Macon once played in Santa Claus Bowl

sports@macon.comDecember 23, 2013 

The name Santa Claus brings excitement to children of all ages, especially the very young. To another generation, his name brings back memories of youth football.

Macon once had a team play in the Santa Claus Bowl in Lakeland, Fla. The Macon recreation department sent a team made up of 25 all-stars from the elementary school league to the game in 1955.

That team was coached by Lin Zoller, Cloyd Hall and Ronnie Smith, and was accompanied to Florida by recreation department member Mot Patat. To be eligible to play in the Santa Claus Bowl, players had to weigh between 85 and 110 pounds and couldn’t be over 13 years of age. The team stayed at the Detroit Tigers spring training camp while in Lakeland.

The four teams competing that year were Macon; Harrisonburg, Va.; New Orleans and Polk County, Fla. Games played on the first day included Macon taking on Harrisonburg and New Orleans playing Polk County.

The Virginia team was no match for Macon in the first round, falling 45-0. Eddie Battle, a standout at Cynthia Weir who would go on to become the first quarterback at Willingham in 1958, scored touchdowns on runs of 43, 21 and 17 yards from his halfback position. Macon also got touchdowns from James Spivey on a 63-yard return of an intercepted pass, a 23-yard scamper by Bill Cox, a 14-yard touchdown run from quarterback John Breedlove and a 53-yard touchdown pass from Breedlove to Bunny Richardson. Freddy Wynn was the defensive star with an interception and a blocked punt.

Interestingly, both Spivey and Richardson went on to become orthopedic surgeons. The 45 points scored by Macon was a Santa Claus Bowl record, eclipsing the mark of 40 set by a team from Atlanta the previous year. Macon dominated the game both offensively and defensively with 330 yards of total offense compared to just 32 for Harrisonburg. The Harrisonburg team’s deepest penetration into Macon territory was Macon’s 37.

The win put Macon into the championship game against New Orleans, which beat Polk County 27-0. The Louisiana team proved to be too strong for Macon, holding on for a 7-0 victory.

The winners scored the game’s only touchdown on a 15-yard pass play with 16 seconds remaining in the first half. Macon threatened in the third quarter after recovering a New Orleans fumble at the 40 and drove to the 2 for a first-and-goal, but Macon was denied the end zone.

New Orleans was just as dominant as Macon had been against Virginia. New Orleans had 238 yards of total offense compared to only 58 for Macon, with Macon completing just 1-of-6 passes for 6 yards.

Polk defeated Harrisonburg 38-0 in the consolation game.

The Lakeland Santa Claus Bowl, which served as the site of the Pop Warner national championship in 1951 and 1952, attracted teams from throughout the nation. Among cities to be represented at the games through the years were Boys Town, Neb.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Dallas; Miami; Green Bay, Wis.; Jamaica, N.Y.; Washington and Wilson, N.C.

The trip by that 1955 Macon all-star team was the city recreation department’s only visit to the Santa Claus Bowl.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Bobby Pope is the executive director of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Email him at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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