By Ronnie Cameron
"Your words will live in us. Timelessly insane, explosive, fresh and wise. Some will forget, some will close their eyes, some will turn the tide." — IAMX.
Coming up, I was a rambunctious tyke, and school stuff never crossed my mind as something to value. Mother and Dad struggled to convince me otherwise, but their advice seldom registered. Few weeks past, I wrote about the influence my paternal grandfather had on me, and how his “study hard” mantra always seem to fall on deaf ears.
However, one momentous flash of black and gold light did illuminate my otherwise dark voyage of ignorance.
In 1962, during second grade at a neighborhood school in Valdosta, Ga., the name of which I cannot recall, this normally reluctant child went an entire school year making straight A’s, never faltering, never wavering.
I would like to share my secret.
Quick history lesson for background. Legendary Coach Wright Bazemore was at the helm of the Valdosta High Wildcat football program at this time. In 1962, he was on a roll.
1960: 12-0, State Championship.
1961: 12-0, State Championship.
1962: 12-0, State Championship.
Obviously, Coach Bazemore and staff were busy during football season, but not too busy to visit our little Primary School and talk with interested boys and to proclaim that we represented the future of Wildcat football. I recall how important he made us feel. To think that one day we would don the black and gold and run out onto Cleveland Field in Valdosta and play in front of 12,000 (not a typo) screaming fans was the dream of many boys in our school. Many little girls dreamed of cheering.
Coach backed up his rhetoric with a game plan. Two days a week, a member of his coaching staff, along with a couple of players, met with us after school, where we learned all about formations, rules of the game, and terminology specific to the Wildcat program. We didn’t play organized football; we never wore uniforms. But we lined up in formation, ran plays and learned what contain means, and what a rover does, where tackles line up, and how to number and identify holes in the line. They only occasionally mentioned blocking and tackling. That would come later. At this point in our development, we concentrated on all things mental.
Even our snap count was the exact same as the varsity. They didn’t assign us to a permanent position, but instead, all players swapped around and took reps at every position. If a child decided the program wasn’t working out, no questions asked, and the coaches dismissed them. It was strictly voluntary.
Although voluntary, and all in fun, Coach made participation in the “after school activity time” contingent on two points: We took home a permission slip for parents to sign, and we had to keep up our grades in school. Participation in the program required A’s and B’s on report cards. No exceptions. First C, and activity time was history. He convinced us that we needed brains to be a Wildcat.
While it was important to the kids that we keep up grades, imagine if you will the pressure that dads of the community felt. Looking back on it now, I appreciate the brilliant psychology behind “after-school activity time.” I know my father suddenly found ample time to check math homework, and to make sure that I knew what the capital of Georgia was and such as that.
As an adult with a basic understanding of logistics, I see how Coach Bazemore might have exaggerated a bit when he claimed our grades would be forwarded to his office so he could keep tabs. But then again, he may have checked every report card. Coaches are mysterious creatures.
Fact is, I never even scared a B that entire school year, much less a C. That was unthinkable. For little Cameron boy that second grade year, it was all A’s or bust.
I never played under Coach Bazemore, nor did I ever run out onto Cleveland Field donning the black and gold. Life took our little family away from Valdosta and all over Georgia. I eventually landed in Swainsboro back in 1971.
At least half a dozen times over the years, long after Coach Bazemore retired, my father and I would take off to watch the Wildcats play on Friday night. In 1978, we even invited my future bride to accompany us to Albany to witness what might have been.
I’ve always contended that coaches can be the best teachers and motivators out there. Coach Bazemore proved that point many years ago when little boys dreamed of becoming Wildcats, little girls dreamed of cheering them on, and I made all A’s on my report card for the first and only time.
I might not have turned the tide, but I never forgot.