Jerry Summers: March Through Georgia

Jerry Summers

Jerry Summers

If you thought this article was about General William Tecumseh Sherman walking through the state of Georgia on his way to Savannah during the Civil War (war to quell the rebellion) for people from the north, you’d be wrong.

This march through the Peach State took place in 1954 by a 31-man football team from the textile town of Rossville, Georgia, in northern Georgia, just across the state line from Chattanooga.

Many of the survivors of this historic year are now in their eighties. The majority of unbeaten state champions have either died or slowed down considerably since the glorious 1954 season.

However, their achievements are chronicled in a 129-page publication by the former Rossville Bulldog and Georgia Tech quarterback on the ’54 Bulldog Team. Doug Veazey’s Marching Through Georgia was released in 2008. 1999 saw a reunion with 15 contestants and head coach Stan Wade.

Though the physical structures of Rossville High School and Peerless Wooden Mills are victims of the textile industry’s eventual offshore outsourcing, the Rossville community is beginning to recover.

The expansion of the bowl-shaped Chattanooga into other areas such as Ooltewah, Wauhatchie, etc., through the process of elimination, has made Rossville a candidate to regain its former prominence through the Rossville Boulevard corridor.

In 1954, the community of Rossville, Georgia was a unique textile mill town like many in the South with a population of about 3,000 where the sport of soccer had become almost a religion (actually on Friday nights).

After World War II in 1945, Peerless Wooden Mills owner John L. Hutchinson Sr. was asked to support and revitalize the Bulldog athletic program.

The promise of an open budget to support the athletic department ushered in the birth of the Rossville dynasty in Northwest Georgia.

The recruitment magic formula was quite simple. If a young man was a good athlete, his parents could always get a job at the factory just across the Tennessee-Georgia border.

The unbeaten 1954 season began with a wild game in Cedartown, Georgia and ended with the championship game being played at Porter Stadium in Savannah between the Bulldogs and the Blue Jackets. The match would decide the ultimate champion in Georgia’s highest football classification.

Although Rossville’s undergraduate numbers would have put the team in a lower region, John L. Hutchinson had insisted upon agreeing to provide the funds to build a championship team, and he commanded, “I only wish to compete in the highest classification. Everything will be first class. I want a championship team and Walt (Sporting Director Lauder), I want it before I die.”

The end result between the two powerhouses would be a runaway 38-0 win in favor of the small town of Rossville in 1954.

John L. Hutchinson Sr. lived to be 89 and died in January 1957 after realizing his dream of starting the Rossville Bulldogs dynasty.

However, the history of the state championship did not end the stories of the 31 players and the coaches and other members of the Rossville community.

Most would be successful in their chosen careers/professions as productive citizens in their own right.

(The projected rebirth of Rossville in the 2020s should also evoke a rebirth of memories of the 1954 team).

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You can reach Jerry Summers at [email protected])