Families and friends congregate during the holidays, remembering key events from years past. In Lincoln County, those meetings also happen at football games, since the Red Devils often play well into late November and early December.
Those football memories often focus on past state championships or big wins over those Tigers from Washington. But one of the most memorable events was a controversial loss that led to GHSA sanctions, but also led to the rebirth of the Red Devils' winning tradition.
The year was 1955. The Red Devils had won only one of its previous 39 games, and was coming off an 0-10 season. Lewis Surls was in his second year as the Devils' head coach. Quarterback Don McCurry and fullback Glenn Partridge were the co-captains on the 1955 team.
Click here for many clippings and programs from the 1955 season
The third game saw Louisville visit Lincolnton. By every account we've read or heard, the officials were having a very bad night that game, and it apparently was very one-sided. The penalty calls favored Louisville, and the officials' basic understanding of procedures and rules was very much in doubt.
We recently had the pleasure of talking with Glenn Partridge, and thank him and his sons Rick and Steve for the poster and programs accompanying this story. That night is still vivid, 57 years later, in the memories of many of those in attendance. We've recently talked with several of those players and fans.
Partridge recalled that twice earlier in the game one of the officials intentionally stepped in front of him as he was running the ball. Then, in the second half, the official moved to repeat the improper action a third time. Glenn said he hit him in full stride that time, then headed to the sideline and handed the ball to Coach Surls.
Coach Surls asked an official how much time was left in the third, with the Devils trailing 19-6. It had to be the third because the teams had not swapped ends of the field to go into the fourth. The official said there was only a few minutes left in the game. Keep in mind this was before there was an endzone clock for all to see. Coach Surls had had enough, and pulled his team off the field.
Now, we must say we don't condone violence as an answer to a problem. But we also must say that sometimes a group must stand up and express themselves when they see injustice being done. That expression may be dramatic when that injustice is being done to their sons.
As the officials left the field, some of those fathers were waiting. The first official was met by a strong right hand from a gentleman we'll refer to as "Mr. Albert". That gentleman was a bear of a man, reportedly able to lift 400 pounds. Eyewitnesses say that first contact sent the official back 15 feet.
Other Lincolnton faithful joined in, and the officials fled. One was found running down the Augusta highway shirtless, having scrambled across the creek and through the briars. Another was found trying to climb a tree.
The GHSA held a hearing in Madison to review the matter. The first official to get hit asserted that the man that hit him had to have used a bat, because he had never been hit that hard in his life. (There was one report teeth came through his cheek that night.) The Lincolnton representative offered to arrange to have "Mr. Albert" repeat the act to prove only his hand was used; the official declined the offer of proof. The Lincolnton representatives at the GHSA Sportsmanship Committee hearing were given no opportunity to explain their version of what happened that night.
The GHSA fined Lincolnton High $500 and put the school on one year probation. Keep in mind this was when $500 was a lot of money; sirloin steak was 65 cents a pound at Central Super Market, and a car battery guaranteed for 3 years was only $14.95 at Western Auto. The local school board appealed the penalties, but a promised appeal hearing never happened. The $500 fine was quickly collected from the Lincolnton townsfolk, and the probation was successfully served.
The event became a catalyst for the Red Devils. They went on to win their next three games to finish the 1955 season 4-6. The next season the Devils went 6-4 for their first winning season since 1950. In 1960 the Devils would win their first of 14 state titles. In the 57 seasons since 1955, the Devils have had only two losing seasons.
(We'll have more clippings from the aftermath of the Louisville game later this week.)