GHSF Daily is expanding its Four Questions feature this season beyond head coaches to other voices in high school football. Today's interviewee is Lincoln County football historian and statistician Johnny Walton. He has missed only nine Red Devils games in 43 years.
Johnny Walton, Lincoln County football historian and statistician
1. What are some of the things you've done in the name of Lincoln County football? "This season is my 43rd keeping game play-by-play and statistics. What is now a hobby started as a 10th-grade journalism assignment since I was unable to take P.E. due to leg problems. That year, I wrote for the high school newspaper and the local weekly. That was 1976, and the Devils started their 38-game state-record win streak. My game stories have appeared in The Lincoln Journal for most of the past 43 seasons. For many years, I was also a stringer and occasional writer for The Anderson Independent and sometimes called in games to the Augusta and Atlanta newspapers and local TV stations. In 1979, a friend and I put together a 44-page book, "From Bearcats to Red Devils." In 2001, I developed www.lincolncountyreddevils.comand currently maintain it and other high school football Web sites. Until the last few years, I would keep the stats while walking the sidelines. Age has caught up with me, and I now sit in the stands unless rain chases me to the press box. I've spent many hours researching in the main UGA and USC libraries, going through their newspaper collection looking for missing scores. I've also learned much from my family and the Lincoln County townsfolk. For the last few years, we've also been on Facebook with the RedDevils.us page."
2. Why have you done it? What's the joy in it for you? "I was the 1979 valedictorian for Lincoln County High, but I was a Red Devil fan long before high school. I'm told my parents took me to my first game when I was two weeks old. Back then, cars could park looking into the end zone opposite our gym. Later that year, I would be taken to Sanford Stadium when the Devils met Coosa there for the Class C title. A friend recently gave me video from that game. During those high school years, I developed a friendship with the coaching staff and especially Larry Campbell. I helped with other high school sports and the local recreation summer sports that Coach Campbell had started. In 1983, I moved 65 miles away from Lincolnton to take a job that I recently retired from. At that point games became my best way to see my family and many others from Lincoln County. I'm usually one of the first in the stands, and it gives me a chance to stay in touch with the community. I also love numbers; I have a B.S. in computer science with a minor in math."
3. How do explain the success of Lincoln County football from the 1960s onward? It's the mecca of small-town football in Georgia with 14 state titles in Lincolnton. "To me, it was the combination of a dedicated head coach that was ahead of his time, many good and a few great players, and a community that always gave its full support to the football program. Coach Campbell and his assistants truly cared about the players and their families. He was checking report cards long before good grades were required. Nearly every young man who could play football did; that's essential in a small community. The community supporters made sure the football program had what it needed. The Devils started a weight program earlier than many schools because the booster club raised the money for the weight machine."
4. What's the future of Lincoln County football? Why has the program struggled recently, and what's realistic going forward? "The Lincoln County community did not realize how fortunate we were. The biggest issue I think is the number of players. We don't have the numbers we've had in the past due to a changing local economy where the number of local jobs is decreasing and thus families have to go elsewhere. Unfortunately, and I thought I would never see it in Lincoln County, local issues have led to young men not coming out for football this and last season. The community has to come together to resolve those issues. Even with that, competition has gotten much tougher as other schools have improved. But we always have hope. Change one or two plays in the three region losses and those games, lost by a touchdown or less, could have gone the other way. Looking to the future, we'll be competitive, but being dominant as we once were will be very difficult."
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