there. So were Stanley Gruber, Bobby Norris, Herman Jackson, Jimmy Spence, Elliott Paulling, Derek Wessinger, Elijah Ray, Bruce Ollis, Keith Richardson, Del Barksdale, John Perry, John Cann, Robbie Strickland, Sandy Cruickshanks, Ronnie Hollier, Mike Turner, and so many more I wish someone had provided a roster.

(Monte Dutton photos)

Most of them poked fun at Cally, who can still roar with the best of them in laughter. Much of the humor originated in the days when he roared on the football field, occasionally a bit too vehemently to make sense.

Toasts were raised. Meanwhile, Presbyterian College football is being toasted. Who knew? Not many of those present knew until it became a fait accompli.

Now PC is adding wrestling for men and women. And acrobatics, tumbling, and competitive cheerleading. How can that be competitive with nothing to cheer?

It occurred to me, observing all the love in the room, that it wasn’t directed at the ivory tower and the latest master plan that originated there. It was for people – Cally Gault, Bob Strock, Billy Tiller, Marshall Brown, Jim Skinner, Bill Cannon, Tom Stallworth, Ed Campbell – who aren’t on the faculty and staff anymore. The love for PC is not unconditional. It isn’t automatic. It is being torn asunder.

In the ivory tower, they believe what they are doing is wise. It’s hard to find anyone outside the ivory tower who believes a word of it. The people outside the ivory tower think those in it have lost their damned minds.

My GoLaurens/GoClinton feature on the gathering is here.

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The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

Some Games Are Monsters; Some Are Dogs

Clinton High girls’ basketball coach John Gardner (left) and Ware Shoals’ Chris Johnston. (Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, December 16, 2017, 11:28 a.m.

A writer has to write, and, sometimes, be trite. When he accepts an assignment, it must be completed, even if the circumstances aren’t the best.

By Monte Dutton

I had a rather sheepish project to complete on Friday night. Ware Shoals, a Class A school, hadn’t much of a chance in a doubleheader against Class 3A Clinton. The new girls’ basketball coach at Ware Shoals, Chris Johnston, spent 14 years coaching at Laurens Middle School. His father, Bob, won five state championships at Ware Shoals, where the gymnasium is now named after him. This was the subject of my assignment.

The Hornets found themselves surrounded by Red Devils.

Chris Johnston is a pleasant man. Never have I been more grateful for a calm disposition.

The Fighting Hornets fell to the Red Devils, 43-8. It was 28-3 at halftime. Ware Shoals didn’t score in the first quarter. Three different Clinton players scored more than the entire Ware Shoals team.

We didn’t talk much about the game. There wasn’t much need.

In the past two nights, I’ve seen little of the human drama of athletic competition.

On Thursday night, the resurgent Presbyterian Blue Hose men hosted the Screaming Eagles of Toccoa Falls. The scream was something like “Aaaaaaiiiiieeee!” The Blue Hose (6-5) won their fifth straight game. Toccoa Falls, who have been cannon fodder for a range of teams, fell, 104-35.

Not that anyone suspected the outcome might be lopsided, but no admission was charged at Templeton Center, where the student body has completed its exams and migrated home for the holidays.

Coach Johnston is a patient man.

Following the girls’ game at Clinton, the Ware Shoals boys kept it close for a half before succumbing to Clinton, 95-57. At the end of the third quarter, with the outcome all but settled, I drove home to write the Chris Johnston feature and watch the NCAA FCS football semifinals between Sam Houston State and North Dakota State. I had few distractions while editing photos and writing about the new coach’s challenges in Ware Shoals. When I flipped the channel, the Bison (NDSU) were ahead, 55-13, and it was still the third quarter.

Mercifully, it was also the final score.

Bowl games begin today. Perhaps there is hope, somehow, for the human drama of athletic competition in the Celebration Bowl (North Carolina A&T-Grambling), New Orleans Bowl (Troy-North Texas), Cure Bowl (Western Kentucky-Georgia State), Las Vegas Bowl (Boise State-Oregon), New Mexico Bowl (Marshall-Georgia State) or Camellia Bowl (Middle Tennessee-Arkansas State).

