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MONUMENT TO THE ‘WRECKING CREW’
SoVaNow.com / September 26, 2016On the occasion of their 25-year anniversary as state football champions, members of the ‘Wrecking Crew’ were recognized at Tuck Dillard Memorial Stadium with the unveiling of a monument to their accomplishments during halftime of the Halifax-Bassett game.
The weekend was a time for renewal of old bonds as more than 20 members of that team — which went 14-0 and crushed the opposition en route to Halifax County’s lone AAA state title in football — gathered in town for the anniversary observance.
The Virginia High School League has subsequently split the football titles into six classifications, so the 1991 Comets will stand alone with their honors accumulated during that 14-0 run. Halifax County High School now competes for state honors in the 5-A classification. Only one other Comet team — the 1984 varsity baseball squad — has won a state title.
Former Comet head coach Larry Smith, who led the 1991 squad to the crown, raised his arms in triumph Friday night as the Wrecking Crew was honored with a gleaming new monument, with a team engraving and listing of the names of all of the players and coaches.
Veteran assistant Fred Palmore, working his usual post on the Comet sideline Friday night, is among the coaches mentioned on the plaque.
Former HCHS principal Larry Clark, who served during the title run, also attended Friday’s ceremonies. Clark is now the executive director of the Halifax County Public Schools Education Foundation.
The current crop of Comets did their part, delivering a 28-12 win over Bassett. Before taking the field, the team enjoyed a pre-game team meal at the Washington Coleman Community Center, hosted by The Ebenezer Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Sunday School and men’s ministry.
Former and current HCHS football players, along with the Comet cheerleaders, enjoyed a highlight film from the 1991 season. Comet alumnus Alfred Ford paced around the table, enthusiastically high-fiving current players and helping them get fired up for the Bassett contest. The players received a copy of the inspirational poem, ‘Don’t Quit.’
Twenty-five years after their magical season, members of the Wrecking Crew have gone on to raise families, succeed in careers and contribute to their communities, and, in some cases, achieve significant athletic feats long after their playing days as Comets were over.
» Steve Davis now lives in Jonesboro, Ark. Davis rents and sells construction equipment. He was a left offensive guard on the 1991 squad.
Davis moved to South Boston for his sophomore year. Attending his second team reunion since 1991, Davis recalled the friendly welcome he received when he came to HCHS.
Today, Davis is married, with two girls, and he’s very active with church activities in Jonesboro. Davis also is a rabid University of Arkansas fan.
» Another former member of the Wrecking Crew is the quarterback, Aaron Brand, who played at Emory & Henry and transitioned into a lengthy career in prep football coaching.
Brand is now in the Charlotte, N.C. area, working as a high school football coach. He was able to attend the weekend ceremonies in South Boston because his team had an off-week.
He’s at Vance High School, currently no. 1 in North Carolina in 4-A football. The team is 5-0, with a scoring average of 57 ppg. He’s got players who are drawing looks and making commitments to a number of schools, including East Carolina, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh. He freely admits that level of talent makes his job easier.
Brand first broke into the Charlotte coaching scene with an assist from Smith, who had come out of retirement to return to coaching.
Brand called this past weekend’s reunion a joyous occasion. The former Comet quarterback also remembered a couple of members from that team who have passed, including Tyrone Holt and Mark Adams.
The occasion on Friday night was more light-hearted, for certain.
Brand called the reunion event a bright spot and he was pleased to be a part of the ceremonies.
» Alfred Ford had a heck of a football career, playing on the Wrecking Crew as a junior. He moved on to play football at South Carolina State and later joined the semipro ranks, including action in Arena Football.
Ford is now coaching the offensive and defensive lines at St. Charles High School in Maryland’s Charles County.
“It’s a task. I’m realizing a lot of these guys haven’t been taught the game at an early age,” said Ford, who is drilling a concept of fundamentals into his players.
