Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Jesse Owens

Oscar Charleston

The recent public appearance by Evander Holyfield at a D.A.R.E. graduation at Southwest Laurens Elementary brings to mind a day, nearly sixty years ago. On that day two of the greatest athletes in the history of the world displayed their talents for thousands of admiring fans, who for the first time got to see their heroes up close and in person. One man was one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time. The other man, whose career was thwarted by baseball commissioner Kennesaw Landis’s refusal to allow black athletes in major league baseball, was one of the greatest players in the history of the Negro Leagues.

The friends of Washington Street School were raising money for athletic programs at the school. On April 10, 1940, a special benefit was planned at the fairgrounds on Telfair Street. The fairgrounds had seen great athletes and spectacles before. In 1918, the New York Yankees defeated the Boston Braves on the fairground diamond. The St. Louis Cardinals stopped in town on their way back to St. Louis after spring training to play a game against the Oglethorpe University Petrels in 1933. Two years later, the Cardinals returned to play the University of Georgia Bulldogs. In all, eight members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Miller Huggins, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Dizzy Dean, Rogers Hornsby, Leo Durocher, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, and Jesse Haines played on the sandy field located at the northwest corner of Telfair and Troup Streets. County fairs, circuses, and even a performance by cowboy legend Tom Mix had drawn thousands to the old 12th District fairgrounds.

The feature attraction of the day was billed as "the world's fastest human." His name ranks among the greatest athletes in Olympic history. In the 1935 Big Ten Track and Field Championships, he broke five world records and tied one in a forty-five minute period. In the 1936 Summer Olympics, he won four gold medals. At the time he held the world record for a long jump, 220-yard hurdles, and 220-yard dash. He has tied the world record for the 100-yard dash. He also had tied the world record with a time of 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash. A 20.7 second time in the 200-meter dash gave him another Olympic record. He was put on the 400-meter relay team at the last minute. The team set a world and Olympic record.

Interestingly, it was one of the German competitors who gave him a helpful hint which allowed him to beat the German in the long jump. The German jumper told the American track star to make a mark a few inches short of the foul line and to jump from that point. It worked. He set an Olympic record that stood for twenty-five years. He won the Gold medal - and the German, won the Silver. He stated that all of the medals he won wouldn’t replace the friendship he had developed with Lutz Long, the German athlete. Long was killed in the Battle of St. Pietro on July 14, 1943. Adolph Hitler was so enraged that he stormed out of the stadium refusing to present the medals.

The world champion American athlete’s name was, of course, Jesse Owens. In Dublin, Owens was scheduled to compete in a dash around the baseball diamond, a one hundred yard dash against a race horse, a running broad jump, and a one hundred twenty-yard low hurdle race. After his exhibition, Owens gave an interview over a loud speaker answering questions from his fans. Owens never enjoyed the attention that should have been given to him. In the mid 1930s, he was ignored when national amateur athletic awards were handed out. He later fell from grace with some who disagreed with his comments and beliefs on social relationships in America.

Preceding Owens' feats of human speed that day, there was an exhibition baseball game between the Toledo Crawfords and the Ethiopian Clowns. Jesse Owens was the business manager of the Crawfords. The game was played before fans, both white and black. The two teams traveled the country stopping nearly every day to play a baseball game - some times before a few hundred fans and other times, before tens of thousands.

The Crawfords began playing on a sand lot in Pittsburgh in the 1920s. In those early days, legendary catcher Josh Gibson was on the team. Their owner, Gus Greenlee, used the profits from his gambling and liquor activities to buy the best players in the Negro Leagues. Greenlee built and equipped a lighted stadium, years before the Major Leagues began playing at night. The Crawfords joined the re-organized Negro National League in 1933. It was the first year of the Negro League All Star Game - the East-West Classic, which was created by Greenlee. The Crawfords won the National League championship in 1935. In 1937, their star players, led by Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson, left the team in a salary dispute. The team was never the same. Greenlee sold the Crawfords, and the team moved to Toledo, Ohio. One star remained with the team. His name was Oscar Charleston, known by the press writers as “The Hoosier Comet.”

