Jerry Summers: Rossville Bulldogs And The Central Purple Pounders - Football Dynasties In 1954

Friday, April 23, 2021 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

In 1954 only a few miles separated the state football champions of Georgia and Tennessee.  The Rossville Bulldogs, with a record of 11-0-1, were the champions in Georgia’s playoff system by winning a 38-0 victory over a team from Savannah in the finals played in Macon, Georgia, December 10, 1954.

The only negative mark on the Bulldogs winning season was a 20-20 tie with a team from Griffin, Georgia, in October.  Rossville later won a return playoff game 21-7 at Grant Field in Atlanta.

Tennessee did not have a playoff system in place during this era and the state champions were selected by Vanderbilt University professor E.E. Litkenhous based on a complicated mathematical formula that included number of wins, strength of schedule, and other factors.

Central High School at this time was located on Dodds Avenue and compiled a record of 9-1 with the sole loss to Memphis Central at the University of Chattanooga’s Chamberlain Field by a score of 14-13.  Based on its strength of schedule with victories over strong Tennessee teams such as Kingsport, Bradley County, Nashville Litton, and Baylor School and out-of-state powerhouses Miami Senior, Atlanta Grady, and Jacksonville Landon, the Purple Pounders were awarded the mythical Tennessee state title.

Local fans of both schools continuously compared the records of the two schools in support of their argument that their respective team was superior.

Unfortunately, the only common foe played that year was the Red Bank Lions who lost to Rossville 46-0 and to Central 46-2.  The arguments over the state lines continue today as to the outcome of a theoretical game between the two powerful elevens.

The history of Rossville’s 1954 season has been preserved by a book written by a member of that squad, Doug Veazey, in 2007 entitled “Marching Through Georgia” and contains an accurate depiction of the team's championship season with a little humorous fiction thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, no similar history of Central’s fourth straight state championship of 1951-1954 has been published but is documented in the school’s annual, The Champion, and in the hearts and memories of the remaining players and students of that era.

Both teams enjoyed the leadership of outstanding coaches - Glenn C. Wade for Rossville and E.B. Etter for Central as well as great assistant coaches such as Harry Summers and Paul Campbell for the Bulldogs and Stan Farmer, Les Newton and Jake Seaton for the Pounders.

Both schools had unique recruiting programs that attracted outstanding athletes to their respective schools. 

The Peerless Woolen Mills under the leadership of philanthropist John L. Hutcheson was always willing to provide a good job for the parents of a football, basketball, or baseball player who chose Rossville as the school to attend to obtain his high school education.

Former Bulldog halfback Tommy “Fuzzy” Clark relates that no expense was off limits for Mr. Hutcheson’s support of the team.  On one occasion he bought the team a new set of white nylon pants before a game with Russell, Georgia, in an effort to make the attire slipperier for the opponents when tackling a Bulldog runner.  Unfortunately, the game was played under Georgia red clay conditions and the new uniforms turned permanently pink when they were washed for the first time.

Central did not have a textile mill to recruit players but they did have assistant coach Stan Farmer, a tough big-hearted Naval veteran of the Battle of Iwo Jima who had the personality to convince many good athletes (and their parents) that Central was the place for their sons to obtain a high school education.  Many Central players owe much to Coach Farmer for his efforts in helping them obtain clothing, meal money, summer jobs, and even places to live for those who may have come from a broken home environment. Both schools also enjoyed strong alumni and community support during the 1950’s.

Today Rossville High School no longer exists and the students in the area attend Ridgeland High School off Georgia Highway 2, a modern facility that continues the Bulldogs tradition of having excellent athletic teams.  The Rossville Alumni Association in still in existence and gives three scholarships to Ridgeland students each year as a symbol of their support.

The Central High School/Supporters Association supports many school activities and has endowed 12 scholarships at the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga to assist seniors to further their education in college.

Central High on Dodds Avenue is no more and in 1968 relocated to a new school in Harrison.  McCallie School purchased the old school property and has developed it into an outstanding prep school sports venue.

The argument continues today as to which school would have prevailed if the two teams would have played an additional game in 1954!

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)

Rossville coach Glenn C. Wade
Rossville coach Glenn C. Wade

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