Fans gather for ‘Night of Champions’
By Mark Clark
Eight days after defeating Thompson High 52-7 in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Class 7A state championship game, the Central High Red Devils were honored with an official “Night of Champions” ceremony at their home stadium. And as about 3,000 attendees watched, the team officially received its title trophy.
Before presenting the trophy to Central coach Jamey DuBose, Ron Ingram, the director of communications, told the players, “Look at your brothers next to you. You set out and achieved every goal you set.” Ingram was referring to the Red Devils winning the Region 2 title for the fifth year in a row, winning the South bracket of the playoffs, winning the state championship in Class 7A and going undefeated.
Following the presentation of the trophy, highlights of the first state title football team at Central, the 1993 team, were played on the Garrett-Harrison Stadium scoreboard. Then the highlights of the 2018 team were shown, leading to comments by DuBose.
“Those guys over here,” DuBose said as he pointed to his players. “This football team is one of the first teams I’ve had in my career that put ‘I’ and ‘me’ aside and the whole season was about ‘we’ and ‘us.’ And I want to thank you for doing that.”
The Red Devils became only the second team to have an unbeaten and untied season. The 1944 team went 9-0. The 2018 squad was 14-0. The team’s 14 wins matched the school record for wins set by the 1993 team. The 2018 team also set a new scoring record with 578 points, topping the record it had set in 2017 of 565 points.
DuBose thanked everyone involved in his team’s success from his coaches to the system’s administration to the teachers and even the lunchroom staff and bus drivers.
“You all had a part in our being the team we became. We want to let you know you are appreciated,” DuBose said.
The night began with the introduction of the school band, the dance squad, cheerleaders, system superintendent, board of education members and many city, county and state officials. Proclamations were presented to the team from the Phenix City Council, the Russell County Commission, the Board of Education and state representatives informed those in attendance of a plan to have the coaches and players honored by the state legislature.
The Phenix City Board of Education members held what the superintendent, Randy Wilkes, called the “largest board meeting ever” and presented the first of several proclamations on the night. Wilkes also said, “It was not a coach or player who brought the blue trophy back here. It was a team. You can drink all the Birmingham kool aid you want, but tonight there is only one elite team in Alabama and it is here tonight in Garrett-Harrison Stadium.”
In addition to listing the various achievements of the team, Wilkes also made some observations about DuBose. DuBose has won 54 games in his five seasons at Central and won five consecutive Region 2 titles. DuBose has also been named Coach of the Year by the Alabama Coaches Association. Central was voted No. 1 by the Alabama Sports Writers Association for 11 consecutive weeks under DuBose.
Mayor Eddie Lowe read a letter from At-Large Councilman Griff Gordy, who quarterbacked the 1993 team to the school’s first state title in a 12-7 victory over West End High of Birmingham. Gordy wrote to the team, “Welcome to the club.” As only the second team to win the state title, the 131 players are now members of a club of fewer than 220 players who have reached this level.
Lowe told the team to give itself a hand, saying, “It is a sad dog that will not wag its own tail” which brought laughs and cheers of approval from the crowd.
Russell County Commissioners Peggy Martin and Chance Corbett were on hand to present a proclamation as well. Martin led the crowd in a cheer and Corbett read the document. Corbett was at last week’s championship game and said of the event, “It was a great atmosphere.”
State Rep. Jeremy Gray informed the crowd, “I have been here many times as an enemy. Tonight, I come as a friend.” To which State Rep. Chris Blackshear told the crowd, “What he means is he played for Opelika High.”
“It was hard getting to the top of the mountain. It will be harder to stay there. People will be gunning for you,” Blackshear said to the team and then thanked them for accepting him into their program.
In his closing remarks, DuBose told the crowd, “Get ready for next year because we will be back here again.” The crowd roared its approval.
Central High principal Tommy Vickers thanked the crowd for attending and made a plea for everyone to consider a donation to the team to purchase state championship rings. The school has set up a gofundme.com page for those donations. The estimated cost for the rings for 131 players, coaches and support staff is estimated to be about $50,000.