The Crawfords were led by Oscar Charleston, who was playing in his last season for the team. Charleston was a slick fielder with a lifetime average of .380. Many regard him as the greatest Negro League player of all time. John McGraw called him “the greatest player ever.” In 1921, he batted .446 with 14 home runs for the St. Louis Giants. In one nine-year span, Charleston batted over .350 in all nine seasons, twice hitting over .400. Charleston joined the Crawfords in 1932 and consistently hit around .350. Charleston was a fan and player favorite. As a fielder, he was known as “The Black Tris Speaker”; as a runner, he was known as “The Black Ty Cobb;” and as a power hitter, he was known as “The Black Babe Ruth.” Oscar Charleston, who ended his career with a .376 batting average, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

The Ethiopian Clowns were a true barnstorming team. They were the clown princes of Negro League Baseball, comparable to the Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball team. While they had no great stars, the Clowns, who eventually moved to Indianapolis along with the Crawfords, were fan favorites all over the nation. One popular routine was called Shadow Ball. In this routine, the players pantomimmed an imaginary game of baseball with outlandish movements and stunts. Fans were thrilled when one player would pick up four baseballs and throw them at the same time to four different players. The Clowns toured the country until the early fifties. Their most famous alumnus was a young Mobile, Alabama outfielder by the name of Henry Aaron, who led the American National League with a .467 average - a miraculous feat considering he batted cross handed.

Dubliners had seen good Negro League players before. The Dublin Athletics, members of an independent Negro League, played on a field on East Mary Street near the Dudley Cemetery. They were a pretty fair team in their own right, but nothing could compare to that April day when two of the giants in the world of sports played on our field.

JAMES BAILEY - Jammin James

James Bailey is tall. He may be the tallest person ever born in Laurens County. His height - six feet nine inches in his stocking feet - came in handy for slam-dunking basketballs, blocking jump shots, and getting stuff off the top shelf at Wal-Mart without tip-toeing.

Bailey was born in Dublin on May 21, 1957. His family moved away a short time later. James began to grow taller and taller. His height and superior athletic ability made him an outstanding high school basketball star of the Xaverian Brothers High School team of Westwood, Massachusetts. For his outstanding ability and play, James was awarded a scholarship to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

James began his career with the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers in the fall of 1975. By the fifth game, James was named as the starting center. His coach, Tom Young, noticed something special in the freshman. The Knights won their first game, and then another. When Rutgers eased past Boston College by twenty three points, sportswriters began to take notice. The Knights defeated Georgia Tech to win the school’s first Christmas holiday tournament. In each of the three games heading into the Poinsettia Classic, Rutgers scored more than 95 points in each game. By New Year’s Day, Rutgers was eleven and zero. Four opponents gave up one hundred points to Bailey’s team. In the biggest game of the year against arch rival Princeton, the Knights scored seventy five points against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. The Knights scored more than one hundred points in their last two regular season games. This was in the days when there were no three-point shots. In the post season tournament, Rutgers breezed to its second straight ECAC title and earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. With wins over Princeton, Uconn, De Paul, and VMI, the Knights made it into the final four. The Knights perfect 31 and 0 season came to end with an 86 - 70 loss to Michigan. Bailey vaulted to national prominence in his freshman season.

Bailey led his team to the NIT in the next two years and one final trip to the NCAA tournament in his senior year. During his four years at Rutgers, Bailey averaged 16.7 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. He still holds the Rutgers record for field goals in a season (312 in 1978.) Amazingly, the big man had 1755 steals (second most in school history.) Bailey blocked 330 shots and was feared by all those who dared to try him under the basket. James Bailey was one of the first college centers to perfect the "lob dunk." He had 116 dunks in the 1977-78 season, more than many entire teams. His junior season was his best. Bailey won the Widner Trophy as the best player in the East. He was chosen as a first team All - American and finished the season with a 23.5 points per game scoring average. His career best game came against William and Mary when he scored forty three points and grabbed thirteen rebounds. A local sportscaster described Bailey that night as if he were "a slot machine in front of an addicted gambler - all the numbers were coming up right."

Just days after the end of his junior season, James was selected to play for the United States in the 1978 World Invitational Tournament, a sort of off-year Olympic tournament. He was named the starting center. The team had among its members a forward from Indiana State by the name of Larry Bird and a guard from Michigan state Earvin Johnson, who you know as "Magic." Also playing on the team were future pros, Joe Barry Carroll, Phil Ford, Jack Givens, David Greenwood, Kyle Macy, Rick Robey, and Sidney Moncrief. The USA team defeated Cuba 109-64, Yugoslavia 88 to 83 and the Soviet Union 107 to 82 to win the world crown. Bailey was third on the team in scoring with twelve points per game, more than Bird and "Magic" put together.

