CLASS OF 1959
Ray Merrell Beck was born in Bowden but grew up in Cedartown, where he was a football standout at Cedartown High from 1944-48. Beck was a first-team all-America selection as a senior in 1951, when he helped the Yellow Jackets to an 11-0-1 season, the Southeastern Conference title and a victory over Baylor in the Orange Bowl. He was also a first-team all-SEC choice at guard, he lettered three years (1949-50-51) under legendary head coach Bobby Dodd. Beck was a second-round draft choice in 1952 by the New York Giants, for whom he played four seasons, interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Giants 1956 NFL championship team. Ray was inducted into the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame in 1956 and then was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
Samuel Burke was a Virginia native but coaching brought him to Georgia where he helped make the Albany High School football team a force in South Georgia in the late 1920’s. After a 6-year stint at Greensboro High, Burke moved into administration becoming Athletic Director at R.E. Lee in Thomaston in 1939. In 1941 he became School Superintendent until he became the first full-time director of the GHSA in 1946. He moved the GHSA headquarters to Thomaston. Burke put together a Georgia State Championship Playoff Committee consisting of himself, Sidney Scarborough of the Atlanta City Schools, Marvin Jones of Lanier High, and Weddington Kelley of North Fulton. They drew up four regions and devised a two-tiered playoff scenario for the coming December. The GIAA became known as the GHSA Class AA in 1947 while the smaller schools filled in Classes A, B, and C in 1948. Burke retired in 1976 and is an honorary life member of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
H.D. "DICKIE" BUTLER
H.D. “Dickie” Butler moved from Brunswick as a youngster and became a star quarterback at the University School for Boys in Atlanta from 1923 to 1925. He was recognized All-City in his senior year. He played college football at the University of Georgia before becoming head coach at Decatur High School, where his teams won the North Georgia Interscholastic Conference championship in 1930, 1931, and 1932. Butler also has coaching stops at Gordon Military from 1935-1942 and then Columbus High School where his teams won 110 games over and eleven year span. He is an honorary life member of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association.
Columbus native George Mathews lettered twice in basketball and four times in football (1944, 1945, 1946, 1947) at Georgia Tech. A star running back and defensive back under coaches William Alexander and Bobby Dodd on Tech's outstanding teams from 1944 to 1947, Mathews played in two Orange Bowls and was selected for the 1947 College All-Star game. He garnered national attention for his 96-yard fumble recovery returned for a Tech touchdown against national powerhouse Navy in 1946. Upon graduating in 1948, Mathews was recruited by the New York Giants but chose instead to pursue an M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. With that degree, he began his business career in 1950 that included several leadership positions. He was a co-founder of the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award. He generously supported not only educational and charitable institutions but also many individuals who came to him in need.
Mark Smith from Macon served as superintendent of Bibb County Schools from 1941 through 1958 after spending 22 years in Thomaston in that same role. He is remembered for executing a vital wholesome influence on Georgia prep athletics. Smith also coached football, baseball and basketball during his career. He was football and baseball coach at Americus High in 1917 and 1918 and then moved to Thomaston High from 1919 through 1921 where he coached baseball and basketball.
A. DRANE WATSON
Thomson native Drane Watson started a successful prep coaching career at Wrens High School in 1937 where he also served as the school’s principal. He compiled a 42-16-3 record there, but it was his move to Gainesville High School in 1944 that helped put the Red Elephant program on the map. Not only did Watson post a 46-15-3 record as football coach, Watson led Gainesville to its first baseball state championship in 1949 after two other state finals appearances in 1947 and 1948. Watson also coached the school’s track team. He was the head coach of the North Georgia All Stars in 1951 and helped organize Gainesville’s Little League program in 1952. The Gainesville High baseball stadium is one of the state’s finest and named Ivey-Watson Field for Ted Ivey and Coach Watson. Ivey was a former local Little League and American Legion coach who was pitching coach for Gainesville High for five years.