Ford has vivid memories of the 1991 team. He appreciated the chemistry.
There was a special bond, a level of trust each player had, knowing each Comet would give 100 percent every snap.
The 1991 season was the most fun he had in his career. “These guys, we still have a network today,” said Ford.
» Showtime also showed up.
One of the most electrifying running backs in school history, Rudy Barksdale also seemed to be having a large time Friday night.
Barksdale was arguably the lead performer in an absolutely loaded Comet offensive backfield in 1991.
“I just remember the bond that we had as a team,” said Barksdale. “It was like family. You mess with this guy, you’re messing with the whole Wrecking Crew. That was the same mentality we took on the field.”
Barksdale currently lives in the Lynchburg area where he does construction work. He’s kept in very good shape, especially with the working environment he faces every day at construction sites.
Barksdale remembered the hoopla out of the Richmond area when Lloyd Bird was set to play the Comets for the state title.
The Comets heard the pre-game chatter that Bird was a dominant foe, but they were ready once the game started. Barksdale aptly remembered how HCHS escaped GW-Danville — when the Eagles might well have been the no. 2 team in the state — in the early rounds of the playoffs, before the Comets turned their attention to their later opponents.
GW matched up well with the Comets, man to man. Barksdale believes GW was the second best team in the state that season.
» Joe Wilkins was another leading member of the Wrecking Crew. He later went on to a fine college playing career, starting as a senior for William & Mary. Wilkins later entered the medical field and is now in hospital administration.
Wilkins remembered the good times, the teamwork of the Wrecking Crew. He noted he learned more on the field than in any classroom, including the lessons of working together.
Wilkins is now the chief operating officer of a hospital in Beckley, West Va.
He remembered the remarkable talent level of the 1991 Comets.
“We had guys that were so big and fast ... beyond that, our team was so diverse in the kinds of plays we ran,” said Wilkins. Coach Smith did a great job coaching up the Comets, and Brand did the job running the offense.
“We were so diverse in the kinds of plays we ran,” said Wilkins, who stressed the mental game involved in running a more complicated scheme.
The athletes knew how to execute.
Wilkins also had great respect for the Comet defense that season. He was a tailback and cornerback on the title squad.
At William & Mary, Wilkins started as a linebacker in his senior season.
» One of the lead organizers in the reunion effort was Joe Frank Fincher, a proud former Comet and now the color analyst for WHLF in its Friday night football show.
Fincher had a key role making the weekend a reality.
Fincher said there was a lot of hard work from several team members and Palinda Carrington.
Fincher and others had worked for several months trying to come up with a special way of remembering the Wrecking Crew.
“We were trying to come up with an idea, something special to do, but we were having trouble figuring it out,” said Fincher.
Then, Brad Myers of South Boston Memorials came up with the idea of the memorial, and the effort moved forward. Fincher said the monument is top notch, a testament to Myers’ hard work and dedication.
Fincher was an offensive tackle — no. 73 — for the Wrecking Crew. Today he’s with the family business, Fincher’s, where he continues to have a positive impact on the community.
» Willie Williams also provided some of the physical power needed to spring the Wrecking Crew. He calls the 1991 experience one of the greatest times of his life.
Williams was a defensive end, no. 75.
“We were a very great team, tremendous speed on the outside,” said Williams, who also recalled the explosiveness of the running backs and the leadership of the team under Brand.
The defensive line — including another explosive performer, James Younger — kept teams bottled up as they tried to run the football. Not many teams were successful trying to generate rushing yards against the Comets, Williams recalled.
George Boyd, playing linebacker, also helped anchor that hard to crack Comet defense.
» Wayne Burton was a defensive tackle for the Wrecking Crew, after transferring from GW-Danville halfway through his junior year.
“It was awesome to be able to go out on the field and beat GW in the final game of the regular season, and the first game of the playoffs,” said the former Comet.
“Some of the best times of my life,” he said. “Some of the best friends I made lifetime memories with.”
