Lebanon High football wasn’t a winner during my four years at the school, encompassing the 1978-81 seasons (I didn’t play). The 4-6 under coach Louis Thompson was the high-water mark as my schoolmates could only muster two wins over the ensuing three seasons.
Listening to my aunts, uncles and older cousins during get-togethers, it appeared Lebanon had winning teams in the past. As far as I was concerned, Fred Flintstone might have well been the quarterback (though he’s built more like a right tackle) for the Blue Dinosaurs. Like teenagers of today and all eras, if it’s not happening now, it never did.
The class immediately following mine was actually quite strong as it came up with a winning season and first-playoff appearance. Then, it was back to losing.
By now, I was working at The Democrat and covering the Blue Devils in a professional capacity. The teams weren’t as bad as those when I was in school, winning 3-4 games per season during the mid-‘80s. But the old-timers in the community were still clamoring for the good ol’ days of the Paleozoic Era when Lebanon football was on top.
I left the newspaper to finish my degree at MTSU. But Lebanon physician Dr. Joe Bryant opened his own television station in his clinic and he went to film the Blue Devil football games for tape-delayed broadcast. I went with them one night and started play-by-play for a few games in 1986.
Dr. Bryant committed to doing the full schedule in ’87 with me doing play-by-play. That coincided with the arrival of Mark Medley as coach and suddenly, the Blue Devils started winning. They beat Mt. Juliet in the opener for the first time since Bob Lea quarterbacked the ’78 team to win over the Golden Bears. More wins followed until the total reached eight with a district championship to boot.
Suddenly, Lebanon High football was on the map. And unlike some of the one-year wonders of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, it was a trend as the Blue Devils made a long string of playoff appearances in the day when you had to finish in the top two of the district to qualify.
Winning football at Lebanon wasn’t just something that used to happen. It was happening now. My generation (well, those a few years behind me, but as their TV announcer, I sort of considered myself part of the team) could now cheer for our contemporaries instead of listening to the older generations living off the past.
I left the so-called TV booth following the ’89 season, but by then winning was expected, and the Blue Devils delivered. Medley left just before the 1994 season with a school-record 64 wins.
I returned to this chair late in the season and the first game I covered was a 52-3 beatdown by Riverdale as the Warriors made their rise to being a state power while the Blue Devil program began backsliding.
In the ensuing decades, numerous coaches have tried to return Lebanon football to Medley-like levels. But with the exception of some one- or two-year wonders, they mostly failed. Yes, they made the expanded playoff some years, but with records which wouldn’t have made the cut in earlier seasons.
Chuck Gentry’s arrival as coach last season ignited hopes in Blue Devil faithful, just as his numerous predecessors had during their honeymoon periods. But for the first time since the Bobby Brown years early in this century, Gentry’s first LHS team put together some signature wins (a phrase coined by his predecessor but never delivered upon). A final-week loss dropped the Blue Devils to fourth place in the region when a win would have had them second. But with a lot of talented players returning, the buzz on social media and the community is as high for LHS football as it has been for a generation or more.
Earlier this summer, Gentry put together a video of Blue Devil football highlights of the past three decades (the first is my call of a long touchdown run by Patrick Seay) set to music. Other play-by-play calls by Bruce Skeen, the late Clyde Harville and current Blue Devil voice Tommy Bryan follow. If you haven’t seen it, it’s available on YouTube under “Lebanon Football Tradition”. In addition, I also found other highlights and game broadcasts (including the first quarter of the girls’ basketball’s 1971 state championship game final) compiled by Lebanon Blue Devil Archives.
Don’t know if 2018 will be another disappointing season (don’t think so), a one-year wonder or the overdue start of another run of winning. But living off the memories of the Medley Era has long gotten old (even if it’s fun to look back) and previous runs of glory are being lost as we lose more players and coaches, it’s time for a new bar to be set and passed down to future generations.
Sports Editor Andy Reed can be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 17; or by email at [email protected]