In early August 1945, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan in an effort to bring World War II to an end.
America's biggest bomber was the B-29 Super Fortress, used because of the weight of the bombs, about two tons. The first drop, on Aug. 6, was on Hiroshima on a clear day without incident. The second drop, on Aug. 9, was targeted at three military cities, but due to weather, the first two were eliminated.
Nagasaki, the third target, with very limited vision – the bombardier spotted the torpedo factory that manufactured the special lightweight wooden fin torpedoes used in the shallow, approximately 36-foot waters of Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941.
The factory, heavily responsible for bringing the U.S. into the war, was ground zero for the last atomic bomb that ended the war. How ironic! Six days later, on Aug. 15, Japanese Emperor Hirohito surrendered unconditionally to President Truman.
At the same time the war was drawing to a conclusion, Coach Earnest Teel from West End High School in Birmingham, Ala., was appointed to coach the Statesboro Blue Devils football team that played in Georgia’s 1st District Athletic Association. Coach Teel and his wife, Beatrice, had relocated to Statesboro earlier from Birmingham to care for her invalid mother.
As the high school football season approached, despite World War II, the word got out that Coach Teel would assemble a team in the last week of August.
On Sept. 2, a formal ceremony took place between General Douglas McArthur and Japanese officials aboard the USS Missouri, in Tokio Bay, finalizing the end of the war.
During the war, German prisoners of war captured in the North African Campaign in 1943, were shipped to U.S. prison camps because of the food shortage and unsafe conditions in Europe. One of the camps was in Statesboro.
Even after the war ended in early September, football was just starting and German prisoners in the local satellite camp were being used to help harvest peanuts up until nearly Thanksgiving.
Organizing the team
The Blue Devils were coming off a disappointing 2-7-1 season in 1944, and were outscored 158-62.
During his first team meeting as head coach, Coach Teel spoke about what he wanted to see happen for the new season. Most importantly, he wanted to implement the Chicago Bears' new T-formation on offense. He was introduced to the formation by one of his former high school quarterbacks in the summer of 1943 who was playing for the Bears at the time. What made the new formation so unique at the time was it allowed players to hide the ball from the opposing defense, who all were used to the old single-wing formation.
As he spoke to the team, he began to issue uniforms and reminded us we would have to provide our own socks, jock straps and t-shirts. Some of the team members had something to say about the poor condition of the uniforms and unfortunately, new uniforms and equipment, due to the war, were not available.
Coach Teel's answer was: "I'm holding the better ones for the big boys."
As the team heard this, they began to laugh, saying, "Coach, we are the big boys."
All 13 of the main players on the 1945 team only weighed between 145 and 175 pounds – on the small side, even in that era.
Years later, in a conversation between Coach Teel and Dent Newton, he told Dent that after that first team meeting, he went home and told his wife, as he shed tears, that he didn't think they would win a game due to the size of the players.
As practice continued in preparation for the season opener the third week of September against ECI, Coach Teel began to select his first string, especially the backfield.
His backfield consisted of veteran players: quarterback Ray Darley, right halfback Dent Newton, left halfback Avant Daughtry, fullback Jud Lanier and the fifth back Jimmy Mincey because of his speed. Jimmy was the 100-yard dash champion of the district.
Coach would send him into the game to gain long yardage. Jimmy, when excited, would stutter, so, to stop confusion, Coach Teel came up with the idea of Jimmy crossing his index fingers to signal a wide right or left sweep play to the quarterback and he in turn would signal which halfback would leave the field.
Jud Lanier, one of the co-captains, was, in Coach Teel's words, "The powerhouse of the team with 23 touchdowns to his credit."
Dent Newton was one of the speed demons and added power to the backfield that contributed great runs.
Avant Daughtry's speed, footwork and ability to outsmart the opponent were great. He was a factor in most of the Devils' victories.
Ray Darley, who had speed with his hands and feet, was an exceptionally good quarterback.
The entire backfield was extremely fast for that era. Coach would occasionally call them his "Five Horsemen."
In addition to the Five Horsemen were the two ends, Remer Brady and Louis Simmons. Remer, the other co-captain, with his speed, was best at pass receiving and crashing defense while I was a good defensive end and pass receiver.
