Their fates were flung into the swaying winds of time, long, long before they were born. Thirty-five years ago, Little Frank and Junior found themselves in a state of pure pandemonium. In another world, they may have taken a different path to the zenith of their lives, lives which may have been spent right here in Laurens County.
Little Frank's grandfather, for whom he was named, came to Dublin in the late winter of 1930s. He came here from Athens, Georgia to manage the J.C. Penney's store on West Jackson Street, here in Dublin. In the mid-1930s, the elder Frank served as President of the Dublin Lions Club. Soon after his term was over, Frank, Sr. moved to Anniston, Alabama. Frank and his wife Sarah made infrequent trips back to Dublin, primarily to visit their best friend here, Miss Topsy Williams. Never again, would Frank, Sr.'s family live here as the winds of fate blew their future in a different direction.
Frank, Sr. and Sarah's only child, Frank Jr., was born in Anniston, but attended Sidney Lanier High School in Macon after his family moved back to Georgia. Frank, Jr. knew how to sell things and sell them well. For more than two decades, Frank Jr. sold class rings in the schools of Laurens County and all over South Georgia. Frank, Jr. (left) loved the Lord, served the needy and coached hundreds of boys in baseball. Although he made frequent trips back to where his parents once lived, the winds of fate were not strong enough to lure him to Dublin.
Frank, Jr.'s love of baseball and teaching baseball paid off. For his eldest son, Little Frank, enjoyed an ultra successful high school career and went on to play Division I baseball, posting a .356 career batting average and playing three sesons for the farm teams of the Montreal Expos.
Little Frank tried his hand at football. After his first full season as a starter, his team was teetering on the brink of unacceptable mediocrity (sound familiar?). Then, almost out of nowhere, the winds of fate began blowing his team to new, rarely seen heights.
Enter Junior, a smart, shy, chubby kid who suffered from yet to be diagnosed disabilities. Junior was shunned and picked on by the other kids in his school. They justified the unjustifiable meanness because Junior talked funny.
But, let's go back to before Junior was born. Back in 1907, Junior's fate was cast into the wind, when Gus Tarbutton and Joe Fluker allegedly killed Letcher Tyre on the edge of Laurens County. Powerful politicians in Washington County, sympathetic to the defendants, were successful in moving the county line closer to Dublin in order for the defendants to obtain a more favorable trial. The result of that move will become apparent later in the story.
In the months leading up to Junior's birth, his mother was visiting a Dublin physician, Dr. Fred Chambliss as best as I remember, for her pre-natal care. It became apparent to the physician that Junior's mother was going to need to abandon her plans to give birth to her son in Dublin and go to Augusta, where the doctors had more experience in handling mothers in her condition.
Junior, despite his periods of explainable anger and sadness along with bouts of depression, began to take an interest in sports. My brother Henry, who was no little teen age catcher, was once knocked out of the home plate circle by Junior in a collision at Dublin' Big Hilburn Park during a Senior League game in 1976.
There is a story out there, told as true, that one day, Junior's parents came to enroll their children in the East Laurens schools as it was the closest school to their home. According to the urban legend, of which I am guilty of spreading, East Laurens officials denied their request.
Junior would not be denied and eventually got his chance to come to Laurens County and Dublin as an athlete and not a student. In his first two years as a football player, Junior had
horrible nights against the Dublin Irish in two games. During his high school years, Junior came to Laurens County on several occasions to play ball against all three public high schools.
Several of Junior's siblings worked in Dublin during their early lives. Junior's grandfather lived in Laurens County, according to one granddaughter's wedding announcement in a 1974 issue of the Dublin Courier Herald. He is buried in the Norris Cemetery in Laurens County. His wife Nina Wright was a member of the prolific Wright family of the Buckeye District Laurens County and the surrounding area.
In the late 1970s, the winds of fate began to blow and the fates of Little Frank and Junior were sweeping like a gale north of their homes. Little Frank was a great player on a great football team in South Georgia. Two years later, Junior shed his antagonists and teasers and showed that he was a immovable force to be reckoned with on the football field. His dedication to himself and to his team vaulted Junior to the ranks of the best of the best. And, Little Frank was there waiting, salivating just waiting on Junior to arrive in his grandfather's former home in Athens.
From that first night in Knoxville, Tennessee on September 6, 1980, Herschel "Junior" Walker made it known to everyone that this once teased and taunted, fat little kid from Wrightsville, Georgia was about to become the best running back ever at the University of Georgia, and arguably, the best running back in the history of NCAA football. There are those who still argue, that Walker was the only player in collegiate history who could claim they could have been awarded the Heisman Trophy in all four years in college.
It was on a domed field in New Orleans, Louisiana thirty five years ago when Herschel Walker, almost a Dublin native, led his Georgia Bulldogs to the National Championship with a New Year's Day 1981 win over Notre Dame. I need not tell you what happened after that. It's in the record books.
In completing the circle, remember Little Frank, the outstanding baseball player whose team barely posted in a winning record in his first full season at quarterback. Little Frank's real name is Benjamin Franklin "Buck" Belue, III.
In the sports world, where "what ifs" are common, let me propose some hypothetical questions: What if the accused killers of Letcher Tyre had not been given a break by moving the Laurens-Johnson county line so that Herschel Walker's childhood home would have been in Laurens County? And, what if the children of Willis and Christine Walker attended East Laurens, much closer to their home? And, what if Christine Walker gave birth to her big boy in Laurens Memorial Hospital? And, what if Ben Belue, Sr. had stayed in Dublin and managed the Penney's store here for three decades? And finally, with all other fleeting factors being the same, what might have happened?
Well, you might have seen Buck Belue leading Tom Simonton's defensively strong Irish deep into the playoffs and taking snaps from my brother Henry. And, you might have seen Herschel Walker running with ease from end zone to end zone leading the Falcons to the state playoffs. And oppositely, you may have never seen either one of them winning the 1981 Sugar Bowl and the national championship.
Oh well, it is sufficient to know and treasure, at least for you Georgia Bulldog fans, that the winds of fate finally brought Herschel Walker and Buck Belue together to lead Georgia to its second national championship and perhaps its greatest season in school history.
P.S. It is well worth remembering that of the four Georgia Bulldogs who have had their jersey numbers retired, two of them, Herschel Walker and Theron Sapp, grew up within a few miles of each other in the Brewton-Lovett area.