But I doubt it.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

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Signed copies of three of my novels — Cowboys Come Home, Lightning in a Bottle and Life Gets Complicated — are available at L&L Office Supply and Emma Jane’s in uptown Clinton.

Say It Ain’t So, Hose

(Monte Dutton photos)

Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, November 13, 2017, 11:12 a.m.

And you know the sun’s settin’ fast
And just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your lover
‘Cause your heart’s bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our town, to our town
Can’t you see the sun’s settin’ down on our town, on our town
Goodnight

By Monte Dutton

This Iris DeMent song, released in 1993, always floods into my mind when I get sentimental. This time it’s over our college in our town. Specifically, it’s about football, a favorite topic of my nostalgia glands, which are near and dear to my heart as well as being mythical.

Presbyterian College is not my alma mater. Furman University is, and seldom have I been prouder than on Saturday as I watched the Paladins conquer The Citadel, 56-20.

I have fondness for PC, too. It’s funny that the first college football game I remember was Presbyterian at Furman, won by the Paladins, 13-9, at Sirrine Stadium. Thanks to the web that goes worldwide, I know that game was in 1968, when I was 10, but I remembered the score. Maybe that was why I went to Furman. Maybe it was fated, even though I didn’t make the decision until seven years later. I never imagined going anywhere except Clemson until the fall of 1975, when I visited Furman with a high-school football teammate who was being recruited. Oddly enough, my friend, Roy Walker, went to PC. Furman wanted Roy but captured me, and I wasn’t any good at football.

Now, as my alma mater returns to prominence, Presbyterian football is endangered, and my roots run deep at both schools.

Some of the best times my father and I ever had were sitting in wooden stands behind the end zones – inside the track – at Johnson Field, the first Bailey Memorial Stadium and present home of Fighting Blue Hose lacrosse. Kids could frolic around, playing tackle football with miniature plastic footballs and, on occasion, wadded up paper cups, while their fathers passed sage judgment on the games. The names of PC players – Bill Kirtland, Lynn Dreger, Wally Bowen, Bobby Norris — still crackle from the public address archives of my mind.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

Now, it is widely alleged, PC is about to “de-emphasize” football, which is to say it is going to stop awarding scholarships and abandon its thus far quixotic membership in the Football Championship Subdivision. The upgrade to NCAA Division I has not gone well, and it has apparently been a great financial drain on the little liberal-arts college, and the reason I suspect this is that all such triumphs and disasters are ultimately and unfortunately judged and justified on the basis of money.

That’s where the Iris DeMent song starts running through my mind.

The Blue Hose are, at the moment, 3-7, with a game at home against Gardner-Webb left. From 1957 through 1992, Presbyterian College played its athletic contests under the auspices of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). From 1993 through 2010, the Blue Hose moved to NCAA Division II. Beginning in 2011, PC moved into NCAA Division I and, in football, the FCS. Now the alleged plan is to remain there but relegate the football program to what would essentially be a conglomeration of walk-ons. The model, originally, was Wofford College, a longtime rival. Now the model appears to be Davidson College, a wonderful school without a successful football team. Its woeful team undoubtedly costs less than Presbyterian’s.

As I am not imbued by sheepskin with the Fighting Blue Hose Spirit, let me write as a Clintonian. If the people of this little town were asked to recall one annual event they miss the most, it would almost surely be the Bronze Derby football game between Presbyterian and nearby Newberry, which was played every year but two between 1913 and 2006 and on Thanksgiving from 1946 through 1992. The game wasn’t as popular for the students because many of them went home for turkey and fixings, but for the towns of Clinton and Newberry, it was the social and sporting event of the year. It was our version of the Carolina Cup steeplechase in Camden, or the Chitlin’ Strut in Salley, or, in its way, the Southern 500 in Darlington. I went to the game every year I was in college because, in no small part, I was home, and many of the other kids who’d gone to college elsewhere congregated there, too. The game captured the attention of the whole state. Clemson’s Danny Ford came at least one year, and I remember him chitchatting with people on the sidelines. It would be unimaginable today for Dabo Swinney to show up, and not just because there is no Bronze Derby to watch anymore.

