When the football teams for Howard and FPD met for the first time two years ago, the atmosphere at George S. Johnson Stadium was simply electric.
Few knew what to expect out of a meeting between Howard, entering its second season under head coach Barney Hester and still working on the installation of the “Barney Ball” misdirection offense, and FPD, which was about to share the stage in the GHSA with Mount de Sales, Stratford and Tattnall Square after going it alone for four years. It was the first meeting between a Bibb County school district team and a Macon private school since desegregation, and the interest in the game resulted in a packed house that night.
The game the two teams played that night turned out to be quite exciting. Howard, which had not won more than three games in a season at that time, gave FPD all it could handle before the Vikings prevailed in overtime. It was the first step toward creating a shared respect between Macon’s public and private schools when it came to football. No longer was the sport something in which Bibb County schools and the Macon private schools avoided each other at all costs. The proof was there that the two sides could compete well on the field and get along well off of it.
The second step will be taken Saturday when Central and Mount de Sales, schools separated by just a handful of city blocks meet for the first time. And they’re meeting right in their neighborhood, at that: Five Star Stadium is the site for the Macon Touchdown Club Kickoff Classic, a doubleheader that pits the Chargers and Cavaliers against each other at 5 p.m., followed by the third meeting between FPD and Howard.
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Like the Howard-FPD pairing, Central vs. Mount de Sales could (and should) turn into something in which the teams meet every year. Neither program has shown much flash in recent years, but both won GHSA titles in the 1970s and both are building solid programs under quality head coaches.
Give credit to Macon’s coaches, both public and private, for beginning to embrace these public-private matchups. The doubleheader format at Five Star Stadium is a good opportunity for all involved, and the backing of the Macon Touchdown Club is helping make things happen in the right way. The goal is to include more schools in future years, and hopefully Macon’s other public and private schools can get involved.
Another good thing that has happened in recent years is the ownership Bibb County’s principals have taken in hiring football coaches, a hire that used to be made by the county athletics director. While the central office did make some good hires, shifting that responsibility to principals makes for a better fit between coach, school and community. We’re starting to see the benefits of that move, especially with hires like Hester at Howard, Jesse Hicks at Central and Joseph Dupree at Southwest.
There’s still plenty that needs to be done to put Macon’s public school football teams on proper footing. The stadium situation is deplorable, with Henderson Stadium needing an overhaul after more than 50 years of use and the Ed DeFore Sports Complex falling into mild disrepair in the years following its takeover by the city after Westside’s boosters defaulted on the project. Each school deserves its own stadium or at least shared stadiums that the schools can take pride in instead of what they are stuck with now.
Building up Macon’s high school football teams is a process that won’t take place overnight. But positive steps are being taken. And Saturday’s showcase at Five Star Stadium will be one that is well worth attending.