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THIS CHAMPIONSHIP 1961 | Blade Log

ELIZABETHTOWN – Notre Dame of 1924 had The Four Horsemen; Fordam’s 1936 had The Seven Blocks of Granite; and 1960’s Elizabethtown High School had The Tri-Captains.

Walter Bullard, Bobby Guyton, and Leslie Johnson were seniors on an Elizabethtown High football team that would make a special run to the school’s first-ever conference championship game.

Everyone remembers that title match like it was yesterday.

The game was against the Elizabethtown Yellow Jackets against Tabor City, and the newspaper account summed up the game like this…

“In the first quarter, halfback Walter Bullard scored the first TD of the ball game when he made a quick opener for 67 yards. The extra point was covered by the center.

“Early in the second quarter, Leslie Johnson blocked a punt on the Tabor City 13-yard line and the ball rolled out of bounds on that one. The next play, Walter Bullard carried the ball to score the second and final touchdown for the Yellow Jackets.

The victory gave Elizabethtown High its first-ever Waccamaw Conference Championship, and the three senior captains were commemorated with a photo showing the three holding this championship trophy together.

These three seniors, who are now well over 70, recently gathered at the Johnson Law Firm in downtown Elizabethtown to recreate this photo – complete with the original trophy – and spend time reminiscing about that season of championship.

“We had one of the smartest coaches (Charles Regan),” Bullard said. “He had a signature play – a sweep towards the end where I ran right behind Leslie.”

“Walter was fast,” Johnson added.

“I was just scared,” Bullard replied. “I couldn’t see the numbers on the player in front of me because I couldn’t wear my glasses, so I just reached out to feel where you were going and followed you.”

“I always wondered why you kept your hands on me,” Johnson said.

When the league game arrived, Bullard said the Tabor City players were telling them they had figured out how to stop this sweep.

“So we changed the game to make it look like it would be the sweep, but I cut it inside,” Bullard said. “That play scored those two touchdowns.”

Although it’s been over 60 years since that title run, the three men say they’ve had a lot of talk about this season.

“We’ve talked about it from time to time,” Johnson said. “Walter has kept it all alive over the years.”

He did more than that. He saved that first Waccamaw Conference championship trophy, and others, from incineration.

“I happened to be visiting the old Elizabethtown High, which had been turned into Elizabethtown Middle School,” Bullard said. “I noticed there was a box full of old trophies, so I asked the headmaster what he was going to do with them.

“He said they were waiting for the incinerator,” he added. “So I asked if I could have them and he said yes.”

Some of these trophies date back to 1928.

But the real prize for Bullard was that championship prize from the 1960 season.

“This season has helped us create a real bond,” Johnson said.

“We came from different parts of the county — until high school brought us together,” Bullard said. “We had to learn to play together.”

While most of the accolades for Johnson and Bullard came on the offensive end of the ball, Guyton said his favorite moment was playing linebacker on defense.

“I loved playing defense,” he said. “I really liked being able to jump over the line and catch the quarterback behind the line.”

Guyton said he averaged 11 tackles per game this league season.

The Tri-Captains also never stepped off the field as seniors.

“We hardly ever had any water until half-time,” Guyton recalled. “We had to be tough back then.”

“We were pretty tough cookies,” Johnson added. “We must have been in really good shape (and) we all loved playing football.”

After the title

After graduating in 1961, the three separated for college and then for successful careers.

Johnson later oversaw the law firm Johnson, Bullard started Bladen Office Supply, and Guyton ran the insurance agency Guyton Associates.

“We’ve all worked in a block of each other for all these years,” Bullard said.

But the season after their senior year, the Tri-Captains were part of another special season of Elizabethtown High – this time as spectators.

“This next season the players who had been with us as juniors were now seniors,” Bullard said, “and they put together an unbeaten, scoreless season.

“It’s still a record,” he added. “Imagine that…unrated for an entire season.”

All three captains agreed that these juniors learned well from the leadership they provided the previous season.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or [email protected]