Lee County Championship Football — Past & Present

For the 13th time in history, the Brick City Bowl takes place at 7pm this Saturday evening at Southern Lee High School. School bragging rights and the likely Tri-County 6 football championship will be on the line for the Cavaliers and the Yellow Jackets, in the annual gridiron renewal between Lee County High School and Southern Lee High School. Neither team has lost a conference game thus far this year, so the stakes are even higher than usual.

What you may not know is that our area’s history with championship football dates back nearly a full century, all the way to 1923, when Sanford High reached the state title game for the first of 4 years in a row. Lee County’s largest high 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 Hall of Fame Coach Paul Gay, Sanford Central closed out 3 straight seasons as Eastern 3A State Champions between 1966 and, 1968, fashioning an overall record in that span of 35 wins, 2 losses and 1 tie.

The teams pictured next are from 1966 and 1967. It’s worth noting that the Sanford Central (now Lee County) football stadium made its debut 50 years ago this fall and was eventually named Paul B. Gay Stadium, in honor of the school’s legendary coach.

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.