Reminiscing on the old days

Published 12:05 am Saturday, July 2, 2016

Former students and athletes from Bethune Junior High, Woodson High School and Covington County Training School gathered for a reunion at the Kiwanis Center on Thursday evening and reminisced about their times at the schools.

James Wilson was a member of the Bethune Junior High basketball team that dominated their opponents during the 1961 season.

“That year we went undefeated and won two first place trophies in tournaments,” Wilson said. “Hamp Smith was our coach, he was a local guy, and just an outstanding coach. There was really no one standout player on the team, we just had a very good team and coach.”

Wilson said that Smith had a unique coaching strategy during practice that really helped them out.

“We would practice our starting five against 10 other guys, so when we got on the court during the game it felt as if we were playing by ourselves,” Wilson said. “We beat a lot of teams that never thought we would beat them.”

One such team was high school team from DeFuniak Springs, Fla.

“They wanted to play us because they figured even a good junior high team couldn’t beat a high school team,” Wilson said. “We went down there and started whooping them boys so badly that they just walked off the court.”

Frankie Mount was also a member of the 1961 basketball team at Bethune for coach Smith.

“That was one of the best junior high teams that I’ve even seen,” Mount said. “I was just fortunate to be a part of the team.”

Mount was also a member of Richard Robertson’s very first basketball team he coached.

“He was hard-nosed coach just like he was till the day he retired,” Mount said. “We all had a lot of respect for him.”

Mount also played football at Woodson High School and said his most memorable moment came during a game against Enterprise his senior year.

“Going into halftime, we were losing,” Mount said. “Coach Robertson and coach (JC) Hall came in and gave a very inspirational halftime speech. After that, we went out there and didn’t allow them to score in the second half of the game. We went on to beat them 13-7.”

Ruebin Lawrence also played basketball at Bethune for coach Smith and said that the things the coach taught him still make an impact 40 years later.

“By the time I got to Bethune, coach Smith had been there for about 20 years,” Lawrence said. “He was an unusually coach for his day, because he was truly more concerned about you as a person than he was about winning. He knew that what you learned after the game was far more important than winning or losing. When I left Bethune I took what he taught me with me. With his encouragement and wisdom, it has taken me a long way in life.”

Smith’s lessons always went far beyond the basketball court, his former players said.

“He taught us how to be successful,” Lawrence said. “He wasn’t concerned if we won, but how we played. If you gave it your all and still lost, that wasn’t a failure in his book. He taught us how to be achievers, and we all achieved beyond measure. The things he taught me still impact me 40 years later.”

“We had some very talented athletes at Woodson,” Alphosno Simpson said. “I think 6-out-of-the-8 years I played football, we went undefeated.”

While at Woodson, Simpson played football, basketball and ran track.

Simpson said that the pool of talent the school had to pull from set them a part from other schools in the area.

“We were a county school, so we had kids from all over the county,” Simpson said. “The other schools were city schools and didn’t have near the amount of talent that we had. Our biggest competition was Eufuala and Atmore. Those games were always very close.”

After graduating, Simpson began coaching and coached at East Three Notch and Andalusia High School.

James “Bobo” Johnson was another standout athlete at Covington County Training School on the football team.

“They said I was great, but I don’t know about that,” Johnson said. “I averaged probably around 85 to 100 yards a game, and my senior year we went 7-1.”

Although he never played baseball in high school, Johnson found his way to a semi-pro team in Mobile.

“I was a pretty good hitter and third baseman,” Johnson said. “After playing there for a little bit, I got recognized by Stillman College and they offered me a scholarship.”

Playing baseball at Stillman, Johnson said that he won every award that you could receive at the school. During his four years at Stillman, Johnson held nearly a .400 batting average.

On the track side of things at Woodson, Labron Hall took the state by storm in his two years running.

“Black or white, no one could beat me,” Hall said. “I was No. 1 in the 3A both years. I remember this one time that Andalusia High School had an invitational meet and there was this white guy from Troy named Bama Watson that had never been beat. I straight up whooped him. We were a very talented group. We took first place in every event at that meet. We didn’t even have all the necessary equipment. We had to borrow poles for pole vaulting. We had never done it and still whooped them.”

Hall was also a member of the first Woodson basketball team to play an all-white school, when they took on Andalusia High School.

Willie Benson was a track star and linebacker while at Woodson High School.

“I was pretty good,” Benson said. “My most memorable moment of track was when we made it all the way to state in Auburn and stayed at the Holiday Inn.”

Benson was also a stud linebacker at Woodson.

“I remember having three interceptions one game and returning two of them for touchdowns,” Benson said.

John Daniels played football and basketball at Woodson High School and then they got a track team his senior year.

“We didn’t get a track and field team until my senior year at Woodson,” Daniels said. “I did the shot put only one year, but still finished second at the state meet in Montgomery.”

Daniels was a member of several good football teams at Woodson.

“In the three years I played football, we only lost two games,” Daniels said. “My junior year we only had 13 points scored on us all year, and it got to the point that no teams wanted to play us anymore. We just had some tremendous teams back in those days. We were a tight knitted group. The coach didn’t have to worry about disciplining players for missing practice, because we took care of that ourselves.”

Daniels said that on the basketball team, they had a player shooting 3-point shots before they even knew what they were.

“This kid was shooting 3-pointers before there was even a line,” Daniels said. “He also brought the jump shot to this area. He did it one day at practice and everyone was like what was that. No one had ever seen someone jump to shoot. It was something special.”