It was a different time, fondly remembered.

Men and women who know much more than I apparently believe PC football, at its current level, is too expensive, but let me offer up the intangibles I know against the tangibles I don’t.

Football diversifies a college by providing opportunity to kids who could not otherwise afford a private-school education. One reason that I gravitated toward the football players of Furman was that they represented the students who were most like I, a naïve kid who grew up on a farm in Clinton. Together we all found wisdom, not to mention considerable mischief, in college. The Furman alma mater makes reference to drinking “from wisdom’s fountain pure, and rally sons and daughters dear, ’round our dear alma mater.” There were other fountains, too, often originating in aluminum kegs. We made passage through the various rites, and most of us emerged with what it took to take on a world that was allegedly real.

Let me bring this sentimental tome to a conclusion from another old song, Skeeter Davis’s:

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world

It ended when you said goodbye

From what I read, and what I hear, and what my instincts tell me, and the way the powers that be are acting, the de-emphasis of Presbyterian College football is coming, just a few years after its emphasis.

FBS hasn’t been a success. I thought it madness from the beginning. Now, I’m told, merely returning to Division II is “not an option.” Presbyterian has a lovely football stadium, so it needs a team to play in it. Any old team. Throw something together.

I love PC home games, even though the Blue Hose don’t win often. It’s almost impossible to park more than two hundred yards away. We eat, drink and be merry. Then we walk across the street, watch the first half, return to the merriment at halftime, and, then, at the end, hopes often extinguished, we commiserate as we consume the remaining refreshments and make future plans.

I wonder what it’s going to be like on Saturday.

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

Up with Furman

(Monte Dutton photo)

Clinton, South Carolina, Sunday, November 12, 2017, 10:29 a.m.

It’s not often I feel the joy I felt Saturday. Waylon Jennings once sang that, down in Alabama, “they call me the man of joy.” He wasn’t singing about me. Writing breeds satisfaction, not joy. Life is a struggle as I write and write and write, hoping one day more substantial numbers will appreciate my work.

By Monte Dutton

Karl Marx claimed that religion was “the opiate of the masses.” I don’t believe he was right, but, had he written it about sports, he might have had something.

I sat in Section 7 of Paladin Stadium watching Furman rout The Citadel, 56-20. The first half was almost perfection. While I was in Section 7, with Barry and Dan Atkinson, and Dan’s son, Charlie, and daughter, Nora, the Paladins were winning their seventh straight game, and it was over their (and my) archrival.

While driving to Greenville on Saturday morning and humming the fight song in traffic, I thought of a Groucho Marx line that perfectly depicts my feelings about The Citadel: “I have nothing for respect for you, and very little of that.”

Okay, it’s harsh. But funny. The Citadel does have my grudging respect. To me Furman-Citadel is Athens-Sparta. Liberal arts versus military. It’s overly simplistic, but so, too, is it to those of us who are not scholars of ancient Greece.

David Lyle (left) and Kevin Morgan (Ed Bopp photo).

The Bulldogs had won the three previous years. Some sense of decorum had to be restored. Before the game, in the parking lot, I spent time with old friends who hardly ever lost to The Citadel.

I wouldn’t call 35-0 at halftime, oh, diplomatic, but it was more than satisfying. My ailing knee didn’t hurt. My problems disappeared, “blowing through the jasmines of my mind.” I didn’t need a summer breeze to “make me feel fine.” Really. I was glowing. I felt rosy. It wasn’t a summer breeze at all. It was cold, though I took little notice. I cultivated an unprecedented liking of Seals & Crofts.

Happiness. Happiness. Everybody’s looking for happiness.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.

When I’m watching a baseball game on TV, if it’s not close, I’ll see what else is on. An old movie, or the news, or an old Columbo episode. If I keep the game on, I’ll read a book. Unless it’s a Red Sox game. The Sox can be leading, oh, 19-1, and I’ll still watch. If it’s the Yankees, I may catch a replay on NESN.

