Half the scars on my body came from one source: Paul “Jet” Conner. Before rubber-cleated football shoes, the leather soles were spiked with metal-tipped nylon cleats. The cleats weren’t sharp, but when 240-pound Jet trampled over me and my blocking dummy, his marks—which turned to scars—were left behind.
It’s been more than a half-century since my last taste of Jaycee Stadium turf, after being bulldozed by one of the fiercest Jesup Yellow Jackets to ever strap on a gold helmet. Jet had me by a few years and at least 100 pounds, but I’m proud of every bruise and scar he contributed to my otherwise lackluster gridiron career. My friend gave me a life lesson in the Timex watch slogan: “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
Jet didn’t know it, but he “traveled” with me to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for U.S. Army boot camp. Drill Sgt. Raymond Wells, fresh from the jungles of Vietnam, was Airborne Ranger tough. He knew it, and I knew it. But thanks to Jet, I wasn’t intimidated. While Sgt. Wells was screaming in our faces, all I could see was Jet, charging with angry-bull smoke spewing from his nostrils. I dared not laugh at the soldier wearing the Smoky Bear hat. But I knew that, whatever my drill instructor dished out, I could take it.
Over the years, before they died, I got several chances to tell our coaches, Clint Madray and Ben Park, how much I appreciated their efforts to find a football player in the scrawny boy under those too-big and sweaty shoulder pads. They knew I wasn’t college-scholarship material, but I told them that I took something to The University of Georgia more valuable than a ticket for a free education. I took determination and discipline to Athens, Fort Campbell, Fort Sill and beyond. I can still hear Big Clint barking, “Even a dead man has one more step!”
And as we’ve all slogged through the last 15 months of an environmental battle in our community, Coach Madray’s voice has echoed—over and over—in my head. Scores of others must have heard him, too. Persistence and determination are what have us where we are now. You made your voices heard, and we are grateful Republic Services listened.
Now, listen to another icon of Yellow Jacket football competitiveness—John Donaldson. As ferocious as Jet was blocking and tackling, John, “The Jesup Flash,” was elusive carrying the pigskin. Later, as a coach, he took Jesup High to state championships in 1954 and 1959. And when Coach Donaldson came back in the 1970s, I heard him warn his teams, “When you get happy, you get beat.”
We can be pleased with where we are in the Broadhurst Environmental Landfill issue, but there is much work to be done:
Will more toxic coal ash ever be dumped in Broadhurst?
Will Republic reapply for a rail spur in the future?
Will the 50-year contract be renegotiated?
What other plans are there for Broadhurst?
We can be grateful for Republic’s new good-neighbor attitude and goodwill efforts. That is very encouraging, but we can’t afford to “get happy.”
No, not yet.