CEDARTOWN — Dignitaries from near and far joined family members and onlookers Saturday to finally see what was hiding underneath the tarps at the Polk County Courthouse.
The statues that adorned the Polk County Sports Walk of Fame were met with applause and the audience got even more news: The Walk of Fame committee isn’t done yet with its work.
Committee member and city commissioner Dale Tuck said during opening remarks that locals are seeking to include Escue Rogers, a local civil rights leader and coach at Cedar Hill High School.
“Hopefully next time we’re here — and it won’t be this hot — we’ll be unveiling his statue, a recognition we all know is so richly deserved,” Tuck said.
Underneath black tarps covered for the week were the life-sized creations of sculptor Julia Knight who captured the spirit and determination of the first six athletes who were honored as the first in the Walk of Fame. Those included Howard “Doc” Ayers, Ray Beck, Edgar Chandler, Jimmy Hightower, Doug Sanders and Whitlow Wyatt.
Also on hand was former University of Georgia Bulldogs head football coach Vince Dooley, who said that he felt it a fitting tribute for Ayers and Chandler to be remembered forever in bronze.
“Polk County should be proud, and it continues to produce people that are talented and work hard,” he said.
Dooley said he felt that UGA running back Nick Chubb would also be a good choice to one day be included in the Walk of Fame when his career ends.
Dooley said he has gotten to know Chubb as the running back recovers from an ankle injury that ended his season early in October 2015.
“I think you’ll see a statue of Nick out here one of these days,” he said.
Ayers and Sanders, on hand for the ceremonies on Saturday morning, said they were thrilled with the work that was done.
“It’s fantastic,” Ayers said. “I never thought I’d live long enough to get a statue made for me and to have a football field named after me.”
Sanders said it would an honor to be remembered by his hometown with his inclusion in the Walk of Fame.
“It’s part of your life that’s enjoyable, and it’s nice to leave something of yourself behind,” Sanders said. “But this is especially important to me because I’m from Cedartown.”
Howard “Doc” Ayers is a former football coach of the Cedartown Bulldogs and was the first assistant coach hired by Vince Dooley at the University of Georgia, coaching the freshman team for three years. He amassed a 91-43-5 record at Cedartown High School, including a North Georgia championship in 1956 and the Class AAA football state title in 1963. Ayers is one of two surviving members on the Walk of Fame.
Ray Beck was a former football player at Georgia Tech and was drafted by the New York Giants, where his career was interrupted by the Korean War where he served in the U.S. Army. He eventually went on to play on the Giants 1956 championship team, and became a business and civic leader in Cedartown.
Edgar Chandler was a Polk County native whose football career included time at the University of Georgia where he played as a lineman, then a professional career after being drafted in 1968 by the Buffalo Bills and later with the New England Patriots.
Jimmy Hightower, a former coach in football, basketball and baseball, compiled a 159-63-5 record in football over a 27 year career at Americus High School from 1954-1971, then at LaGrange High School from 1972-1980. Over that time, his teams won two Class A state titles in football and three state titles in Class A for basketball, along with a state title in baseball in 1955.
Doug Sanders was a PGA champion golfer who got his start as a caddie on the courses in Polk County, teaching himself the game along the way. He was the first amateur to win the Canadian Open in 1956, and went on to win several majors in the late 1950s and 1960s on the PGA tour. He eventually joined the senior tour in the 1980s. Sanders is one of two surviving members inducted into the Walk of Fame.
Whitlow Wyatt was a baseball pitcher in the American and National Leagues from 1929 to 1945, playing in Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Brooklyn and Philadelphia before taking on a coaching role as manager of the Atlanta Crackers, and later serving as a pitching coach for the Milwaukee Braves and Atlanta Braves.