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Inaugural Wildcat baseball team recognized
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Still coaching and still listening, from left, players Steven Norris, Jeff Cowart, Michael Cox pay attention to Coach Calvin Weeks Jr. Photo by Mike Brown.

It was an evening to remember for members of the 1978 Richmond Hill baseball team. The school’s first ever team was recognized prior to last Monday’s Richmond Hill-Statesboro game and when the team walked onto the pristine Wildcat Field grass it represented another first. 

It was the first time the team walked together onto a baseball field it could call its own. “When we started, we didn’t have a field,” pitcher- first baseman Allen Cox said. “We had to play all of our games on the road. We played one game at Daffin Park in Savannah and that was the closest thing we had to a home game.” 

The school had basketball and track and field but no baseball or football, Cox said. Football didn’t start until 1986. “We were thrilled to have a team,” Cox, now the director of transportation for Bryan County Schools, said. “We had some good athletes and we knew what we were doing. We’ve always had a strong recreation program in Richmond Hill. “We even had a football team that played on the weekend. We played a lot of the private schools in Savannah. We were the Richmond Hill Bulldogs and we played teams like Calvary, Hancock and Bible Baptist. When Richmond Hill High School started playing football it had guys who had been playing several years.”

In addition to Cox other members of the 1978 baseball team were Mark Cowart, Dean Davis, Derrick Smith, Chester Lee, Marshall Fullwood, James Fullwood, Leroy Hunter, Steven Norris, Mark Livingston, Michael Cox and

Jeff Cowart. Mark and Jeff Cowart, along with younger brother Roger, share some Richmond Hill firsts. Roger was on the school’s first football team in 1986. All the team members were present Monday night except Davis and Marshall Fullwood who are deceased as is Roger Jesup who was the principal at that time and approved the startup of baseball. The team was coached by Calvin Weeks, Jr., who was in his first year as the basketball coach. Weeks had coached basketball for two years at Jenkins before coming to Richmond Hill. He coached basketball for one more year before getting out of teaching and coaching altogether.

“When I was hired as the basketball coach baseball was not part of it,” Weeks, who became a longshoreman and is now retired, said. “I coached basketball one more year and coached baseball just that season. Jimmy Hires replaced me as the basketball coach. He lasted a little longer.”

Weeks had a solid baseball background. After graduating from Savannah High in 1968 he was a scholarship baseball player at Clemson where he was a three-year starter in the outfield and at shortstop when freshmen were not eligible.

“When Mr. Jesup asked me to coach baseball he told me we had to do it as cheaply as possible,” Weeks said. “We didn’t have a field. We didn’t have uniforms. We didn’t have any money. Nothing.”

Nevertheless, the Wildcats managed to hold their own. Weeks said the team played “around 10 games and we went .500. We had some really good athletes.”

“We never had a batting cage or anything like that,” Cox said. “But we didn’t expect it. We were just thrilled to be playing.”

Mark Cowart and Cox, the only seniors, were also on the track team and Cowart recalled he and Cox often had to make the baseball game on the run.

“I remember we had a track meet at Glennville,” Cowart said. “We left the track meet and changed clothes in my car. We got to the game when it was starting.” The key to getting baseball started, Cowart said, was getting enough players to form a team. “Mr. Jesup asked me if I thought we could get enough guys to play,” Cowart said. “I told him we could. We practiced on a cow pasture. During study hall Allen and I and others would go work on the field.” Travelling by car to the games was the norm. The school and the county did not provide a bus for transportation.

While everyone on the team was excited about the opportunity no one appreciated it any more than Smith who was the catcher.

“I didn’t play basketball,” Smith said. “For me personally the great thrill was getting the opportunity to play on an organized high school team. I played with some great fellows…I would take a bullet for them. Alex and Dean Davis— he was Mayor (Richard) Davis’ son—were my best friends. “We were familiar with the game,” said Smith who is a member of the Bryan County Board of Education. “We knew how many outs there were in an inning. Baseball was new to the school but we had all been playing. Richmond Hill, as it does now, had a great rec program.”

Smith, who had to catch Cox’s ceremonial first pitch, did it with a familiar friend. He still has his catcher’s mitt from that season.

“When I pick it up it still feels natural to hold a mitt,” Smith said. “We had some great times.”

Adding to the evening was the current Wildcats posting a 4-2 win over Statesboro in a key Region 2-6A game that kept them tied for second place in the region race and on track for a state playoff berth.

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Allen Cox, Derrick Smith and Mark Cowart. Photo by Mike Brown.
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