Okefenokee games offer great memories

December 2, 2013 

One of the most enduring sporting events in Georgia is the Okefenokee Midget Bowl in Waycross. The games were played last weekend for the 65th consecutive year. The Midget Bowl is the brainchild of Mickey Katkaveck, who was actually a baseball man.

He went to Waycross as the manager of the Waycross Bears of the Georgia-Florida League in 1948, after spending 15 years in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system. His first team in Waycross took the Georgia-Florida League pennant by beating the Valdosta Dodgers in a doubleheader on the final day of the season.

In 1949, he was named the director of the Waycross Recreation Department and shortly thereafter established the Okefenokee Midget Bowl games. The eight cities that competed in the first Midget Bowl were Waycross, Cairo, Valdosta, Albany, Savannah, Carrollton, Waynesboro and Tifton. Waycross won the first two Midget Bowl titles. Each team was limited to 22 players with a 12-year-old age limit and a 100-pound weight limit.

I had the opportunity to take part in the 1957 games as a member of the Thomaston Midgets, coached by James Dawkins, and have fond memories of the experience. As I recall, we beat Cairo and Fitzgerald in back-to-back games and then, in a rainstorm, defeated the Buckhead Red Devils, who were led by future Tennessee quarterback Bubba Wyche, for the Midget Bowl title. Our team was led by quarterback Tommy Dews, who went on to play on R.E. Lee’s state Class AAA runner-up team in 1961 prior to gaining All-Southern Conference honors at Davidson. Dews had trouble meeting the weight limit in Waycross and had to run draped in jackets and blankets to lose pounds in order to get down to the weigh-in required limits.

We also had a pretty good running back named Herman Turner, who was from the Thomaston “suburb” of Silvertown. Dawkins had recruited Turner, along with other players from throughout Upson County who had played during the regular elementary school season at Silvertown, East Thomaston and Atwater.

Athletics often provide friendships that last a lifetime. From that trip, I met Larry Histon, who had played with Turner at Silvertown and established a friendship with him that still exists today.

There is seldom a week that goes by that I don’t talk with Larry, who lives in Augusta. Two other interesting notes about that 1957 Midget Bowl: the Thomaston team played its games barefoot, and we were just like the Dallas Cowboys as we took our cheerleaders with us under the guidance of Sara Adams.

We stayed at the Phoenix Hotel, four to a room, and for many of us, it was the first time we had ever stayed in a hotel. We also got to take part in a parade through downtown Waycross on Thanksgiving Day and toured the “Land of Trembling Earth,” the Okefenokee Swamp, where we saw real live alligators for the first time and also saw snakes being milked.

Another highlight was a team banquet at the Green Frog Restaurant after beating Buckhead. The owner of the Green Frog Restaurant, Joe Darden, later established the Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurant chains. I have a framed photo from that banquet and still can recall by name every individual in attendance.

Those were lasting memories from my time as a 12-year-old.

Bobby Pope hosts the Saturday Scoreboard on Fox Sports 1670 each Saturday during the football season.

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