Inaugural Hall of Fame class inducted

Published 1:23 am Saturday, August 14, 2010

Five people and one championship team became the inaugural class of the Andalusia High School Football Hall of Fame in a ceremony last night at the Kiwanis Center.

AHS athletic director and head basketball coach Richard Robertson, who’s coached in Andalusia for 45 years, introduced the honorees.

Charles “Big Boy” Little

“This is such an honor for our entire family,” said Jill Little, who accepted for her late husband, Charles “Big Boy” Little.

The former AHS halfback rushed for 1,329 yards his junior year and 1,217 his senior year. He went on to play at Auburn, where he shared the backfield with Fob James, and followed the play calls of Vince Dooley.

“Charles would have been so proud,” Mrs. Little said. “I only wish he had lived to be here.

“Believe me, he would have been beaming from ear to ear,” she said. “Thank you all so much. I’ll remember this night forever.”

Walter Jackson “Jackie” Burkett

Burkett, who was a Bulldog in his freshman and sophomore years went on to earn a football scholarship to Auburn University, where he was an All American, and later played 10 seasons in the NFL.

“Every building starts with a foundation, and the foundation starts with a cornerstone,” Burkett said. “I’m proud to have had my cornerstone set right here in Andalusia.”

Burkett, who was inducted after Little, said the halfback was his idol.

“He was ahead of me in high school. I remember watching a ball game when Big Boy was playing. He hit that guy and he just about killed him.

“I thought, ‘When I can learn to hit like that, then I’ll be a football player.’

“I will wear my induction into the Andalusia High School Hall of Fame proudly,” he said.

Walter Merrill

Merrill was an All-State tackle for the 1935 Bulldogs who went on to play for the University of Alabama where he was a part of the 1937 SEC championship team that earned a trip to the Rose Bowl game. He was drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers and was a standout tackle for three seasons before World War II took him out of NFL play. He was drafted by the Army Air Force as an athletic instructor who prepared troops for military service. After the war, he returned to Andalusia to join his family’s construction business. He died in 1953.

His widow, Mary Jim Merrill, accepted the award on his behalf.

“It has often been said you can’t go home,” Mrs. Merrill said. “Andalusia has been home to the Merrill family for more than 100 years. So thank you for this welcome home.”

Mrs. Merrill was joined on the stage with her daughter and several grandchildren.

Bobby Ray Johnson

Bobby Ray Johnson was a four-year letterman at AHS, where he was starting fullback for three years and earned a record-setting 2,200 yards during his senior year. He was a member of the 1975 state runner-up team and the 1976 state championship team. After graduating in 1977, he signed a scholarship to play football for the University of Southern Mississippi. A severely broken leg ended his career at USM.

In introducing Bobby Ray Johnson, Coach Robertson recalled when former coach Don Sharpe came to town.

“Bobby was in the 8th grade,” Robertson said. “I was coaching the junior high. Genius that I am, I took them over to practice with the varsity and I never got Bobby back.”

Johnson said Robertson coached him when he was a “bull puppy,” before he became a Bulldog, and thanked Sharpe and the assistant coaches from the Bulldog era.

“All their work made me a better player and person,” he said.

He said Sharpe focused the Bulldogs on “oneness.”

“Thank you. Oneness. Bulldogs always,” he said.

Don Sharpe

Don Sharpe was a halfback on Andalusia’s 1958 1AA district state championship team who returned to his alma mater as head football coach in 1973. In his seven seasons at AHS, his teams went 89-10-3 and won the state 3-A championship in 1977.

“Wow. What a night,” Sharpe said.

1958 Championship team

The 1958-59 AHS football team won the South Alabama Conference championship and the District 1AA state championship.

The team was undefeated in the regular season, posting wins over T.R. Miller (35-7); Evergreen (19-0); Luverne (19-0); Troy (28-6); Greenville (21-12); Florala (56-12) Enterprise (28-0); Elba (20-0); Ozark (19-6) and Opp (14-6).

Former team captain Ashton Wells said he and his teammates set a goal in their freshman or sophomore year to go undefeated.

“It lined up our senior year,” he said.

Wells said part of the team’s success was having a goal, and that that lesson carries over in other parts of life.

He said his teammates weren’t just football players, they were athletes. In addition to their undefeated state championship season, they went 24-3 in basketball season, 19-1 in baseball season; and finished second in the state track meet.

The inaugural class of the Andalusia High School Hall of Fame inducted last night included Jill Little, accepting for her husband; Jackie Burkett; Bobby Johnson; Mary Jim Merrill, accepting for her husband; Ashton Wells, speaking for the 1958 state championship team.