In 1952, the new Campbell High School serving the Smyrna and Oakdale areas was finally finished but with three notable ***s. Not one person of Campbell’s first graduating class* ever attended their new alma mater, the school did not have a football team* and there was nary a gridiron* in sight. The first * is explainable, but the latter two* are just not acceptable in the South. But wait, there’s more……a lot more.
The following stories and accounts of those formative years of Campbell High football are told by the guys who actually played the game ”in the arena” and through that experience learned many of life’s lessons from the man who brought the sport to Campbell High some sixty years ago.
Campbell High School’s first football coach, “Dixie” Howell.
Fred Herren, CHS ’54 writes:
David “Dixie” Howell was born in Florence, Alabama in 1924 and moved to Washington D.C. at the age of six. He played his high school sports at Eastern High School in D.C. As an outstanding tackle on the football team, he played in two All Star games before signing a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. Alabama was coached at that time by legendary Coach Frank Thomas. After one year at Alabama in an effort to avoid being drafted, Howell joined the United States Navy. In 1946, after just one year in the Navy, World War II had ended and he was discharged. He did not return to Alabama. He was offered a scholarship at George Washington University in D.C. After an outstanding career at George Washington, bad knees prevented any opportunities to play pro ball.
With few jobs available, he was working at a recreation center when a family friend suggested he look into a high school coaching job that was open in Carrollton, Georgia. Their coach had been called up with a National Guard unit, and the job was open immediately. Coach Howell interviewed on one day and started working the next. A few days before, he did not even know where Carrollton was. After two successful years at Carrollton, the previous coach returned and again Coach Howell needed a a job.
Xs, Os and the single-wing.
He read in the paper that the new Campbell High School was starting a football program. He applied and after an interview with Jasper Griffin, he was offered the job. His first staff of assistants were Lorry Cain and Ken Brooker. The second year he added Bino Barreira, a team mate from George Washington, and Bob Alford.
That first year, 1952, the team met the coaches in early August. There were some real fundamentals to be taught before they hit the practice field. Things like how to wear the uniform and where the pads go. There were twenty-five boys on that first team. With no field of their own , they practiced on the baseball field at the Fitzhugh Lee School in Oakdale and played all their games on the road.
The first game was at Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga, Georgia. The team had to arrive early so the coaches could show them how to line up for the kickoff because this was their first time to be on a lined-off football field. Some of the boys were playing in the first football game that they had ever seen ! That team finished with a record of two wins and eight losses.
The next year, 1953 , with a new field on campus and a year’s experience, the team made a remarkable turnaround and finished with seven wins, two losses and one tie.
Coach Howell not only taught football skills; he taught life lessons, how to be part of a team, play by the rules, respect, dedication to a challenge, and how to deal with adversity. All are skills that so many players have used to guide their lives. He had a lasting impact on who they became. He truly was a part of their transition from Boys to Men.
Coach Howell was at Campbell for four years and moved to Furman University where he was an assistant football coach for eight years and also served as the head coach for three years. From Furman he moved to the University of Virginia where he spent two years as an assistant coach.
After his years of coaching, Coach Howell moved into the business world and had a very successful career with Ohio Knife Company and with Sloan Construction Company, one of the largest paving companies in the United States. While with Sloan, Coach Howell spent about three years paving airports in Guyana and on an island north of Iceland.
Six years ago Coach Howell lost his wife Carol after sixty years of marriage. He now lives in Honea Path, South Carolina with his new wife, Loretta.
My memories are many of Coach Howell. It is hard to sum them up in one paragraph. I signed up to play football in 1952 primarily because Coach Ash said I was too small and that I would never make the team.
After two weeks in the first practice at Fitzhugh Lee, I was about to believe him and quit. My mother had been after me to quit, she said I was going to get hurt. Coach Howell told me he would talk to my mother and that he didn’t want me to stop trying and that I had what it took to play football. That surprised me because I never had any confidence in myself until he told me that.
During the first year of Campbell football we worked hard. Coach instilled in all of us the desire to do our best at whatever we attempted. Most of us played offense and defense; we worked hard but had a good time. Coach Howell was an example to all of us as rough and tough, but a gentleman in all respects. If he had not been there as an example at whatever we choose to do in life, I probably would have quit school and joined the military service.
