Richard Willingham is the oldest living Clinton High School Football player.
He, the rest of a century's worth of players, and all of Red Devil Nation in the stadium and abroad cheered on the 2023 Red Devils in their quest for victory over Chapman. This past Friday evening, there was an hour of fellowship to mark the CHS Football program's 100th Anniversary. There was a proclamation signed by Governor Henry McMaster. And a memento coin for every Red Devil football player who attended - and all 8 State Championship Trophies, and a green-screen photo booth - when the photos are printed, the 100th Anniversary logo will be the background. Festivities continued at halftime following a performance by the Devil Regiment.
"It never crossed my mind," Mr. Willingham, of Joanna, said as he is designated the oldest living Red Devil football player. Voice of the Red Devils Buddy Bridges, himself a Joanna boy, tracked him down. There are two living 1944 graduates and they live on the same street. Mr. Willingham said he was # 41 or 46, he wasn't sure, he and a friend patterned themselves as Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis -- he doesn't remember which one he was. "I told Buddy I played in '44 and he said, 'You played in '43, too.' We played football in '43, started in September and when Christmas came we were through with football and started basketball, then baseball - I played all 3. Buddy's got my annual somewhere."
Mr. Willingham was drafted into the Second World War and called back for the Korean War.
"I've been to Korea. I've been to Hawaii on the way. There were 4,000 troops on the ship. The captain wouldn't let us off. He said, 'If I let those 4,000 troops off the ship in Hawaii, I'd never get them rounded back up.'"
Mr. Willingham said about the crowd in the former Clinton High School, now Clinton Middle School gym, adjacent to Wilder Stadium, it's "amazing, unbeliveable, I didn't expect anything like this. There are some people I do know, a lot of people I don't know. This has always been a good neighborhood - Clinton, Laurens, Newberry, Goldville."
Sitting beside Mr. Willingham was his son, Richard Jr., who made it in from Atlanta. "We are very honored " by the 100th Anniversary recognition, Richard Jr. said.
Part pf the pre-game festivities was a large banner that each former football player who attended was encouraged to sign. It will be posted in the current-day football offices for the players of 2023, and beyond.
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