FORSYTH -- I went to visit Steve Speir the other day.
The last time I saw him was through a pair of binoculars. He was on the field, and I was in the press box at a Mary Persons High School football game.
That was 35 years ago.
Steve was one of the many people who have called and written to congratulate me on my career at The Telegraph. My final day will be on Friday, May 15.
He is a science teacher at Mary Persons, his alma mater. I am leaving the newspaper business to teach journalism and creative writing at Stratford Academy.
“If you embrace the teaching profession, it will reward you like no other,” Steve wrote. “Good luck, my old friend and nemesis.”
Nemesis? Well, I guess I qualify.
One of the many lessons I have learned in my writing career is that people will never forget your words. When those sentences leave your head, heart and hand, they take on a life of their own. They find permanent lodging.
My words have been clipped, laminated and slipped into matted frames. They have been tucked away in drawers and pressed between the pages of scrapbooks. They have found their way into the chapters of nine books. They have house-trained thousands of puppies.
Steve was the starting right tackle for the Mary Persons Bulldogs football team in 1980. He wore No. 76. He was one of those unsung offensive linemen who clear a path so others can grab the headlines.
Mary Persons had a star fullback, Alvin Toles, who went on to play at Tennessee and was a first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints. Steve labored in the trenches, opening holes and creases for Toles to run through.
“He would inspire you to block for him,” Steve said. “And, if you didn’t, he would lower his head and run right up your back.”
Steve has been married to his high school sweetheart, Dawn, for 32 years. She was a cheerleader for the Bulldogs and kept a scrapbook of that 1980 season, filled with many “Ed Grisamore” bylines.
“You picked us to lose every week that entire season, and we went 15-0,” Steve reminded me.
“I certainly have not held a grudge for all these years,” he said, laughing.
It was a good year to be a Bulldog. The University of Georgia won the national championship that season. It was the only state football championship Mary Persons has won since the school began playing the sport in 1938-39.
As the Telegraph’s prep editor, I would write a “picks” column every Friday. I would predict the winners and losers of high school games in the area.
I had no idea fans were so passionate until I started looking into my crystal ball every week to predict how a bunch of 16- and 17-year-old boys were going to run, block and tackle.
The readers took it seriously. When I was wrong, they would bend my ears. They would mail my columns back to me, with devil horns and dunce caps drawn on my head.
They would throw in tiny packets of salt and pepper, and suggest I eat my words. I once had a pie thrown in my face at a pep rally. The starting quarterback was recruited to toss the pie at me. He did not miss.
So, yes, I remember the 1980 Mary Persons squad very well. And, yes, I picked them to lose every week.
I even picked them to lose on their open date. (That was hilarious.)
Of course, I was simply having a little fun. Ticking off the fan base is guaranteed to generate interest and sell newspapers.
Mary Persons had one of the greatest high school teams I have ever seen. Not only did the Bulldogs have a perfect record, but they also shut out 11 of their 15 opponents.
“Our offense set some records that are still standing,” Steve said. “But our defense was unbelievable. I used to feel sorry for the other team’s offensive line, because I knew what they were up against. I had to block those guys in practice every day.”
On Fridays, I took pride in stirring up the entire community of Forsyth.
Coach Dan Pitts, the third-winningest high school football coach in Georgia history, probably wanted to hug me, but he showed restraint.
A man of few words, he would beg me to pick them to lose. It fired up his team. It gave him ammunition for the bulletin board in the locker room.
I would get back to my apartment on Friday nights, and my phone would start ringing. Several Mary Persons football players would call to talk some smack.
Steve smiled and assured me that he was not one of those guys behind the late-night calls.
He later served in the Air Force during the Gulf War. He taught science at Houston County High School for four years, and he has been at his alma mater for 13.
His family is a legacy at Mary Persons, which was founded in 1929. His grandmother, Bernice Johnson, graduated in 1940. His father, Sidney Speir, is a 1956 graduate and his mother, Cornelia Johnson Speir, graduated in 1960. Steve graduated in 1981 and Dawn in 1982. Their sons, Brad (2003) and Cliff (2003) are fourth-generation graduates of the school.
Every now and then, Steve reaches into a hope chest, pulls out the old scrapbook and allows himself to wander back into those faded newspaper clippings.
He dusts off the words that riled him at the time and realizes how much they mean to him now. He has long since forgiven me.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank him for being part of them.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com.