In short, Coach Howell and Coach Cain instilled in us the will to try hard at whatever we attempted and for me to have confidence in my abilities.
Dave Bennett, CHS ’54 writes:
In one game, we played badly the first half. Coach Cain came in and said that we were so bad that Coach Howell had nothing to say and was not coming into the locker room. Unfortunately the game situation did not get any better. We still lost.
Ron Cochran, CHS ’57 writes:
What can you say in a few short words about a man that changed your life?
I remember when I went out for football my sophomore year, I had no idea what an end, guard or tackle meant. Coach Howell was there and he looked over at me and said “you just stand there, I am going to make you a blocking back”. I thought what in the world is a blocking back?
Coach Howell had a lot of confidence in me ( a lot more than I had in myself). He gave me enough confidence that I was able to play without feeling intimidated.
He would bring me down after the “B” team finished practice and I would play defense against the varsity. For this I would get to go with the varsity to all away games and I would dress out in the uniform of the player on the varsity that was hurt and could not play. It was not permitted to play in both the B team game and the varsity game in the same week.
This was great encouragement to me and we a great relationship from the first day on.
Coach Howell had one of the best football minds and could teach you small things that you could look for and put into practice when your opponent was giving small signs; this helped you to be able to out play him.
Coach Howell came to Campbell in 1952 from Carrollton, Georgia. Practices began August 1, 1952 at Fitzhugh Lee. We had “two a day” practices with about 100 guys at the beginning and 19 left in November.
First game played was at Gordon Lee High at Chicamauga, Georgia. We played two”home” games at Northcutt Field in Marietta. Campbell won two games in 1952, North Clayton and Stephens County. We had four seniors, Frank Lacy, Allen Adair, Bill Hubalek ( Dixie’s adopted son )and Dan Horsley.
All extra points were either run or pass. We didn’t have a kicker 1952,1953 or 1954. Jimmy Ansley was our team’s first captain for 1952 and 1953. I was captain in 1954.
Campbell High field opened in 1953. That year all home games were wins with one tie;record of 7-2-1. Leon McCrary was the first All-State football player from Campbell High. Our first spring training was in 1953 at Brinkley Park. Dixie went to Furman University in 1956.
My first year’s big thrill was to get to play a few plays at quarterback in Campbell High’s first game in September 1952.
Howard Gunn, CHS ’55 writes:
Back during my high school days at Campbell High, football became the dominant sport. Coach Dixie Howell was selected as the first football head coach and he in turn surrounded himself with a staff of good coaches.
They started the program with learning conditioning and basic workouts due to the inexperience of the players. In building the team, long practices and hard work was the norm, while skull sessions were added in. Over the summer and fall of 1952, coach Howell and his coaches had developed the players into a good football team.
Coach Howell was not only a good physical conditioning coach, but also a good motivator and communicator. He developed discipline and good positive attitudes among his players.
He was the good All-American coach.
Arnold Hamby, CHS ’54 writes:
When Coach Howell first came to Campbell High School, he called all the boys who wanted to play football together. The only thing we knew about football was from backyard play. There were two positions, the one who had the ball and all the others trying to tackle him.
At the meeting, Coach Howell held up an plump oblong brown item and said “gentlemen, this is a football”. I raised my hand and said “coach, could you go a little slower so all of us can understand it”? Coach Howell lowered his head with that little grin on his face and looked around at everyone in the room. Then he said, ” Lord, I have my work cut out for me”.
That was my introduction to Coach Dixie Howell.
Shades of Rebel Without A Cause.
A trick on Coach Alford. A few players would meet with Coach Alford at Campbell before class and go over some plays. John Myers would pick up Coach Alford and Doug Jones would come by my house and get me. We would always pass each other, on the morning trips, each on the correct side of the highway. So Doug and John decided as they approached each other the next morning they would switch lanes; and seeming to meet head-on, serving at the last minute. Coach Alford didn’t have a clue about what was going to happen. As the cars started to come together, and thankfully before Doug picked me up, each guy hoped the other had remembered the switch. Well, glad to say their memories held and they pulled off the stunt. It isn’t real clear how Coach Alford felt right afterwards, but he probably drove himself to Campbell from then on.
