It’s amazing how much meaning a single letter can have.
Not a sentence or a paragraph or even an entire story. Just one letter.
In Abbeville, the charming town of 5,100 that is snugged right up to the Georgia line, there is one letter that is soaked in meaning. In tradition. In stories and tall tales and urban legends passed from one generation to the next.
That letter is a garnet, block, capital “A.” If you’re from Abbeville, and even if you’re not, you likely know the one I mean. It’s the one that adorns the helmets of the Abbeville High football team.
To an outsider, it’s just a logo. From a practical standpoint, that’s all that it is.
But if you’re from Abbeville -- whether you live there now or whether, like me, you grew up there years ago and have since moved on -- you know it’s more than that. That “A” is a symbol of pride. An historical document. A rallying cry.
It’s a shield, really. For a town that is small and rural and poor, it is a shield.
In Abbeville, we’ve never had a lot. But we’ve got each other, and we’ve got that “A” and, by God, we’ve got the Abbeville Panthers.
Indeed, in this little corner of the planet, the AHS football team has been a constant. An enduring tradition of excellence spanning the decades.
In an increasingly caustic, unpredictable, topsy-turvy world, there is comfort in knowing that on Friday nights in the fall at 701 Washington St. in Abbeville, things will be as they have always been. A sea of garnet and gold and the band playing “Hail to the Victors” and a Belton or a Rapley or a Temple or an Agnew streaking down the sideline. And the world takes another turn.
When I am able to attend a game at Hite Stadium these days, the familiarity of the scene in the stands is startling. It’s like slipping on your favorite jacket.
There’s Steve Jackson, the funeral home director, standing along the back fence. There’s Frank and Jennifer Smith selling boiled peanuts at the top of the hill. There’s Robert Fossett, lingering at the north gate, trading gossip with everyone who walks in. There’s Lee Collins sitting up in the press box, right where his daddy, Buddy, used to sit. There, occasionally, is Leomont Evans walking by, trailed by the whispers of fathers telling their sons, “He was the best I’ve ever seen here.”
And on the field itself, the latest generation of Panthers does battle, chasing yet another state championship and, more than that, chasing the ghosts of the past: Their fathers and grandfathers and uncles and all the others who have bled on that patch of grass that sits down in a hole on Washington Street, cloaked by soaring pine trees on one side and ancient concrete bleachers on the other.
The Panthers have won seven state championships across nearly five decades: 1971, 1981, 1991, 1996, 2010, 2011 and 2015.
At 8 p.m. Friday night at Benedict College in Columbia, they will have a chance to add an eighth trophy. Abbeville will play Batesburg-Leesville for the Class AA state title. As my friend Benji Greeson might say, it should be a donnybrook. Last one out of Abbeville please turn out the lights.
Recently, I saw a black and white photo on Facebook of Larry Ray, who played for Abbeville back in 1971, the year of the school’s first state title. Ray was cradling the ball in his right hand and looking like he was ready to lower the shoulder on some unsuspecting defender. And right there on the side of his helmet, in that nearly 50-year-old photo, was the “A.”
The same “A” that binds a small town together. The “A” that is painted on water towers and is stitched onto ribbons little girls wear in their hair. The very same “A” that a group of young men will bring to the Capital City on Friday night, looking for fortune and glory.
Protect that “A,” boys.
Chris Trainor is a contributing columnist for the Index-Journal. Contact him at ChrisTrainorSC@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter@ChrisTrainorSC. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.