Thanksgiving Day had a special meaning for Bibb County elementary school football players back in the 1950s. For 12 years from 1949 through 1960, the Pony Bowl was played on Turkey Day at Porter Stadium.
As many as 24 elementary schools fielded football teams during the Pony league history. From the first game in 1949 through the fifth game in 1953, only one contest was played on Thanksgiving, but that changed in 1954 when a third-place game was added. That format existed just one year before two different classifications were set up. There was a game for schools playing in the large enrollment classification and another for the small enrollment classification.
Pearl Stephens and Alexander IV were the dominant schools during the history of the Pony Bowl. Stephens won bowl titles in 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1958 and 1960. The 1955 crown was later forfeited on a technicality, although I am not sure what that technicality was.
In its Pony Bowl wins, Pearl Stephens defeated Fort Hawkins 26-19 in 1951, Cynthia Weir 6-0 in 1952, Florence Bernd 32-6 in 1953, Winship 20-6 in 1955, Weir 26-6 in 1958 and Agnes Barden 20-19 in 1960.
Alexander IV was in the mix every year from 1956 through 1960, winning four championships and tying for another. It took the large enrollment crown in 1956 and 1957, and after dropping down to the small enrollment class, it won again in 1958 and 1960 after tying for the title in 1959. The coach for the 1957 and 1958 teams was just giving a preview of what was to come later on.
Mike Garvin, at the time a student at Mercer, coached Alexander IV to both of those championships. The 1957 team defeated Charles Bruce 27-13, and his 1958 team, which allowed just two points all season, posted a perfect 5-0 regular-season record and then beat Donnie Veals Alexander II team 27-0. The 1957 and 1958 Bruce teams were led by Bobby Bryant, who went on to play 13 years in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings.
After graduating from Mercer, Garvin got his first high school coaching job on Billy Hendersons staff at Willingham in 1959. Following his days with, the Rams Garvin moved on to Mount de Sales, where he made his mark coaching at that school from 1967 through the 1990 season.
His teams in the early 1970s were among the best and won state titles in the GHSA in 1970, 1971 and 1973. He coached Ben Zambiasi and Johnny Henderson, who both went on to become starters at Georgia. Zambiasi followed his college career with an 11-year run in the Canadian Football League, playing 10 seasons at Hamilton and one at Toronto. He was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in 2004.
During his 23 seasons Garvin compiled a 160-80-5 record.
Clisby won the first Pony Bowl in 1949, blanking Cynthia Weir 19-0, and it won again in 1954, edging Bruce 14-6. Bruce won its only title in 1950, shutting out Fort Hawkins 19-0, and Riley took its lone crown in 1959 with a 20-13 victory over Agnes Barden. All those wins came in the large enrollment classification.
Alexander III won small enrollment classification titles in 1955, beating Agnes Barden 28-6 and repeated the next year with a 6-0 win over Alexander II. St. Josephs lone crown came in the lower enrollment class when it defeated Alexander III 13-6 in 1957.
The Pony Bowl, which was played annually before crowds of around 3,000, was sponsored by The Macon Telegraph and News and benefitted Goodfellows, Inc., which provided Christmas cheer for the needy.
There were no free tickets for the Pony Bowl games. Game officials, players, band members, sponsors, cheerleaders, ticket sellers and takers, concessions vendors and sports writers all purchased tickets for the event.
Bobby Pope hosts the Saturday Scoreboard on Fox Sports 1670 each Saturday during the football season.