Friday Night Lights Have Burned Here For Nearly A Century

Our community’s premiere high school football game takes place this Friday evening, with the annual Brick City Bowl showdown between unbeaten Lee County and archrival Southern Lee.  The Yellow Jackets, led by Notre Dame recruit Jahmir Smith, are favored to win, but that has been the case in each of the last 3 seasons as well, and all wound up as Cavalier victories.

What you may not know is that our area’s history with championship football dates all the way back to 1923, when Sanford High reached the state title game for the first of 4 years in a row.  Our local school finally won the title in 1926,  by defeating Charlotte 13-0. The Yellow Jackets had generally good teams throughout the first half of the 20th century but the 1951 team (pictured here) missed out on their chance to play for the state title under unusual circumstances.

Sanford defeated Henderson in the Eastern Finals in 1951, but the losing coach filed a complaint, claiming Sanford had used an ineligible player, and Sanford was denied the right to play for the state championship. The controversy aspect came because Henderson’s coach had coached here in Sanford the previous season, and the player he raised questions about had been one of his players in the 1950 season.

The 1960s and 1970s were gridiron glory years in Sanford.  Under the direction of Coach Paul Gay, Sanford Central closed out 3 winning seasons as Eastern 3A Champions, fashioning an overall record of 35 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie between 1966 and 1968. The teams pictured here are from 1966 and 1967.

Coach Gay was also on the sidelines when Sanford was acclaimed 3A co-champions in 1972 after tying Tuscola in the title game, and when the Yellow Jackets went 13-1 in their first year as a 4A school in 1973, earning the state championship with a 14-6 win over Greensboro Smith.  (A special thank you to Wanda Spears in the Lee County High School Media Center, for her exceptional help in researching this information.)

Editorial content, pictures and research background , compliments of Jimmy Haire and Images of America: Sanford and Lee County, by Jimmy Haire & W.W. Seymour, Jr, available here for purchase. All book proceeds go to Sanford’s Railroad House Historical Association, Inc.