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Jesup, Georgia 31545

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Leroy Dukes still makes me laugh

My Opinion
Patience is the least of my virtues. I must have been born in a hurry. Most of my life seems to be like the 440-yard relay at a track meet. Thats why delays are frustrating, and DINK I often pray, NeSMITH Lord, please Chairman give me patience, and I want it right now. Thats a request I lift heavenward, often, when traffic on Hawthorne Avenue in Athens gets snarled. Peak times are like football Saturdays, vehicles inching along. And too often, I fume, Why didnt I remember and go another way? But thanks to the late Leroy Dukes, I also chuckle almost every time I motor down that strip between Broad Street and Prince Avenue. The biggest landmark along the way is the YMCA. And when I pass it, I think of Leroy and laugh. Hang on, and Ill tell you why. Leroy and I grew up in South Georgia on opposite sides of the Satilla River. My side was Wayne County. Leroys side was Pierce County, where he played football for Patterson High School. After high school and the Air Force, Leroy was on Coach Vince Dooleys first Bulldog team. Leroy once told me, I was the oldest player on the team. But when I wanted to marry Susan, I had to ask Coach for permission. And then the robust letterman let out one of his signature belly laughs. I met Susan and Leroy in Jesup, during their newlywed days. They were living in an apartment over Snooky and Hazel Littlefields garage. The house is now owned by Jim and Linda Fountain. Leroy was wearing several caps: running the recreation department, coaching the rec swim team and helping as a high school football assistant. As a skinny lineman, I first heard Leroys foghorn voice on the gridiron. But it was at Cracker Williams Recreation Center that he gave me one of the best jobs of my life. What more could a 16-year-old boy want than to be paid to sit on a lifeguard stand and watch a bikini parade?

After graduating from Patterson High School and a stint in the Air Force, Leroy Dukes played on Vince Dooleys first football team at The University of Georgia. He was also Dooleys oldest player. And in 2006, when Wayne County High Schools retired coach, Clint Madray, center, was honored by The University of Georgia Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, his friend and former assistant, Leroy Dukes, left, was among the well-wishers. Also on hand was Dink NeSmith, a former WCHS Yellow Jacket, who played for Dukes and Madray in the mid-1960s. Madray, who played for Coach Wally Butts at UGA, died in 2006. Two years later, Dukes passed away, but not before becoming one of the Bulldog Nations most avid supporters. When Leroy left Jesup, we stayed in touch. He wanted to be your friend, and Leroy had lots of friends. If you were within 50 yards of Leroy, you could hear him before you saw him. He was loud and lovable. And when he ran the Ramada Inn in Athens, the Frog Pond Lounge was a magnet, pulling his pals from everywhere. Leroy enjoyed holding court, and being in the crowd was fun. When we moved to Athens in 1990, we joined the YMCA. Thats where our then-10-year-old, Eric, learned to play basketball. In his first game, he was whistled for staying in the paint too long. Eric looked over at me and shrugged his shoulders. He mouthed, Whats the paint? The only hoops that hed ever shot were in the driveway. We still laugh about that. But the biggest YMCA laugh comes courtesy of Leroy Dukes. After our then-16-year-old Alan came home from his first trip to the Y, his eyes were as big as his Ford Broncos hubcaps. Dad, he gasped, a huge manwithout any clothes onhollered at me. When I walked into the locker room, he was lying on a table like a giant, naked walrus. Alan paused and said, He stopped reading the newspaper and yelled, NeSmith, come over here! I didnt

know what to do, but I walked over, wondering, How does he know me? Boy, Leroy bellowed, you look just like your daddy. Alan will turn 40 this summer, and he hasnt forgotten his YMCA welcome. And every time I get tangled in Hawthorne traffic that could make a preacher cuss, I remember Leroy and laugh.

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