Bailey garnered many honors in his four year career at Rutgers. He was first team All Atlantic and a member of the All Atlantic Tournament Team in each of his last three seasons, Tournament MVP in his senior year, Atlantic Player of the Year in his last two seasons, winner of the Donald Courson Trophy as the top male athlete in the Class of 1980, and a first team All American in his last two seasons. His team won ninety five games and lost only twenty eight. The Knights were fifty and three at home.

Bailey was drafted sixth in the first round of the June 1979 N.B.A. draft by the world champion Seattle Supersonics. Chosen ahead of James were Earvin "Magic" Johnson, David Greenwood, Bill Cartwright, Greg Kelser, and Sidney Moncrief.

The defending champion Supersonics finished with the second best record in league in Bailey’s rookie season. They defeated Portland and Milwaukee, but lost to division rival and eventual league champions Los Angeles in the Conference Finals. In his only playoff appearance, Bailey was assigned to guard the legendary Kareem Abul Jabbar. Bailey became a starter after an injury to Lonnie Shelton. He had his best season in 1980-1, despite his team’s tumble to the cellar of the Pacific Division. Playing in all eighty two games, he established career highs in nearly all scoring and defensive categories. It was during that year that he hit his only three point shot (out of thirteen attempts.) During his third season, he was traded to the New Jersey Nets, who finished third in their division.

Bailey was traded in his fourth season to the Houston Rockets, who finished last in the league. During that year Bailey led the team in field goal percentage. Bailey replaced the legendary Elvin Hayes in the lineup. At the time, Hayes was the all-time NBA leader in minutes played and third all-time in points scored. The Rockets were a little better in the 83-84 season, finishing next to last in the league. Bailey was traded a third time in 1984 to the New York Knicks, who finished (you guessed it), next to last. It only got worse the next year when the Knicks were in the basement of the NBA. Bailey was shipped across the river to New Jersey in 1986. Again, Bailey’s team finished next to last. In his last NBA season, 1987-88, he finally got out of the cellar, but barely. The Phoenix Suns won one out of three games and finished as the fifth worst team. In his seven-year career, James Bailey scored 5246 points and amassed 2988 rebounds. After his last season in the NBA, Bailey played in Europe until his knees finally gave out.

On the night of February 8, 1993, thousands of his fans and twelve of his former teammates turned out to honor James Bailey with the retirement of his number 20 jersey. Bailey is only one of three Scarlet Knights to have been accorded such a high honor. That same year, James was one of the initial five inductees into the Rutgers Basketball Hall of Fame. He was joined by the late Jim Valvano, legendary N.C. State basketball coach and colorful sportscaster. Bailey still lives in the area today and keeps himself physically fit by drag racing in Englishtown.

Unfortunately for James Bailey and the game of basketball, James was never surrounded in the NBA with the talent he had playing with him at Rutgers University. Consequently, he never realized his true potential. Whether you call him, "J.B.," "King James," or "Jammin James," James Bailey, during the last half of the 1970s, was one of the most dominating centers in college basketball.


One former Dubliner took a keen interest in Florida State University’s victory in last month’s national college championship in the Sugar Bowl. Willie Jones played for the Seminoles in the 1970s, when winning seasons were few and far between. Willie Jones, born in Dublin on November 22, 1957, spent his first decade of life here, attending Susie Dasher School and playing football. At the age of twenty one, he was one of the best defensive college players in the country.

Willie’s mother, Daisy Jones, worked long and hard hours at the Canady Restaurant and Motel in East Dublin. Willie’s sister worked with their mother. In the latter years of the 1960s, the Jones family left their home and went south - about as far south as one can go in the continental United States. The Jones family established their home in Homestead, Florida, just south of Miami. Willie attended South Dade High School, where he was a two-sport star in football and basketball. Willie’s size and speed led to his being awarded a scholarship to play football at Florida State.

Willie started in his freshman year at Florida State in 1975. At six feet four inches tall and two hundred and forty pounds, he was small as defensive lineman go. His speed was one of his best assets. In his first season, the last for head coach Darrell Mutra, the Seminoles had a dismal record of three wins and eight losses. In that year and the two years before, the Seminoles won only four games out of thirty three. The football program was in trouble. The university had to find someone to turn the program around.

