GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Len Robbins, publisher of The Clinch County News and president of the Clinch County Athletic Booster Club since 1994. Robbins started covering Clinch County High sports for the newspaper that he now owns when he was a high school sophomore. He has been the radio "Voice of the Panthers" since 1994.
Len Robbins, newspaper publisher and 'Voice of the Clinch County Panthers'
1. You've covered high school football in other classifications over your career, but mostly in Class A. What's different about Class A football? What's special about it? "The odd thing about Class A football is that the teams don't have the quantity of other classifications, but the quality of individual players is ridiculous. Think about the best players to come out of Georgia in the past 50 years, and a pile of them played in Class A. Players like Herschel Walker, Champ Bailey, Thomas Davis, Garrison Hearst, Nick Marshall, Charles Johnson, Charles Grant, among others. Clinch currently has four former Panthers playing D-I football, and we'll have another one when Trezmen Marshall signs in December. Then, in these small towns, the whole community supports the local high school football team. That's not just a Clinch County thing, and not really a Class A thing either. It's indicative of many smaller communities across Georgia, where people come to games even though they don't have a child or relative playing football or in the band. It's just what you do to support 'your team.' In a lot of the larger communities across Georgia, you don't see that sense of community."
2. Clinch County has had one of the top football programs in the state over the past 40 years. What do you think is the reason for the team's success? "First, we have had coaching continuity. I can't overstate how critical that has been. We've had three head coaches over the last 44 years - Donald Tison, Cecil Barber and Jim Dickerson. Tison coached with Barber for years, and Dickerson played for, and coached with, both Tison and Barber. All three are Clinch County High grads. Almost all of our assistant coaches are Clinch County High grads. That makes a huge difference when the coaches have a commitment to the community. Secondly, we have a great feeder program. Our booster club runs the youth football program, not the city or county recreation department. The booster club raises money to keep participation costs low. We never turn away a kid who wants to play. Lastly, we have great community support. It's a big deal to play for the Panthers here, and a point of pride for the entire community."
3. What's the most memorable moment in the years you've covered high school football? "The 2004 state championship game at Hawkinsville. Clinch missed a last-second field-goal attempt, leaving the score tied at 14-14 at the end of regulation. At that point, there was no overtime in state title games, which has since been changed. Our headline the next week was: 'Fit to be Tied.' And it was. We could have played another eight quarters and the score would probably still be tied. The atmosphere there that night was electric, as was the state title game in Ocilla last year against Irwin County. That's why I've always been a proponent of having state championship games on actual high school fields. You can't recreate that atmosphere in a cavernous dome in Atlanta."
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4. You've witnessed seven state championships at Clinch County. The current Clinch team is defending champion and pretty impressive so far with blowout wins over two ranked opponents. What's your assessment of this team and its potential to rank right at the top of Clinch teams all-time? "We'll know a lot more about this Clinch team after Friday's game against Irwin County. It's just too early to tell, and, so far, they've been difficult to figure out. Clinch was heavily favored over Hebron Christian in the opener, and we won by just seven [24-17]. Then I thought we would struggle against Brooks County, and we throttled them [37-7]. Dooly looked like a classic trap game, and Clinch led 27-0 at the end of the first quarter. But this team does seem to have three elements key to a championship
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