WARNER ROBINS -- The birth year was 1953.
But what folks around here talked about then was an F4 tornado that hit the town of about 15,000, not the first football season at Warner Robins High School.
Football, however, was the dominant topic Saturday when decades of former Warner Robins players and coaches came together for the Demons Through the Decades reunion.
Pat Starns and Troy Shuttlesworth were among those from that first team on hand for a weekend of memories.
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“I was also in the first class that had 100 graduates,” Shuttlesworth said. “We thought that we were something else.”
The Demons went 6-3 in 1953 under head coach Doc Kirksey.
“You remember that first game?” Starns asked Shuttlesworth. “We went up to play (Hughes) Vocational at Porter Stadium.”
For a team new to the game, it was culture shock.
“All us guys come off the bus and come out, and that grass was so nice,” Shuttlesworth said. “All of us crazy hoodlums (were) running out diving on it, rolling around.”
“And we had never played under the lights before,” Starns said.
Things have very much changed, the Demons owning four state championships and earning a name across the country with a pair of national championships while sending scores of players to major colleges and the NFL.
The weekend began with Friday night’s Warner Robins red-white game on the Rumble Field football home that predated McConnell-Talbert Stadium, behind the old Rumble building. About 50 or so people took part in the Saturday afternoon meet-and-greet tour of the school and some of the team’s facilities.
Mostly, there were hugs and smiles and plenty of “oh my gosh” moments at the sights of a former teammate.
Like when Rick Jenkins walked up while Greg Edenfield talked of all of the county’s alumni showing more support.
“Oh my gosh,” Edenfield said. “Now, you want to talk about Mr. Bad Boy? When he left the football field, guys shook in their boots.
“This guy, he was a monster on the football field. A monster.”
Jenkins has clearly quieted down since playing in the early 1970s. He was a senior when Edenfield, a starter at defensive tackle on the 1976 team, was a freshman.
“No,” Jenkins said. “He’s too kind.”
Jenkins came down from Indiana for the weekend.
“This is what we need more of,” Edenfield said, again citing the entire county. “People willing to come back for their school.”
Former head coaches Frank Orgel, Robert Davis and Richard Fendley were on hand, as well as current head coach Bryan Way, Davis part of the list of speakers at the final event of the night in the auditorium, joined by former governor Sonny Perdue and ex-Demons standout Ron Simmons.
Davis, Fendley and Way together have given Warner Robins nearly a century’s worth of service, at least 30 years each. Way graduated from the school in 1980 and was hired by Davis in 1985 as an assistant. Way is beginning his 11th season as head coach.
The stories shared during the weekend no doubt took on a hint of fiction as years have passed.
“The standard joke is, the older I get, the faster I was,” Perdue said. “We embellish those great memories a good bit.”
It was a chance for the older players to think back to head coach Joe Sumrall, who led the Demons for only four seasons in the late 1960s. But he was a major influence in getting the stadium -- at first known as International Stadium -- built in time for the 1969 season.
But there were some lean times before then. The Demons were winless in 1960 and 1963 and managed a lone win in 1959, 1965 and 1966.
“Coach Sumrall would say, ‘Robert, you want to go scout in Albany or something?’ ” Davis said. “I knew what was fixing to happen. I’d drive up to Rumble Field about 1:30 in the morning. There’s Frank and Joe sitting there, not saying a word. ‘Was it as bad as we thought?’ ”
It was, but not for long. There have been only two losing seasons since the 1-9 mark in 1966, Sumrall’s first year.
Dinner in the high school’s cafeteria followed the tour, and the night was capped off by video memories and speeches in the auditorium, with some huge trophies on stage.
“You can’t beat that stage, looking at all them trophies,” Davis said. “Pretty impressive.”
And there were crew cuts and mop-tops under helmets on the screen as black-and-white memories came back, the audience reliving state titles in 1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004 and mythical national championships in 1976 and 1981.
Way’s day was as busy as a game day, called into service as host of the afternoon’s tour as well as generally helping keep things on schedule for the 300-plus participants. But whatever tired he was at the end of the night was gratifying.
“It’s humbling is what it is,” Way said. “Very humbling, more than anything.”