The Smithsonian Hometown Heroes Sports Exhibit documents Alapaha, the little Georgia town with a big heart

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Sisters Joan Drawdy and Norma Gaskins happily pose behind a poster depicting the latter’s eldest daughter Michelle Jones on Friday, September 16, 2016, in Alapaha, Georgia. The Smithsonian Hometown Heroes Sports Exhibit welcomed residents from the small town with a big heart to the recently renovated, original Bank of Alapaha building situated adjacent to Becky’s Beauty Salon. The “Ms. High School Softball” has notched an impressive 600-plus wins, a state championship, and coached over 30 players who signed scholarships to play college softball in her 29 years at Berrien High School. Photography by Jeremy Roberts [featured in The Berrien Press]
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Charles Matthews joins little brother Wesley Matthews during Friday’s once in a lifetime Smithsonian sports exhibit. Drafted at short notice to deliver a brief keynote presentation, Wesley was warmly received by the appreciative crowd, especially when joking about his former skinny physique. Believe it or not Wesley would complete football practice and then run the 12 miles from Nashville back home to Alapaha. Earning the appropriate nickname “Alapaha” as well as a football scholarship to the exclusive Citadel — the Military College of South Carolina — Wesley played 73 consecutive quarters on offense and defense. Throughout his management career in the textile industry, folks never failed to ask Wesley where he was from. Usually clueless as to the city’s location or proper pronunciation — “Alfalfa” and “Al-a-pa-ha” are pretty common first tries — the imposing gentleman had a clever retort: “Alapaha’s between Enigma and Willacoochee.” “Where in the world is that?” “Pretty close to Plumnilly.” Sensing further puzzlement, Wesley added, “It’s plum out of Florida and nearly ‘bout outta Georgia!” Photography by Jeremy Roberts
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Tommie Vickers, honored with a totally unexpected 80th surprise birthday party in June 2016, was seven years old when he was diagnosed with a painful bone disease known as ankylosis. Admitted to the now defunct Scottish Rites Hospital in Decatur, over an astonishing three-year period Tommie’s legs were placed in plaster casts with weights attached to his foot to try and extend his left leg. As he grew older, his leg did not keep up with normal growth spurts, causing him to walk with a noticeable limp. Nevertheless, Tommie’s thorn in the flesh did not hinder his basketball dexterity. Playing two years for the Berrien Rebels, Tommie led the team in scoring and was named Best Athlete his senior year. A forward for the renowned Alapaha Lions Club basketball outfit, Tommie’s sports devotion further manifested itself when he coached pony league middle school boys baseball. Photography by Jeremy Roberts [featured in The Berrien Press]
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George and Sandy Harper are definitely pleased for only daughter Sonya Bass, a competitive four-year starting shortstop for Valdosta State University named to the All-American Softball team in 1998. Sonya miraculously bounced back from a life-threatening injury when she was only seven years old. Riding on her daddy’s tractor, it suddenly lunged forward, pulling Sonya’s leg between the fender and tire. After three major surgeries to reattach her nearly severed foot, the little girl possessing a can-do attitude ultimately became a physical education teacher in Madison, Florida. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
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Ninety-four-year-old Edwin Gaskins, who credits the Lord for his remarkable nimbleness, stands next to a floor length banner honoring lanky daughter Dona Fields. The retired principal became the undisputed star of the early Berrien Rebelettes basketball team, accumulating the most career points at more than 2,500. After high school she was offered a position with one of the first professional women’s basketball teams, the All-American Redheads. Fortunately for Berrien County citizens, Mr. Edwin and late wife Marguerite gently persuaded her to focus on physical education instead. Dona’s father passed away on March 26, 2018. Photography by Jeremy Roberts [featured in The Berrien Press]
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Mary Ellen Crisp clutches a delicious banana MoonPie, bag of roasted peanuts, Diet Pepsi, and sweetheart Carl Hendrix moments after touring the Smithsonian Hometown Heroes Sports Exhibit. Incidentally, the adorable, unabashedly independent Southern belle is the big sister of Joe and Mark Dixon. Photography by Jeremy Roberts [featured in The Berrien Press]
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Childhood buddies Tommie Vickers (left) and Charles Matthews pictured inside the original Bank of Alapaha building. The latter’s daddy was C. A. “Charlie” Matthews, the vice president of Bank of Alapaha who played a substantial role in thwarting Jesse James Roberts’ failed robbery attempt back on January 10, 1966, (Roberts had robbed the Bank of Lenox earlier that morning). Matthews heard the commotion, grabbed the bank’s Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver, ran out the door, and began shooting at Roberts. At which time president J.P. Culpepper instructed cashier Willis Nash to get his gun and pursue him also. Alvin Riner had borrowed Nash’s truck during lunch and had not yet returned, so Nash was unable to join the pursuit. By this time Roberts just wanted to “get outta Dodge,” so he fired one shot at Matthews which grazed his temple, miraculously only taking an arm off his horn-rimmed spectacles, and fled the bank after the foiled robbery attempt. Photography by Jeremy Roberts
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Wesley Matthews delivers the keynote speech on Friday, September 16, 2016, inside the Bank of Alapaha’s original building. The now burly individual received a scholarship to play football at the Citadel, playing 73 consecutive quarters on offense and defense. His endurance and commitment earned him the team’s coveted 100% award. Photography by Jeremy Roberts

© Jeremy Roberts, 2016. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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