Joe Medley: Wellborn to make fitting tribute to Wade, ‘Thin 20’ team
by Joe Medley
Oct 11, 2013 | 2739 views |  0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
WELLBORN — Lamar “Frog” Wade coached kids who played with their hands in the dirt, so he put his hands in the dirt.

He was the guy who had lunch money for Wellborn High School students who needed it.

Even in retirement, he used his golf cart to transport older Wellborn fans to home games.

He was an All-Calhoun County lineman for Wellborn in 1966, drove a school bus for Wellborn, served as a career assistant coach for Wellborn and became a fixture in the “Golf Cart Gang” that watched Wellborn practices. His heart gave out on him at age 64, but he never quit the school and community he loved.

That’s why it’s so appropriate that Wellborn will give a plaque to the late coach’s brother and sister as part of recognition for the 1983 “Thin 20” team before tonight’s key Class 2A, Region 6 game between Wellborn and Woodland.

Wellborn’s version of Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” made it through a remarkably successful season with the 25 players dedicated enough to stay through then-head coach Mike Battles’ weeding-out campaign. The team was so short on players that its coaches had to wear helmets in practice.

Wade was just the coach and just the man to personify such a group.

“Lamar and I coached together for 13 years out there,” said Battles, a Wellborn legend and now Handley’s head coach. “Lamar was raised in Wellborn, lived in Wellborn, died in Wellborn, and he was the best asset that Wellborn High — the community, the high school, the athletic department — had.

“He loved the Panthers. That’s all there was to it.”

Wade died on his golf cart Sept. 8, about a month shy of seeing the “Thin 20” team’s recognition.

Representing him at tonight’s recognition will be brother Stanley Wade and sister Charlotte Kennedy. The “Thin 20” team will be recognized at 6:25 p.m., 35 minutes prior to kickoff, and the plaque will be presented to Wade’s siblings during that ceremony.

It’s hard to think about Wellborn without Wade, just like it’s hard to think about the 1983 team being recognized without him and Battles, who will coach his Handley team at Clay Central tonight.

The 1983 Panthers finished 7-3, winning seven of their final eight games. They beat Saks, Jacksonville, Pell City, Oxford and Cherokee County in their final five games.

Players from that team began arriving for their 30-year reunion Thursday. They gave the Panthers a pep talk after Thursday’s practice, and, on, the stories they can tell.

The “Thin 20” team was Battles’ fourth at Wellborn. He had coached the Panthers from 1979-80s, coached at Pascagoula (Miss.) in 1981 then returned in 1982. The 1982 team fell below his expectations with a 6-4 record, and Battles looked to send a message in 1983.

“Buddy, it was tough,” said current Wellborn head coach Jeff Smith, who was a starting guard as a freshman on that 1983 team. “We went through a week of two-a-days and scrimmaged on Saturday, and then we did a week of three-a-days and scrimmaged on Saturday and then went back to two-a-days before we had a scrimmage on Saturday. Then, we had game week and played Anniston.”

The 1983 Wellborn team narrowly missed the playoffs but beat rival Oxford 14-13 in a game where Oxford had as many senior captains as Wellborn had healthy players — 18.

“That team, you’d better love it all the way, and, really, it was a foundation team for Coach Battles,” Smith said. “That’s why we need to recognize them like we’re going to this week.”

Among the four coaches was Wade, a 1967 grad who drove a bus and helped to coach until becoming a full-time coach in 1978. He coached offensive and defensive lines under Johnny Ingram, Battles and Allen Quinn over a career that spanned into the 1990s.

Battles said Wade was among the best he’s seen at breaking down the finer points of the game, and there wasn’t a player he couldn’t coach.

“He was a great coach, a great motivator,” said Keith Screws, who played defensive end and tight end and went on to have two sons play for Wellborn. “He loved the game of football. I think the thing he taught me most was discipline.

“But he was one of those coaches who would get down and get dirty with you. He would get down and show you exactly how to do it.”

Smith called Wade a “players coach” who was always accessible to talk, but Wade was accessible to more than players.

“He was like that with the regular kids in school that didn’t play anything,” Smith said. “You would be surprised as the kids that he touched and was good to, though the years.

“If you didn’t have lunch money, he’d make sure you had it.”

Wade retired from coaching but never retired from caring about the community, school and football team. He stayed involved, watching football practices from his golf cart and offering advice to coaches and players alike.

His impact was felt through generations. Like he did with many others, he would drive his golf cart to the Screws’ house and talk to Keith’s sons.

“Never came in,” said Dalton Screws, now a wide receiver at Jacksonville State. “He’d always be on his golf cart, but I don’t live too far from the school, so he’d pull up and we’d have some good conversations on Saturdays about the games on Fridays and about the Alabama game and everything else.

“He was a hard man to get to know, because he always had that thick-shell coaching mentality. But after every game, whether I had a good game or a bad game, he’d pull me off to the side and tell me what he’d seen that I can improve on.

“Stuff like that is something I look back for and am thankful for.”

When Smith was hired to coach his alma mater in 2009, no one was happier than Wade.

“He had been having health problems already, but he called me and left a voice message, and he was so excited,” Smith said. “He was just getting out of the hospital at the time, and it meant a lot to me.

“He said, ‘Well big boy, you made me cry.’”

Wade and Keith Screws worked the gate at Wellborn home games. Keith Screws would take money, and Wade would make the rounds in his golf cart, transporting some of the community’s older residents to the games.

“We’ve got some old ladies here that don’t come out of the house but maybe five, six times a year, and that’s to see the Panthers play on ‘The Hill’,” Smith said. “Coach Wade made sure that he picked them up and got them up here in the stadium.”

But Wade’s impact was felt throughout the community, and perhaps no story pegs it like the one his younger brother shared about Wellborn grad Jay Morgan.

Morgan, now a Major in the U.S. Army and based at Fort Bliss in Texas, made a point to return for Wade’s Sept. 11 funeral. Stanley Wade estimated that he and Morgan spent five to six hours together the day before the funeral.

Morgan, who has worked his way up from the enlisted ranks in 21 years with the Army, told Stanley Wade that his life could have been much different without Lamar Wade’s influence.

“He put his (rank) insignia in the coffin,” Stanley Wade said. “That says a lot.”

Stanley Wade estimated that nearly every member of the 1983 team attended his brother’s funeral. He’s looking forward to sharing tonight’s recognition with them.

How much would Lamar Wade have enjoyed it?

“I couldn’t put it in words,” Stanley Wade said.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.
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