Doug Jones , CHS ’54 writes:
Our first game was against Gordon Lee High School in Chicamauga, Georgia. We lost 33-0. It was a long trip back to Campbell on that school bus.
Our first home game was against Avondale in 1953 in the pouring rain. We were inside the the five yard line and the score was tied 12-12 with time running out. I was given the ball and broke the plane of the goal line but I was pushed back. Coach Howell was on the sideline even with the goal line and saw me cross it. The refs said that I did not break the plane and then time had expired. As the refs left the field Coach Howell ran after them rather upset….. I’m not sure what he said. The score stayed at 12-12.
Cokes, a rabbit and deja vu.
When we played Canton High on their field we were ahead at half time and the concession stand would not sell us any Cokes. They kept their Cokes, but we got the win, 48 -14.
A story about Arnold Coach Howell told in assembly. Coach Howell, Arnold and I were hunting rabbits and Arnold said “Doug, there goes a rabbit ” but before Arnold finally finished the sentence, the rabbit was probably in downtown Smyrna.
After the last game of our first season, Coach Howell set up one more game on Thanksgiving Day with Villa Rica High school. Their regular quarterback was injured so their coach put in a 230 lb tackle. He could pass pretty well and if the receiver wasn’t open he would run it. Well, that was the problem. After sustaining several bruising plays, we finally understood that we had to hit him in the ankles to get him down. Another lesson learned! Fifty years later, I was buying some lumber for my business and the salesman that helped me played on that same Villa Rica team. Oh yeah, we talked some football.
In 1953, Leon McCrary was named to the Georgia All State team. Fred Herren, Marvin Brown and I made honorable mention. Also, Coach Howell arranged a football scholarship for me at his alma mater, George Washington University but I passed on it and established a constuction career in Smyrna.
Willis Conn, CHS ’55 writes:
In practice, it seemed like I was always playing against Marvin Brown either trying to block him or getting blocked by him. Some rough days for me. Also Coach Howell was always getting on me about my stance. He said, “Willis, you look like you are sitting on a “chilly stool”. The name stuck. And for the record, Summerville was the worst field we ever played on …..all rocks.
One of my duties was to handle the kickoffs. Well, I had been slacking off a bit and the coaches sent in John Myers to replace me. The ref blew his whistle and John ran up to the ball to kick it and he missed it completely and landed on his buttocks. Yes, I did get my job back.
Don Blackburn, CHS ’59 writes:
My pleasure to talk about Coach Howell, what a great guy. I will have to admit the first time I met him I was scared to death. He was so big and I was just an eighth grader. I had heard some of the older guys talk about how tough he was when you missed a block, tackle etc. I can remember how much I enjoyed going to the games when I was still at Fitzhugh Lee. Fred Herren was my first hero and Ray (Shakey) Brown was my second hero. I loved to watch those guys run the ball.
Coach Howell was a guy you wanted to play for. It is easy to sit around the tables at Howards and hear how Coach made an impact on so many guys in more ways than one. He was like another Dad to you. Back in our day, you didn’t have dads and moms coming out to practice like they do now. Our dads were working and our moms were at home cleaning the house, preparing and cooking the family’s meals. So the coachs were the “sitters” and based on the comments I have heard it is clear to me that he touched hundreds in one way or another.
Needless to say, Coach Howell gave me an opportunity and I have never forgotten how blessed I was to be able to know and be coached by such a special person. God has put a lot of Godly men in my life and Coach Howell was a special one and I give God the glory.
Wayne Dobbs, CHS ’57 writes.
When most people remember Coach Howell, they think primarily about the hard-nosed and well diciplined football teams he coached at Campbell. There is no disputing these accolades. However, I remember him as the coach of the 1955 CHS men’s basketball team. A team led by Charles Billingsley and Bob McCoy ran off one of the best won-lost records in Campbell history.
Coach Howell was born to coach and the sport did not matter. He later coached baseball at Furman University. I remember him as a coach that players were eager to please.
To this day, I am humbled when in his presence. His presence at Campbell was huge in my life and I am certain there are many who feel the same way.
George “Kippy” Mason, CHS ’57 writes.
