Remembering Bainbridge’s veteran athletes

Published 6:16 pm Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Every year when I attend Veterans Day activities in Willis Park as I did yesterday, my memory goes back to the many brave deceased and living veterans I knew who defended our many great freedoms in wars and conflicts around the world.

Many of those great American veterans lived or live right here in Bainbridge and Decatur County. Two of them were my dear late friends—coach Clifford Wells and Lt. Col. Doyce Ariail from Climax.

Wells, a U.S. Army veteran and former girls basketball coach at Climax High School, was wounded in World War II, and Ariail, who was an avid Bainbridge High School Bearcats and Lady Cats sports supporter and whose sons Chip, Scott and Pat played football for the Bearcats, were both great veterans and dear friends.

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Chip is the Bainbridge High School Lady Cats soccer coach, statistics keeper and historian for Bainbridge High School sports and a member of the Bainbridge Middle School Bearcats seventh grade football coaching staff. Doyce’s son, Scott, also played defensive back at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and he attended numerous football games there when Scott was playing.

Because of the courage and sacrifices of coach Wells, Ariail and many other brave heroic veterans both living and dead were all able to freely enjoy our favorite sports events today.

Doyce, who was very instrumental in promoting Flag Day observances in Climax, was himself a fine college football player at Wofford, where Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was one of his teammates.

Lieutenant Colonel Ariail’s son Tom, who is a West Point graduate, went on to become a U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel like his dad.  I had the great honor and pleasure a number of years ago of going to the Climax home of Doyce and his dear wife Ann, where I talked with and took pictures of Doyce and Tom when Tom was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

I subsequently wrote a story about the two proud father and son Lieutenant Colonels.

Coach Wells, who coached many strong lady basketball players at Climax High School, was instrumental in bringing a number of them back for an alumni basketball game one year at Climax’s annual Swine Time Festival. Alumni basketball teams from Attapulgus and West Bainbridge High Schools also took part in the festivities at the old Climax High School Gymnasium.

Just before his Climax High School alumni team was ready to go up against an Attapulgus High School girls alumni team, coached by former Attapulgus High School and Bainbridge High School Bearcats head basketball coach Charles Bess, coach Wells was helping find a seat seats for a Climax lady fan at the packed gymnasium.

“I think there are a few seats over there,” he said as he pointed to the side where a large number of Attapulgus fans had assembled.

“I am not going to sit over there,” she said rather indignantly.

The rivalry lives on.