Andrew Dys

62 years later, Clover High is ready for a REMATCH

The 1945 Clover HIgh football team battled but lost to Beaufort in the state championship game. Sixty-two years later, the Blue Eagles will face Beaufort High again tonight, with the Class AAAA, Division II state title at stake.
The 1945 Clover HIgh football team battled but lost to Beaufort in the state championship game. Sixty-two years later, the Blue Eagles will face Beaufort High again tonight, with the Class AAAA, Division II state title at stake.

CLOVER -- In Clover today, a 79-year-old man named Sam Bowman will get up and do something he hasn't done in 62 years: Go to a pep rally.

The Clover High School Blue Eagles student body will roar. The band will play. The cheerleaders will leap. And Bowman will be a football player, number 34, known to all as "Buddy" again.

It was 62 years ago that Buddy Bowman and his teammates on the 1945 Clover football team played against Beaufort for the state championship.

"The night before the game, we slept on a troop ship right there at Beaufort," said Bowman. "I was the fullback on offense, and I backed the line on defense. We drove down the field after the opening kickoff and fumbled. After that, Harry Deloach, that back on the other team, he just beat us."

Clover's players might have had a touch of seasickness from sleeping on the boat. The Blue Eagles lost that game, their only loss all year, 26-0.

Clover plays Beaufort again, tonight, with a chance for revenge.

Turns out 1945 is the last time Clover played for a state title in high school football. That was so long ago, there were only 48 states. Schools were segregated, so the school and football team was all white. Blacks went to Roosevelt High School, where there was a strong football tradition, too, said Robert Jackson, a Roosevelt alum.

It was so long ago, the current, seemingly endless presidential campaign had not yet begun. The players wore plastic helmets, Bowman said, after switching from leather. No facemasks.

Avoiding a repeat

This week, Clover is crazy over football. The team brought thousands of fans on the road last week, and more are expected tonight.

Those 1945 players want a win, too. Badly.

The Associated Press story from that game started out with "Beaufort's mighty Tidal Wave swept over a Clover eleven here Friday night, 26-0, to win the South Carolina Class B football championship as 5,000 fans watched. Harry Deloach, Beaufort's triple-threat fullback, broke off tackle behind perfect blocking and galloped 70 yards in the second period."

Deloach later ran for another touchdown, caught one more and even kicked an extra point.

One guy from Clover has been thinking about Deloach for 62 years.

"Deloach just killed us," said a guy named Herb Kirsh. "I don't want a repeat of history. I remember it all, the blocks and tackles, sleeping on that ship at Parris Island. Then losing."

Yes, that same Herb Kirsh who is the longest-serving, oldest member of the S.C. House of Representatives. In 1945, Kirsh, who has been asked to be an honorary captain for tonight's game, was the biggest player on a team of less than 30. He weighed 225 pounds. One headline said Clover's players were a "hefty lot." Kirsh was the only one over 200 pounds.

Bigger players these days

Clover these days has many more players -- and 13 of them are over 225 pounds.

"The coach told me to drink a milkshake every day to get even bigger and when I told my mother, she said, 'Tell that coach you aren't drinking any milkshakes,'" Kirsh recalled. "So I didn't drink any milkshakes."

Kirsh was a guard on offense and tackle on defense. Before the team left for the game in 1945, he found out his yellow game pants were ripped down the middle. But he was so big, size 42, and these were the war years, so there were no other pants to fit him. The team had to stop on the way to Beaufort at Newberry College, where somebody knew the football coach, to get him a pair of football pants.

"The pants were gray and they didn't help," Kirsh said. "Deloach."

Several players from that 1945 team are still around and will be at the game in Columbia and the pep rally at the high school. One who won't be is Sid Smart. He died in 2004 after decades as the spotter for the team's announcer. Smart, known for helping so many in Clover that town children were called "Sid's Kids," was captain of that 1945 team.

"He loved Clover football," said Patsy Smart, his widow who was in that same Clover High class. "He wouldn't have missed this game for the world."

Listening on the radio

One of the players who didn't make the 1945 trip was Joe Spears, who recalled that he got sick and didn't travel. And his baby brother was still too young to play. Just a kid named Stanhope Spears, who later grew up and starred in high school football at Clover and now is better known as Gen. Stan Spears, adjutant general for the state of South Carolina.

"We couldn't make it to that game, so my mother and I went to the school and listened to it piped in on the radio with all the other people who stayed in Clover," Stan Spears said.

Stan Spears knows and loves Clover football. He knew that Harry Deloach was the Beaufort player who destroyed Clover 62 years ago.

"He worked for me in the National Guard," said Stan Spears. "And a guy in that same backfield for Beaufort, John Rogers, became a colonel and he worked for me, too."

I asked Gen. Spears, now 70, if he was prepared -- should Clover lose -- to invade Beaufort. Spears stopped short of calling for National Guard tanks and troops. But he will be rooting at the game for Clover.

"I predict Clover by two touchdowns," the general said. "I still have Clover Blue blood in me."