LSU coach Les Miles eats it. The Rolling Stones smoked it. Teenagers mow it for a summer job. Apparently there is a “synthetic” grass. Coach Miles gets a lot of ribbing about his proclivity for chewing grass on the sidelines while coaching his Tigers. While eating grass is strange, and smoking grass is illegal, I have to say that I’ve tasted it. And I inhaled.
Allow me to clarify. I don’t want anyone out there to believe that I’m listening to the Doors while “expanding my mind” and sporting a tye dyed t-shirt. Nothing could be further from the truth. The grass I tasted used to grow in a field at 300 Columbia Avenue in Chapin, SC. That field, Cecil Woolbright Field to be exact, is the site of many childhood and teenage memories. The Chapin Eagle football team plays there on Friday nights, and I have an abundance of memories that reside in that stadium. Some are in the hedges under the scoreboard, some on the sidelines near where Coach Williams set up the Gatorade cooler that was so diluted with water it couldn’t really be called Gatorade. Some of my childhood is in the bleachers, hoping to catch the plastic footballs the cheerleaders would toss into the crowd after the third quarter. More recently, I find myself thinking of the press box, and how it feels to remain a part of Chapin football Fridays, even if the grass of the field isn’t as close.
So many things I remember took place in that stadium. I remember first hearing 2001 before the team entered the field and getting goose bumps. I can remember September of 1989 when the football team ran down the hill for the first time. Woolbright Field was the site of epic battles, the 1987 war with Mid Carolina, the 1983 upset of Abbeville that let everyone know that Coach Eddie Muldrow was for real, the 1996 game with Saluda where QB (and current New York Yankee) DeWayne Wise was unstoppable. Very many of Chapin’s sons took to that field on Fridays to compete for their school, their family, their town. There has been a host of Scheble boys from two different generations, Percy and Sylvester Mayers, Ben Anderson, Rich Sweet, Jeffrey Tucker, I.M. Hipp, Chad Boozer, and Cory Catoe are just a few that have spilled their sweat on the field for Chapin High. Current Athletic Director Ronnie Wessinger was a member of the 1985 team that played for the Upper State Championship.
As captain of the 1995 team that ended up losing to Batesburg-Leesville in the quarterfinals, I have plenty of personal memories of Cecil Woolbright Field. The one that I keep going back to is the win over Lexington on September 15th. After squandering a 19-7 lead, the Eagles were down 21-19 with time dwindling away. It was a rainy night, and the moisture inside my helmet was a mixture of sweat and precipitation. Time was working against us, and momentum had been fumbled away with the football on the opening kick of the second half. Digging deep within ourselves, we were able to get into position to attempt a field goal. As time expired, Christian Bryant drilled a 32 yarder to win the game. Being on the field goal unit, I was able to look up and see the ball pass between the uprights and over the crossbar. As the band played “Eagle Victory”, I turned to see Coach Scott McLeod tackle Christian and start a celebratory dogpile.
Caught up in the growing tangle of arms, legs, and pads, I found myself on the ground. Getting up, I couldn’t help but notice the clumps of dirt and wet grass that were lodged in between the bars on my face mask. As I removed my helmet and fell into line for the postgame handshake, I inhaled deeply. The grass entered my mouth and nose, and interfered with my attempt to breath in the victory with the night air. The grass, I thought, was the fly in the ointment to what was truly a great night. The taste, smell, and texture of it became part of the entire memory. Now, as the playing field at Chapin High School is removed, the grass has now become an integral part of that night’s experience.
I’m glad that Chapin High School is getting a facelift. It’s a well-deserved upgrade for a school that has had a huge increase in enrollment over the last 15 years. It’s sad that the space that I parked in as a high school senior is now under a portable in front of the gym. One of the unfortunate by-products of progress is to have to say goodbye to things that will be missed. In the future, Eagle football teams will play their games on a state of the art astro-play surface. Fire ants in August and dead grass in November will no longer be concerns. The new field is definitely an improvement, but I’ll miss the old one. It was the best damn grass I ever had.
Justin F. Cannon