School officials hired a coach, who had coached winning teams at Samford and West Virginia. Sportswriters called the period before his arrival in January of 1976 as "B.B.," before Bowden. In his first season at Florida State, Coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles won five games and lost six. Jones again started at defensive end in 1976 and gained his first honor of being named to the All South Independent team. In his junior year in 1977, Jones was named to the All-South Independent Team and as an honorable mention on the Associated Press’s All-American team. The Seminoles had their best season in many years, going ten and two with impressive victories over bitter rivals, Auburn and Florida. Jones played in his first and only bowl game, the Tangerine Bowl, following his team’s best season. For his outstanding play in the 40-17 stomping of Texas Tech, Willie Jones was named the game’s most valuable defensive player.

A collage painting of Willie Jones graced the cover of the 1978 Florida State Press Guide. School boosters and Coach Bowden touted Jones as one of the best defensive ends in the country. Opposing quarterbacks and running backs feared the big number 88 on the garnet red jersey. Offensive tackles did everything they could to keep him out of the backfield. The 1978 Seminoles slipped to eight and three, though two of their losses to Houston and Pittsburgh were by a total of ten points. Once again, the Seminoles dominated their bitter intrastate rivals, the Florida Gators. Willie Jones was on everyone’s All-America list. For the third straight year, Jones was named to the All South Independent Team. He was named Southern Lineman of the Week for his outstanding performance against Southern Mississippi. The United Press named Willie to its Second All American Team. The Associated Press and the Sporting News gave Jones honorable mentions on their collegiate all star rosters.

Following his successful career at Florida State, Jones was selected to play in college football’s top two All Star games. In the Senior Bowl, the granddaddy of college football all-star games, Jones sacked the North quarterbacks six times and garnered the Most Valuable Player Award. In doing so, Jones became the second Dubliner to win the coveted award. Twenty years earlier, Theron Sapp, Dublin born, Brewton raised, and a Georgia Bulldog legend at running back, won the same award. Jones was selected to play for the East team in the Hula Bowl in the paradise of Hawaii.

Professional scouts took notice of Willie Jones’s ability. The Oakland Raiders selected Jones as their first pick, which came in the second round of the 1979 NFL draft. As a rookie, Jones played in all sixteen of the Raider games, nine of which were victories. They included a fifty to nineteen romp over the Falcons, who were only slightly better than they were last season. In his sophomore season, Willie again played defensive end in all of the Raider’s sixteen games. The Raiders improved their record in 1980 to eleven wins with only five regular season losses. The Raiders breezed by Houston in the Wild Card game, squeaked by the Browns 14 to12 in the Divisional playoff, and defeated intrastate rival San Diego 34 to 27 to win the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XV in the New Orleans Super Dome on January 25, 1981. The Raiders were the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl after beginning the playoffs as a wild-card team.

The 1980 Raiders were a tough defensive team. They led the league in interceptions, ranked sixth in fumbles caused, and stymied their opponents in the last half of the season. Willie Jones scored his second and last career touchdown when he scooped up a fumble and ran it into the San Diego end zone in the second game of the season. Wearing number 90, he played left defensive end behind legendary Oakland Raider, John Matuzak. Also playing with Jones in that 1980 season were Hall of Famers, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Ray Guy, and Ted Hendricks. Several other members of that team will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the future.
Oakland jumped out to a 14 to 0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles after the first quarter. This wasn’t the first NFL title game that a Dubliner had played in. Once again, Theron Sapp beat Jones to that honor when he played for the Philadelphia Eagles in their defeat of Vince Lombardi’s powerful Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship game. The Eagles managed to put a field goal on the board in the second stanza, but fell behind to Oakland by the score of 24 to 3 after the end of the third quarter. A fourth quarter field goal ended the scoring and when Willie Jones intense pass rush forced Eagle quarterback Jaworski into throwing an interception. That fatal mistake iced the 27 to 10 victory for the Raiders in the first of only two victories by a wild card team in the Super Bowl game.

Willie Jones played in only eight games in his third and final season with the Oakland Raiders in 1981. The Raiders failed to defend their Super Bowl championship. They posted a seven and nine record and failed to make the playoffs. In 1989, Willie Jones was elected to the Florida State Athletic Hall of Fame.