Early Memories of Dixie Howell, 1954
During the football year of 1954, I decided to go out for the Campbell football team. I was a wiry 130 lbs as I went into my sophomore year. I didn’t arrive at Campbell in time to go out for the team in 1953, as a freshman, since my family had just moved to Smyrna from Cedartown too late in the year. It’s probably a good thing because I hadn’t matured enough to even make the “B”team at that time. Not to mention that at 130 lbs a person of that stature doesn’t stand his ground too well against the likes of Doug Jones, Leon “Lucy” McCrary, Marvin Brown, Fred Herren, Charles Prichett, David Bennett, John Myers, Jack Benny Sentell, Jimmy Ansley, Ray Brown and maybe even more. All of these were the formidable heroes of the Panther football squad.
Each of these and several more not mentioned were Campbell’s first gridiron stalwarts and they set a high standard of talent for Campbell in years to come. Their accomplishments are still remembered to this day. In my opinion, they became these gridiron legends of Campbell because “The Coach”, Dixie Howell, instilled in them the desire to achieve a high standard of play not only on the football field but also in life. His influence on his teams was to last far into the future not only for those who played for him but for the descendants of his players. I don’t think any of us had an inkling that our lives would be changed forever because of Coach Howell. None of us knew at that time that he was a teacher far more important to us than just football.
Even though I got up enough guts to try out for the 1954 team, I was never aware of things to come. Things not yet experienced in my young life. In later years, I realized that those who played under Coach Howell and were able to talk about it, remember the practices, the drills, the dust bowl and the heat we were subjected to ( not just the weather but also from “The Coach”), turned out to be fond memories of a man who taught us the very hard knocks of life. Not only how to handle adversity, but to be accountable for your actions and what you did on and off the field and that it could have an impact on the whole team. He taught us about manhood, that enabled us to have a stick-to-it attitude and finish what was started. Things that were fundamentals in our future lives as responsible individuals.
I can’t remember at anytime that “The Coach” was ugly to me or any of us for that matter or denied me the opportunity to exhibit my limited talents on the field of battle.
My first day of practice in the spring of 1954 was one that I will never forget as long as I live. Remember, 130 lbs, a young tender soul who had never played competitive football except for the likes of an older brother and some of his friends from Cedartown days of a year or so past. Even then, I think they let me play so they could feel good when they ran over me and through me but never around me. It was the easiest path of resistance for them. I did learn the rules from them and I knew you couldn’t be a sissy and complain when they hit me. I found that “The Coach” wanted players that could hit hard, listened to and learned what he taught us.
The very first day of practice I got into a fight and I think Coach took a liking to me because I stood up to a much bigger individual and held my ground. As the days went by and the practices became much harder I started to feel much more comfortable in what I was doing and Coach started calling me by name.
Finally, the first game of the year was upon us and to my surprise Coach put me on the kickoff squad. What a feeling that was ! Our first foe was Druid Hills, a formidable group that had ambitions of becoming the Region champs. As we lined up to go down on the kickoff, I can remember Coach Howell urging me to stay in my lane and tackle anything that was in a blue uniform.
Well, the rest is history. I tell this story because it was to me, and example of “The Coach”, Dixie Howell, who to me was bigger than life, gave me (130 lbs) the opportunity to play football at Campbell. He also gave me the opportunity to level the playing field of life in future years.
The following photos were taken when some of Da Boys visited Coach Howell and Loretta earlier this year.
Group photo, left to right: Kippy Mason, Don Walker, Fred Herren, Coach Howell, Doug Jones, Charles Cook, Ronnie Brown, Jim Ansley, Wayne Dobbs, Arnold Hamby and Dave Bennett.
Some historical events of the Panther football past.
- Arnold Hamby, guard, scored the first touchdown at Campbell Field by recovering a fumble in Avondale’s end zone. (1953).
- Doug Jones scored the first touchdown at Campbell Field by a running back (1953).
- Fred Herren ran for five touchdowns and passed for another to Leon McCrary against Elijay High School (1954).
- Leon McCrary was the first Campbell High football player named to the Georgia All State team (1953).
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster
and treat those two imposters just the same..” Kipling.
Many thanks to all Da Boys that helped make this tribute possible.
If anyone would like to add their memories to this article just email it to me. My address is in our directory