The Ultimate Rivalry
Boys High and Tech High delighted football fans around the state
Ever heard of a high school football game drawing 20,000 fans or out-drawing University of Georgia games? That’s what happened in the 1940s when, next to the Georgia Tech-Georgia game, the old Tech High/Boys’ High game was the biggest sports attraction – not only in Atlanta but in the entire state of Georgia.
Even Georgia’s 1942 Rose Bowl team out-drew the Tech High Smithies vs. the Boys’ High Purple Hurricanes only when it played the Yellow Jackets in Sanford Stadium and Alabama’s Crimson Tide in Grant Field.
The Smithies and the Purple Hurricanes usually met the last game of the season and to the victor usually went the Georgia Interscholastic Athletic Association state championship. Most of the games were played on Friday nights at Ponce de Leon Park, home of the Atlanta Crackers baseball team. Fans sat anywhere they could find space – in the grandstand, bleachers, the centerfield bank and on top of the freight trains parked on the railroad tracks behind the right centerfield fence. You think a Masters ticket was tough? It was a breeze compared to a THS-BHS football ticket.
After the game, fans of the victorious team would march up Ponce de Leon Avenue to the Varsity at North Avenue. With a police escort they usually would make it, but occasionally students of the losing team would break up the march.
The series started in 1912 and ended with the restructuring of the city school system after the 1946 game. Tech High won the most games (18 to Boys’ High’s 15), including the finale played at Georgia Tech’s Grant Field before one of the year’s biggest crowds, 23,000. There was one tie in the series, 13-13, in 1944.
The biggest victory margin was in 1924 when Stumpy Thomason, who led Georgia Tech to a Rose Bowl victory in 1928, ran wild in a 69-0 Tech High rout. Boys’ High’s biggest victory margin came in 1941 when the immortal Clint Castleberry, the next year an All-American in his only season at Georgia Tech (he was killed in World War II) annihilated the Smithies, 45-0. The late Boys’ High coach, R. L. (Shorty) Doyal, said of Castleberry, “He was so good I had to take him out of the games to hold the score down.”
Imagine the intensity of the rivalry. The two schools were housed in the same building on Eighth Street stretching from Charles Allen Drive to Monroe Drive. In addition, each school had its own wooden portables, Boys’ High on Charles Allen Drive and Tech High just around the corner on Monroe Drive.
The football teams practiced at the same time and at the same place – Piedmont Park. Boys’ High had its field on the south end and just a few steps away Tech High worked out on the north end. You could say they were spittin’ distance apart. The fields were on the west end of the Park, opposite 14th Street.
My favorite games were the 1942 Milk Bowl (a benefit game and the only time the two teams met twice in one season) and the 1944 deadlock. Boys’ High won the first game, 28-14 in ’42, as Johnny Griffith, later Georgia football coach, spearheaded the win. Tech High won the Milk Bowl 15-7, thanks to a blocked punt by Ray Chaney and a human battering ram by the name of Charlie Woodward. Both games were played in the daytime due to a World War II blackout.
In 1944, Tech High was a 7-point underdog but thanks to the passing of Mack Couch, the pass receiving of Durward Davis, and Pierce McWhorter hammering the Boys’ High line to shreds, the game ended in a 13-13 tie. Tech High dominated all but two plays, a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Richard Trotter and George Brodnax’s unbelievable, one-handed catch of a Dickie Ray pass, enough to snatch victory from the Smithies.
There never has been anything like Tech High-Boys’ High since and there probably never will be again.
Gene Asher is a veteran sportswriter and businessman.
Note: Statistics for this column provided by Richard J. Reynolds III.