All of the seven above players also were members of the track team.
The interior linemen were Robert Parrish, best center in the district; Fred Parrish, a fast charging right guard fast enough to keep up with and cover Mincey going downfield; C.L. Jones, good offense and defense; Eddie Rushing, best all-around tackle for the Devils; Hal Waters, good all-around player with big expectations for next season and Talmadge Brannen, good at downfield blocking and pass protection.
Practice went well and the T-formation became the offense and it really suited the fast, but smaller, players on the team. The first game was against ECI, who were expected to beat the Devils.
Just before the ECI game and right after warm-ups, Coach Teel walked over to Jud lying in the grass and sat on his stomach and said: "Jud, I need your help. I don't know what the outcome will be, but I'm hoping you will lead us to a win."
The Blue Devils won, 32-0.
Jud was a great leader and the toughest player on the team. He played fullback on offense and linebacker on defense. During the game against Sylvania, there was a lot of “loud” talk between Jud and Bernard Thompson. Thompson was the toughest player on Sylvania’s team and also played fullback and linebacker. They were hitting as hard as possible when tackling each other.
Statesboro was well ahead with two to three minutes to go in the game and Jud asked to run the ball into the line. As Thompson went to tackle him, Jud balled his fist when he stiff armed him and knocked him out. Jud was thrown out of the game, which he knew he would be, and he went to the sideline, grinning all the way.
The I-formation proved too much for Statesboro’s opponents and it wasn’t until the fourth game of the season that an opposing team even scored any points. Metter still lost to the Blue Devils, 40-14.
During the game with Millen, some of the local men started ragging Coach Teel about his team shortly after halftime. At the end of the third quarter, Coach confronted them to quiet them down by asking them to return to their side of the field. When he returned to the bench, he turned around with a big smile, raised his arm and motioned to them a zero with his fingers – the number of points Millen had scored up to that point in the game.
Memories from five of the original 13 players still living
Robert Parrish remembers blocking the closest players to open a hole for Jud Lanier to gain yardage and hopefully scores.
Fred Parrish, as a pulling guard, would run ahead of Jimmy with a nudging block to the opposing end while Jimmy gained speed making it possible to block out the linebacker.
Jimmy Mincey remembers running a left or right wide sweep usually gaining 25 to 30 yards and occasionally 50 to 75 yards on touchdown runs.
Dent Newton remembers Jimmy's unique finger crossing to signal the team for a wide sweep play.
My memories are vivid of that time in my life, but one that always sticks out is Coach Teel taping a sore ankle before the second game and for the rest of the season he taped both of my ankles for good measure.
Playing with only 13 players and none heavier than 175 pounds, Statesboro rolled up an 8-1 record, losing only to Dublin, 12-6. Dublin, a much larger school than Statesboro at that time, used its size to slow the T-formation attack and was the only team to hold the Blue Devils under 20 points in 1945. For the season, Statesboro outscored its opponents 298-59, including a 27-13 win over Claxton on Thanksgiving Day 1945, the final game of the season.
To me, the best Thanksgiving in my life was in 1945. The war was over and all the prisoners had gone home to Germany and Italy. Coach Teel was extremely pleased with the victory over Claxton that afternoon!
As the wonderful season came to an end, I always thought ... God looked down on the earth with a smile and blessed His people with peace.
Statesboro 32, ECI 0 Coach's Surprise Victory
Statesboro 39, Baxley 0 Baxley Weak-Mincey gets 3 TDs
Statesboro 47, Sandersville 0 Blue Devils Have Field Day
Statesboro 40, Metter 14 Second Half Comeback, Mincey gets 2 TDs
Statesboro 20, Sylvania 7 Minutes left in game, Jud out for roughing
Statesboro 48, Vidalia 7 Easy Victory – Avant, Dent, Jud Get Hot
Statesboro 39, Millen 6 Eddie Rushing Leads on Defensive Side
Dublin 12, Statesboro 6 Bigger School, Bigger Team
Statesboro 27, Claxton 13 Final Game, Tough Game