Greenwood High School made history in 1968 by becoming the state’s first Class 4A football team to win a state championship on the field.
Up until that year, South Carolina decided its state champion by a poll.
But on the field is where that Greenwood team was at its best.
Under the guidance of head coach J.W. “Pinky” Babb, Greenwood’s defense pounded its opponents, surrendering 6.6 points per game and recording six shutouts.
Its offense was equally impressive, scoring 415 points and reaching the 40-point plateau five times, including during a 41-13 win against Hartsville in the state championship game.
In fact, more than half of the team’s 14 seniors played football in college.
That includes Eddie Seigler, a soccer-style kicker who signed with Clemson following high school.
Seigler connected on 51 of 56 extra points during Greenwood’s state championship season and scored 110 points from 1967-68.
“It put me on a magic carpet and took me places I never dreamed I would go,” Seigler said Thursday during the team’s 50th anniversary at Greenwood Country Club. “It gave me an opportunity to earn my college scholarship, a whole new group of friends and to be remembered in the history of Greenwood.”
Chuck Huntley joined Seigler at Clemson, as did LaVern Thrailkill and Mike Webber. Thrailkill was a junior during the 1968 season and Webber was a sophomore.
It was Huntley who opened the scoring during Greenwood’s Nov. 29, 1968 state championship victory, with a 74-yard TD run on the first play from scrimmage that set the tone for the blowout.
But Huntley credits Allen Wade as the one who convinced him to try football.
“Nobody could catch me on the playground. He said, ‘We need people like you to come play on our football team at the YMCA.’ I said OK,” Huntley recalled. “So, I remember going to the first practice, and they gave me the ball and had everybody lined up out there, and they said ‘catch him.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, here they come,’ and I felt like I was in the old churchyard that was in front of my house. I was like, ‘OK, nobody is going to catch me.’”
Index-Journal sports editor Frank Ballenger labeled him as Chuck “Crazy Legs” Huntley, who was “bucking like a wild bull in a china closet and displaying the speed of an antelope once in the open” on his three touchdowns that night.
Greenwood’s only misstep that year was a 34-7 loss to Sidney Lanier (Ala.), a powerhouse that finished 10-1 and won Alabama’s Class 4A state championship in 1968.
One quality that Greenwood’s players agree made them great was the team’s camaraderie. After all, the team had just 26 players on its roster to start the season.
However, the team’s small size worked against them in the loss.
The size differential between the two teams was documented by C.F. Atkinson, a Montgomery, Alabama, resident who wrote a letter to the editor that was published in the Index-Journal.
“It was depth that beat the Emeralds,” he wrote. “Most of your boys played the entire game — offensive and defensive, and that’s murder. But your boys are a game bunch of boys and they never let up for a second. They played as champions, and in the hearts of Montgomerians is the respect and esteem for the finest football team we have seen here in many years.”
The game was played seven months after the Orangeburg Massacre, which left three African-Americans dead and 27 others injured at the hands of South Carolina Highway Patrol officers on the campus of South Carolina State University.
Two months later, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis.
Sidney Lanier is in Montgomery, Alabama, which was at the heart of the civil rights movement. It’s where Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and it was also the site of the Selma to Montgomery marches.
Still, Gerald Witt, a sophomore tackle on the 1968 team, said his family trusted the team enough to send him to play against Sidney Lanier.
“My family had enough faith that they sent me from Greenwood, South Carolina to Montgomery, Alabama,” Witt said. “At the time, there were only two African-Americans on the team – David (Hackett) and I.”
Witt, who signed with South Carolina following high school, said the team’s closeness had such an impact on him that he continues to share the story to friends and family.
“One of the things we went through was there was integration when this team came together,” Huntley said. “There was never a second thought. As a matter of fact, we all thought, ‘We’re going to get some great athletes’ — Gerald Witt, Clyde Jones, David Hackett. We were so fortunate to have these people play with us, because we really needed it. We wouldn’t have done it without them.”
Thursday night’s reunion was a moment to celebrate all who were involved with the 1968 team, including the managers and cheerleaders.
Mary Alice Lindsey, a senior cheerleader during the 1968 season, remarked that she got into the game once when she was tackled after a play spilled into the sidelines.
It was also a night to remember those on the team who had died, including Chris Williams, Neville Files, Joe Thompson, Mike Cater, Mark Guinn, Johnny Harris.
Babb, a legendary coach who won 336 games at Greenwood, died in 1983.
“One thing I remember about him is he always talked about the game of life,” Huntley said of Babb. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget about that, and it’s one of the things with me through this whole journey.”