Strong coaching the key for tradition-rich Mary Persons
FORSYTH, GA -- Conversations came to a halt Wednesday night at Aldermen Hall in Forsyth when the legendary Dan Pitts walked in.
As former Mary Persons football players, coaches, and fans gathered to talk about the history of Bulldog Football at the Hometown Team event, the man who elevated the program to iconic status sat back and watched.
"He means so much to this football program. This town. This community," said former Mary Persons Head Coach Rodney Walker.
Pitts delivered the program's lone state championship in 1980 but his signature moment came decades before. Without a key rivalry win, the course of history for Mary Persons may have been vastly different.
"The most important game to me was 1960 when we beat Fort Valley when they'd just come off a championship," Pitts said. "The reason that stuck in my mind was it probably kept me from being fired."
Instead, Pitts coached for 39 years and at the time of his retirement in 1998, he was the winningest coach in Georgia High School Football with 346 wins. The head coach not only installed winning ways, but longevity to the program as well.
Since 1959, four head coaches have led the Bulldogs, most recently Brian Nelson who says Bulldog Football is more of a lifestyle than a game.
"Our kids today," Nelson said, "their dads. Their uncles. Their brothers. Their grandpas played for Mary Persons."
The tradition-rich history has carried over from the Pitts era to today. With the Bulldogs being the only show in town on a Friday night, high expectations are put on the team from the coaches and their supporters.
"They're good football fans," Walker said. "They're knowledgeable football fans, but they do expect one thing. They expect you to win."
For some programs, high standards are a burden. For Mary Persons, they're welcomed.
"You want those lofty expectations and those standards Coach Pitts, Coach Chafin, and Coach Walker set," Nelson said. "That's kind of what you want. I tell our kids all the time, you don't want it easy."
Mary Persons added another region championship to the trophy case in 2016. Behind a strong ground attack and a stout defense, the Bulldogs marched to the GHSA AAAA Semifinals.
The Bulldogs are expected to compete for the region crown again in 2017. They open the season August 17 against Lee County in the Corky Kell Classic at Mercer's Five Star Stadium.