Bobby Pope

Tragedy amid triumph in Fort Valley

Peach County Trojan Darrell Hawkins unfurls Raekwon Smith's No. 91 jersey as a tribute.
Peach County Trojan Darrell Hawkins unfurls Raekwon Smith's No. 91 jersey as a tribute. bcabell@macon.com

When Peach County football player Raekwon Smith was killed in an automobile accident Aug. 20, a week before the Trojans’ season opener against Houston County, it wasn’t the first time the city of Fort Valley has experienced that kind of tragedy.

Go back to the 1961 high school football season when the Fort Valley Green Wave (prior to integration with the merger between Fort Valley and Hunt to form Peach County) were on their way to an unbeaten season and a Class B championship. Linebacker Tommy Greathouse was killed in a hunting accident on Thanksgiving, the day before the Class B semifinals against Morgan County.

His friend’s 16-gauge shotgun got caught on a bush and fired accidentally striking Greathouse in the back at close range. Fort Valley officials offered to forfeit the semifinals out of respect for Greathouse, but his family declined saying that Greathouse would want the team to play.

Greathouse was a standout on defense for Fort Valley, having recorded 13 tackles with one pass interception and a return of 10 yards against North Cobb in a 7-0 win in the Class 3-B championship game the week before he was killed. Halfback Richard Lawhorn had scored the game’s only touchdown on a 50-yard run.

Greathouse’s family lived across the street from the Fort Valley football stadium, and his casket reportedly was placed at an upstairs window overlooking the field during the game with Morgan County.

A crowd of more than 4,500, the largest to ever see at game in Fort Valley at the time, saw the Green Wave edge Morgan County 9-7 in the semifinals. The visitors scored first to take a 7-0 lead. Fort Valley scored in the second quarter on a 3-yard run by Lawhorn but missed the extra point and trailed 7-6 at the half. In the third quarter, junior quarterback Tee Faircloth, the son of head coach Norman Faircloth, converted on a 30-yard field goal to put the Green Wave up for good.

But the game was a long way from being over and defense proved to be the difference. Fort Valley stopped Morgan County inside the 1 with 10 seconds remaining in the game to preserve the win. Nim Tharpe, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound end, who was the only Fort Valley player to be named All-State that season, made the game-winning tackle.

The following week, Fort Valley blanked Blakely Union 6-0 to post Fort Valley’s only unbeaten season and only state football championship. That 1961 team outscored opponents 285-34, recorded eight shutout wins and never allowed more than one touchdown in each of its victories. That 1961 Fort Valley team, which was made up of just 22 players, was the only Green Wave squad to win a state championship, but Peach County has three.

The Trojans won titles in 2005, 2006 and 2009 with only the 2009 squad posting a perfect 15-0 record.

Contact Bobby Pope at bobbypope428@gmail.com

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