The leaves on Paris Mountain seemed neon-infused. As the Furman football team performed gloriously – almost defying belief – I felt transformed by the sheer glory of it all. As the clock expired, I wished the Paladins could keep right on scoring touchdowns, but I walked out to the truck and drove on home. I listened to the post-game show on the radio, and I switched to the Clemson halftime show, and, by the time I got home, the Tigers and Florida State were late in the third quarter, and I watched the rest of the game, or, rather, it was on TV. Nothing but the Paladins could command my attention. Same with Alabama-Mississippi State. Same with Saturday Night Live. Same with social media.

Nothing mattered but my pride in the Furman Paladins, who are back.

Now I must get back to convincing folks to read my novels and finishing the next one.

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.

The Glory of the Past and the Unremitting Legacy

Coach Tom Bass FIeld, Bobcats Stadium, Seneca, S.C. (Photos by Monte Dutton)

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, November 4, 2017, 2:38 p.m.

Since noon, I’ve been keeping tabs on Auburn-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Texas Tech, Syracuse-Florida State, Western Kentucky-Vanderbilt, Florida-Missouri, Massachusetts-Mississippi State, and several others that don’t occur to me now. That’s just on television. Via Twitter, I’ve been keeping tabs on Presbyterian-Monmouth, Chattanooga-Wofford, and Western Carolina-The Citadel.

By Monte Dutton

The Furman Paladins are idle this week. Like Florida.

I like to concentrate on just one game, or, maybe two, but I’m unfocused in the aftermath of Clinton’s 18-14 loss to Seneca. Coupled with Laurens’ playoff loss to Northwestern (58-7) on Thursday, high school football has come to an end in the county. The Raiders went out with a whimper, the Red Devils with a bang.

Neither is playing anymore. Soon I’ll notice basketball out on the horizon.

The moon may have had a little to do with it.

Despite a 4-7 season, Clinton never gave up. It led a region champion Seneca team until there were 37 seconds left. It took a sequence of events (my story is here) to defeat them. But a win is a win, and a loss is a loss, and never the twain shall meet.

Last night I interviewed Clinton coach Andrew Webb with anguish scattered all about me. The kids aspired to greatness and fell short. I still do that today as I crank out novel after novel, hoping for a breakthrough beyond the modest monthly royalties. What keeps me going might have originated on football fields more than 40 years ago.

Clinton’s quarterback, Konnor Richardson, is a sophomore.

The hardest part of the trip to far Seneca – it’s on the other side of Clemson from here, about 90 miles – was having all the time to think on the way home. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. First I had to process all the photos, then type in the stats, then write the story, and then I watched a late game from the West Coast.

I had a high school coach who never accepted the existence of luck or the respectability of an excuse. We won because we deserved to win, and, on those rare occasions when we lost, it was 100 percent our fault. We believed we were supposed to win as much as we believed the sun was supposed to rise in the east.

It’s not easy to do. We lived on the far side of the hump the present Clinton football program is trying to get over. We were there when we arrived, and we built a settlement and left it for those who came next. We had a sense of belonging that this generation thus far lacks. It slipped away. Times changed. Odds that favored us have turned against our descendants, and the pedigree doesn’t make it any easier.

Like every coach worth his salt I’ve known, Webb doesn’t blame luck or make excuses. What he needs to build is a team that doesn’t make it as tempting.

Life Gets Complicated, Lightning in a Bottle and Cowboys Come Home are available at Emma Jane’s and L&L Office Supply in uptown Clinton.
Senior rushers Mark Wise (5) and Kris Holmes will be sorely missed.

I don’t mean to be negative. I don’t think I am. I grieve for those kids, sitting on the turf, and crying at the sad ending. They stuck it out and never quit trying. I can’t imagine that because I never had to experience it. Last night it was on the road. In two years on the varsity, my team never lost a single one. We lost two at home. One was for the state championship. I wasn’t an important part, but there were no parts. It was a team, made up big parts and little parts, all well oiled and whirring together.

More than anything, I wish for these kids that kind of heady experience.

Then, perhaps, one day, they can grow up to be failing novelists.

 

 

(Gabe Whisnant photo)

Most of my books — non-fiction on NASCAR and music, collections that include my contributions, seven novels, and one short-story collection — are available here.