History trails Clay Central to Champions Challenge, but strong team greets present
by Joe Medley
Aug 26, 2012 | 4572 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Trailers representing Lineville High School and Clay County High School make a final appearance Saturday. Clay Central, the new merger of Lineville and Clay County, was in Montgomery Saturday evening for a preseason football game. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Trailers representing Lineville High School and Clay County High School make a final appearance Saturday. Clay Central, the new merger of Lineville and Clay County, was in Montgomery Saturday evening for a preseason football game. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
MONTGOMERY — Saturday’s Champions Challenge marked the football rollout for Central High School of Clay County, the merged school formed from bitter rivals Lineville and Clay County, and one had to search for visual reminders of history.

But reminders there were, parked under the visiting grandstand, near the ramp Central’s players followed to and from their Cramton Bowl locker room.

A pickup faced south and an SUV faced north. Each vehicle pulled an equipment trailer — one bearing Lineville red with black letters and one white with “Clay County” in navy blue letters.

Both trailers were serving out their final game, at least as they appeared Saturday.

“I’ll just store it,” said Ashland’s Runt Crawford, a 55-year-old former Clay County center. “They’ll start using charter buses.”

John Garrett, a 55-year-old former Lineville tackle and defensive end who played against Crawford, plans to pull his trailer into Lett’s Body Shop this week for a new paint job, reflecting Central red and blue.

Like many from Clay County, he’s still coming to terms with life after the two schools that formed one of Alabama’s greatest prep football rivalries became one.

“This is strange,” he said, as Clay Central players wearing red game jerseys made their way up the locker-room ramp. “To be with Clay County, because we always had the big rivalry, is still strange.

“But it’s still good. It’s good.”

By all accounts, this merger of former bitter rivals has been all good. It helps that the team enters its inaugural season ranked No. 8 in Class 4A in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll.

The players have worked through spring and fall camps together. They played in an intrasquad game Aug. 17, and fans wearing red and blue filled nearly two-thirds of the home grandstand in the new school’s plush stadium.

Nary a Lineville nor Clay County shirt could be found.

Saturday’s game, which Clay Central won, 25-13, was a glorified jamboree. It won’t count on either team’s season record.

The Vols open regular-season play Friday at home against Trinity.

“It’s coming together great,” Garrett said. “It’s coming together a lot better than I thought it would. The kids are getting along great, and the fans are coming.

“It’s a different feeling, but it’s a good feeling.”

Garrett should have the pulse as well as anyone. His son, John Jr., is a Lineville police officer and 1997 graduate who played for the Aggies. Grandson Damion Ford is a freshman linebacker for the Vols.

The elder Garrett, who works for the Lineville Housing Authority, is 32 years a member of booster clubs at Lineville and now Clay Central. He was among the crew that manned downs markers at Lineville games.

He said he pulled his Lineville-themed equipment trailer to Aggie games for about 20 years.

“I’ve been doing it a mighty long time,” he said, “and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

As one might expect, his favorite memories of Lineville football involve Clay Bowls that went the Aggies’ way. He saw Lineville beat Clay County twice during his son’s senior year.

As for Garrett’s playing days, “We were 9-1, and they came over to Lineville, and we beat them 42-13 my senior year,” he said. “That’s my fondest memory.”

Not surprisingly, Crawford called that game one of his “worst” memories. His favorite came this past year, when Clay County won the final Clay Bowl, 7-6.

He and Garrett differ on what they like to remember about the Clay County-Lineville rivalry, which ran from 1922 to 2011, with Lineville holding a 54-43 edge. However, they agree on the merger.

“There’s no problems at all,” Crawford said. “I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened. We’ve got a better school, and the football team is going to be great.”

Garrett gauges by his grandson, who entered high school after the merger.

“He was real excited about it,” Garrett said. “He played his baseball in Lineville in the summers, and he played football in Ashland during football season, so he knows a lot of kids on both sides.

“He was just thrilled to death with it.”

History will always be there for the older guard, like Garrett and Crawford, even as the look of things changes.

Crawford drove to Montgomery on Saturday pulling his Clay County-themed trailer but wearing a Vols polo and cap.

Garrett ponders the new look coming soon for his trailer.

“I’m going to get the Lineville part’s covered up, and I’m going to paint it red,” he said. “I’m going to put the Vols logo on it.

“It’ll be all Volunteers after today.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star
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