The Captain of Carolina
Earl Dunham started something. Way back in the 1930s and 40s, about every eight or ten years or so, a young Laurens County boy moved with his parents to Macon. While they were in the capital of Central Georgia, three boys thought it would be a good idea to play football for the city's biggest high school. All three happened to be very good at it. Billy Henderson did it in the early 1940s and went on to an outstanding football and baseball career at the University of Georgia before becoming a coaching legend in Georgia High School football. Theron Sapp played at Macon's Lanier High School in the early 1950s before his immortal feats as a Georgia Bulldog running back led to his being named as only the third player in school history to have his jersey number retired. But way back in the late 1930s, Earl Dunham started it all. Here is his story.
Earl Dunham was born in Dublin, Georgia in 1921. One of at least seven children of Harry and Ethel Dent Durham, little Earl lived in a modest house at 214 Sawyer Street in the mid 1920s. Sometime before 1930, the Dunhams picked up everything they owned and headed for a better opportunity in Macon, where they lived on Walnut Street.
Earl attended elementary school and in 1935, enrolled in Lanier High School, where all boys participated in the R.O.T.C. program. It didn't take long for Earl's talents to be recognized by the coaches of the Poets. Yes, that was their mascot. After all, when you have a school named after Sidney Lanier, one of Georgia's most famous poets, what else are you going to call the teams?
In the 1938 basketball season, Dunham helped to guide the Poets to a state championship. Later that fall, Earl, billed as one of the best fullbacks in the state, was named as Alternate Captain of the Poets. Though he suffered a broken leg that limited his playing time as a junior, Earl returned for his senior season when he exhibited his strong blocking and power running skills. After his last game, Earl was named to the G.I.A.A. All Georgia team for the second consecutive year (the only two-year member) by a panel of sportswriters and coaches.
The South Carolina Gamecocks were whom Earl wanted to play for, not Georgia or Georgia Tech. From the beginning, Earl was destined to become a three-sport star in football, basketball and baseball. Dunham found only a little joy in first three football seasons, all losing ones, under Coach Rex Enright, who at the time of his retirement was South Carolina's all time winningest and losingest coach. Earl earned a starting berth at left half back in 1942, when his team won its first game against the Citadel, but failed to win another all season. Victories were more plenty when Earl was playing basketball and baseball. In his freshman year, the Gamecock hoopsters went 15 and 9 and played in the semifinals of Southern Conference championship. In his sophomore year, Earl moved from guard to center and posted an average of two field goals per game playing a position, which was usually in the center of the court in those days.
Something big happened. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Earl and many of his friends enlisted and went off to a whole new ball game. This time it was serious, real serious. Earl became a member of the 11th Airborne Division. The 11th was held in reserve until the latter half of 1944, when it first saw action in Leyte and in the invasion of Luzon in January 1945 in a final effort to sweep Japanese resistance from the Philippine Islands. During his spare time in his 42-month stint as a paratrooper of "The Angels," Earl did what he did best. He played ball. In his last game as a member of the 11th Division football team, Earl helped to secure a victory over an all star squad from Honolulu.
Like many other young men of his day who saw their collegiate football careers interrupted by the war, Earl returned to the campus at Columbia for one final season in 1946. He replaced future Dubliner Bryant Meeks as team captain in the first season of the modern era of football. Rex Enright returned from his naval duties to coach one of the finest teams ever to take the field in Columbia. The Gamecocks defeated their instate rival Clemson and never looked back on a 5-3 season.
As soon as he left the Carolina Field gridiron and stepped onto the hardwoods, Earl was honored by his teammates and coach by being named captain of the basketball team. It was then time for one more season on the diamond. Once again, Earl was named captain of the team. It would be the only time in the one hundred and fifteen-year history of South Carolina athletics that one man would named captain of the football, basketball and baseball teams in a single school year. I don't know it for a fact, but it may have been the only time in NCAA history that one athlete captained all three major sports at a major university. Certainly that feat hasn't occurred lately when few, if any, players play all three major sports.
When Earl Dunham's playing days were over, he turned to coaching to further his athletic career, He served as an assistant coach under his former head coach Enright until 1955 when he resigned to enter the business world.
Earl Dunham died on September 10, 2000 in Columbia, South Carolina. He was survived by his children, Earl, Jr. and Nancy Anne.
During his four years at the University of South Carolina, Earl Dunham rose to the heights of excellency both on and off the field. He was named a member of the prestigious academic fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated cum laude in the Class of 1947.
As a football player, Dunham was named as an honorable mention on the 1946 All American team joining center Bryant Meeks (2nd team.) Ahead him were three legends of college football: Charley Trippi of Georgia and Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard of the United States Military Academy. A half century later, Earl Dunham was named to the South Carolina All Century Basketball Team as one of five players representing the pre-1950s era. Fifty years after he left South Carolina, Earl Dunham was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame joining Bill Rogers as the only player in that illustrious group who played three sports in their careers at South Carolina.
As a footnote, although Dublin is located just a hundred or so miles south of Athens, Georgia, only a half dozen Dublin footballers have played for the Bulldogs. Nearly as many have played football for South Carolina. In addition to the aforementioned Bryant Meeks (Captain '45), who moved to Dublin just before his death, other Dubliners who have donned the garnet and black are Gregg Crabb ('69-'71), Chan Beasley ('71-'72), Scott Hagler ('83-'86, Captain '86), Tony Guyton ('83-'85, Captain '85) and Kyle Crabb ('99-'00.) In four of the last 65 football seasons since the end of World War II, the captain of the Gamecock football team has been a Dubliner. That's an unbelievable record!