» Matt Wallace was almost always open, and emerged as one of the most difficult Comets to cover at wideout.
“It actually means a lot. This is the first time I’ve seen a lot of these guys,” said Wallace.
Wallace wanted to make sure he made the 25th anniversary.
Wallace went on to become a NASCAR team member. The former Comet lives in Concord, N.C., where he has a family and works for a Charlotte-based company building subdivisions.
» Darrell Medley was a two-way performer for the Wrecking Crew. He later helped pave the way for Tiki Barber to become an NFL stalwart. As a running back in the Cavalier backfield known for his blocking prowess, Medley was a member of the 1995 Cavalier team that emerged as the co-champions of the Atlantic Coast Conference and bowl winners (the Peach Bowl).
Medley was also part of the ‘95 squad that handed then no. 2 Florida State its first-ever ACC setback. The Cavaliers were ranked no. 16 in the final AP poll.
Medley has moved on to an academic career. He’s a middle school assistant principal in Suffolk.
He was all smiles as the Wrecking Crew re-united. “It is a big deal, I’m happy to see it happening. That (1991) was just a great year for the community, for the school, for Halifax County. It’s nice to see everybody back, and everybody doing well, coming back to celebrate.”
Medley was a key defensive leader for the Wrecking Crew, and he also played in the offensive backfield.
“It was a great learning experience, man ... I learned a lot here with Coach Smith,” recalled Medley, who had been part of a close-knit group of players who had been together since elementary school.
“Everybody stuck together and we made it work,” said Medley.
Coach returns for joyous occasion
Larry Smith can still remember the night when he realized the 1991 Comet football team might be on the verge of something special.
Halifax County was playing Cave Spring on the road in the regular season.
The Comets emerged from an underwhelming first half to dominate the second half against Roanoke-area school that featured Ronde and Tiki Barber. The Barbers went on to stellar careers at Virginia and later played in the NFL.
Halifax County crushed the Knights in the second half, and the Comets were on their way to a 14-0 campaign and the 1991 AAA state crown.
From there, the Comets jelled completely.
“We weren’t playing well the first half (at Cave Spring)... I never will forget it ... I didn’t say a thing to them until right before we came back out (for the second half). I said, I pity that team (Cave Spring) in the second half. The Comets went up there and just destroyed them,” Smith said.
After playing that well in the second half, the Comets eventually moved forward to a state title.
Halifax County had to get past its traditional rival, GW-Danville, in the final regular season game and the first round of the playoffs. The Comets won both games, narrowly.
Halifax beat one of the better Eagle teams Ed Martin had ever had. That was the message to Smith afterwards from the former GW coach.
“That was tough,” said Smith of the back-to-back wins over the Eagles.
Halifax County moved on to whip South Lakes in the state semifinals and then Lloyd Bird in the state AAA finale. “We could have named our scores (in the later round of the playoffs),” said Smith.
Halifax County was somewhat limited in the state final — like that mattered.
“That last game, we stayed in the goal line offense the whole game. That was our ‘five yard in’ offense,” said Smith.
Halifax County made extensive use of its power I formation in its dominating win over Lloyd Bird. The Comet quarterback, Aaron Brand, had a sore shoulder and really could not throw, but the Comets mauled Bird anyway.
The Comets had a collection of explosive performers on both sides of the ball.
The Comets had scrimmaged Hampton at Virginia in the preseason and Smith knew the team had a shot at being pretty good, the coach recalled.
After his tenure at Halifax County ended, Smith later moved to the Charlotte, N.C. area and did another superb coaching job at West Mecklenburg.
Smith has been dealing recently with some nagging health issues.
Smith, accompanied by his wife, Danna, seemed to be having as good a time as anyone Friday night during the special reunion weekend.
“Absolutely great seeing all these guys, and how well they’re doing,” said Smith, who has been retired for six years after a 41-year career in prep coaching.
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