Walden ceremony special

Published 7:33 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

On Friday I had an opportunity to attend a special ceremony and see a friend receive a richly deserved honor.

In my capacity as sports editor of this newspaper for 39 years, I have been blessed with the opportunity of meeting and covering many famous athletes, ranging from bass fishermen to football, basketball and baseball players.

Friday’s ceremony, at Bainbridge College’s Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center, was particularly special to me.

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It honored Bainbridge resident, former Cairo High School Syrupmakers All-State halfback, University of Georgia Bulldogs Southeastern Conference recording setting punter and Pittsburgh Steelers two-time Super Bowl champion Bobby Walden.

Walden, who was recently inducted into the Grady County Sports Hall of Fame, had the portion of U.S. 84 in Decatur County from the Grady County line west to the traffic light at the Whigham Dairy Road within the limits of the Wiregrass Georgia Parkway dedicated as the Bobby Walden Highway under a resolution passed by the Georgia General Assembly and introduced by Rep. Gene Maddox of Cairo.

I saw Bobby play at Cairo and Georgia, but I really did not get to know him well until he, his dear wife, the former Scarlett Bates of Bainbridge, and their son, Bobby Jr., moved first to Climax, then to Bainbridge, following his retirement from professional football.

In 1982, when Bobby Jr. quarterbacked coach Ralph Jones’ Bainbridge High School Bearcats to the state Class AAA championship, Bobby, Scarlett and I attended a lot of Bearcat booster club meetings together.

They were as supportive of youth athletics and youth programs in general as anyone I knew. They were always there with an encouraging word for the players and coaches.

At Friday’s ceremony, former Georgia fullback Bill Godfrey and Bobby’s teammate with the Bulldogs, made a statement with which I whole-heartedly concur:

“Bobby Walden could do everything on a football field,” Godfrey said.

“In high school, he was an outstanding place kicker and punter. In college, where he received the name ‘The Big Toe From Cairo’ he was as good a punter as there was in the nation, and professionally his long booming punts consistently put opposing teams in bad field position.”

Bobby gave recognition Friday to a very special lady in attendance, Mrs. Elsie Thomas, widow of the late coach West Thomas, his Cairo High School football coach for whom the Cairo High School football stadium is named.

Coach Thomas and Mrs. Thomas were very special to me as well. They constantly encouraged me and many other Cairo High School students to always work hard and do our best.

Mrs. Thomas, who taught typing, kind of took me under her wing and taught me the one-hand typing system. I had my own book and my own home keys.

While I now, like everyone else, work on computers, I typed all my stories on a manual typewriter during the first 12 years of my journalistic career. Those typing lessons I learned under Mrs. Thomas really helped me in those years. It was great to see her and give her a big hug on Friday.