Play along with The Telegraph’s ‘The Numbers Game’ project

jheeter@macon.comMay 19, 2012 

Two or three summers ago, I came up with an idea for what I thought could be a pretty cool project.

The Telegraph sports department would determine the greatest high school athletes in Middle Georgia history, and then we would organize them by their jersey numbers. We would then come up with the greatest athlete at every number, 1 through 99.

In the interest of full disclosure, I borrowed the idea from either ESPN or Sports Illustrated, one of which determined the greatest pro athletes at every jersey number.

For whatever reason, the project never got going.

After jotting down numbers in notebooks during the past few years, I decided this summer would finally be the time to release the project, now known as “The Numbers Game.”

“The Numbers Game” series will run 10 consecutive Sundays during the summer, beginning June 17, when we will count down from No. 99 to No. 1.

Our hope is to promote some lively discussion in the slower summer months, and hopefully high school sports fans, old and young, will have some fun. Some of the numbers, likely Nos. 60-99, will be mostly football players and won’t be as heavily contested. Other numbers, like No. 24 -- Jeff Malone (Southwest), Al Wood (Jones County), Willie Greene (Jones County), J.T. Thomas (Lanier), John Rocker (FPD) all wore that number -- will be very difficult to pick.

It wasn’t until I really started doing the research that I began to understand the scope of this project.

Schools started wearing numbers in the 1930s, which means Middle Georgia has 80 years worth of standout performers. The list includes boys and girls from Quinton Lumpkin and Vernon “Catfish” Smith -- both of whom probably didn’t wear numbers during their days at Lanier High School -- to recent, record-breaking standouts like Abry Jones, Julian Burnett and Nick Marshall.

I’m sure some will believe that we have some mega-file at the office that has a list of athletes, complete with accomplishments and their jersey numbers. That’s not true, so I’m asking for some help. Please e-mail me at jheeter@macon.com or contact the sports department through e-mail or Facebook or Twitter and let us know who should be included.

Also, finding information on the black schools prior to integration has been difficult. We know of the most famous athletes from those schools -- Blue Moon Odom, Jim Parker, Elmore Smith, Julius Adams, Tommy Hart, Walter Johnson and Moses Herring, to name a few -- but we certainly could use help with others. We haven’t located many yearbooks from that era, so we also don’t have numbers on many others. We have little or no information on the black schools from outside Macon, so any help on Hunt, Houston County Training and the many others would be appreciated.

We don’t want to miss any athlete worthy of consideration. We look forward to unveiling the project June 17. Let the discussion begin.

Contact Jonathan Heeter at 744-4401 or jheeter@macon.com.

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