The school has its own cavalcade of stars, from players like Elmer Hendren, Donald “Dopey” Phelps and Leonard Southwood in the early years to Chris and Elmer Jackson and E.G. Plummer in the middle of the 20th century to Sam Burke and Leonard Coulter in the ’60s to Chris Jones and Norman Letcher in the ’70s to Donnie Redd and Chester Ford in the ’90s.
Many of Danville’s best players went on to play for major colleges and some went on to professional football, and that was also true for several of its coaches, including Rice Mountjoy, Ed Rutledge and Ray Callahan.
Harp might have been one of them, but he’s glad he stayed to become part of a lengthy chapter of the program’s history.
“When I first came here, I thought I’d be here four or five years and then be moving on, but I fell in love with the place. There’s very few programs out there that can be better than what we have here.”
Today’s players got a chance to grasp the idea that they are part of something larger than themselves just a few days ago when 93-year-old Joe Johnson, who might well be Danville’s oldest living former player and who has been a fixture at its games for decades, visited a recent practice.
Johnson, a quarterback in the 1930s and a fixture in the stands in the decades since, was introduced to Devonta Alcorn, the starting quarterback for the current team. Robin Moler, an assistant at Bate Middle School who has also taken an interest in the history of the program, was snapping photos all the while, and she captured a moment in which Johnson handed a football to Alcorn. The result is a photo that will be made into a poster that shows one of each person’s hands on the same football.
Moler said Alcorn told her that the moment left an impression on him.
“He said, ‘Now when I look up and see Mr. Johnson in the stands, I know he’s not just some older guy. I know he’s watching for a reason,’” Moler said. “I told him, ‘You are starting the legacy for the next generation.’”
The stories that Johnson and players of his era and the next 25 years or so can tell illustrate a time when the city seemed to revolve around the upcoming game. The stands were full for home games, but only after the marching band led the fans into the stadium. Southern Railroad trains carried hundreds of fans to road games at Corbin and Somerset, and occasionally to other towns, too. Shopkeepers befriended every player, and elementary-age boys idolized them.
“I wouldn’t give anything for the trials and tribulations and the success and the atmosphere,” said E.G. Plummer, a 1956 graduate who played on an undefeated team in 1954 that claimed a mythical state championship before the state playoffs were created. “Our pride in being Danville Admirals helped us win a lot of games, just knowing we were going to win no matter what happened during the game.”