Parris Island can be hell on earth for most United States Marine Corps recruits who are sent there for boot camp as they learn the ropes as to what it takes to be a Marine.
Drill instructors at the facility located in Port Royal in Beaufort County are known for their toughness, arrogance and no-nonsense demeanor. For Camden’s Chuck Sturkie, however, Parris Island might just as well have been a stroll down Paris’ Champs-Elysees.
The way Sturkie looked at his basic training, it was not as bad as things were when he was playing football at Camden High School for his late head coach Wallace "Red" Lynch and assistant coach Clyde "Tubby" Jones. He did not serve under a more rigid commander learning to defend his country than he did playing football, by his own choice, for Lynch and Jones.
Having a Monday lunch with friends Billy Ammons, Buster Beckham and Ray Robinson, all members of the Bulldogs’ famed ’64 team which will be honored prior to and during Camden’s home football game with Dreher on Friday night at Zemp Stadium, Sturkie laughed when asked to compare his time in the Marines --- which included an extended stretch in Vietnam --- to the daily practices at Camden High.
"Even in boot camp in Parris Island," Sturkie said, "I was laughing about it because everybody else was having hardships. It was never as hard as football camps at Camden and nobody was going to physically abuse you down there."
One year after Lynch’s first Bulldog team finished with a 3-8 record, the CHS graduate convinced Jones, his former assistant coach from North Habersham High School in Georgia, to join him in Camden for the 1964 campaign. Just as Lynch did in 1963, he carried the team by bus to Camp Deerwood in the North Carolina mountains for two weeks of pre-season camp.
Over the years, tales of the camps have become the stuff of legend and lore in Camden with many a player drawing a correlation to what they went through to what they saw after viewing the ESPN movie, "The Junction Boys." The movie depicted the camp run by Bear Bryant when he took his first Texas A&M football squad through a brutal pre-season camp in Junction, Texas.
"That was a lot like we went through," said a smiling Robinson, a running back on the ’64 team.
"I remember that it was either Brent Mitts or the (past) preacher at Malvern Hill and he came up to Coach Lynch and said, ‘Coach, I think I’m going to quit. How do I get home?’ Coach Lynch said, ‘The bus leaves in two weeks, son.’"
Like Bryant’s camp, the Bulldogs did not get any water during practice, leaving players to find hydration any way they could. "You’d suck on that old sweaty towel when it came around every once in a while. That was it," Sturkie said.
And, Beckham said, breaks were few and far between during the three-hour practice sessions, some as many as three times a day in camp. "I remember somebody getting hurt one time and thinking, ‘I hope he’s dead, Then, we can go in,’"Beckham said as he broke into a full-fledged laugh.
"If they (Lynch and Jones) got up in the morning and brushed their hair, you were in for a long practice. If they just got out of bed, you might have been able to get away with (a shorter one.)"
As stories were traded around the table, Ammons, who was a Parade All-America quarterback for the ’64 team and would succeed Lynch as the Bulldogs’ head coach in 1972, said when Jones came on board, a tough two weeks in the woods became even worse.
"When Coach Jones got there, he and Coach Lynch showed off for each other about how tough they could be. It was tough," he said before recalling that as tough as Lynch was on the rest of the team, he made it even harder on his son, Bob Lynch, who was a running back.
"We were all scared of Red," Ammons said. "In my mind, I said that ‘If Coach Lynch can do that to his own son, he’ll kill me.’ I was scared to death. I really was. That first week at camp, he told Bob to go drown himself so that he could get the insurance money out of him."
It was Jones, however, who the four all agreed was even tougher than Lynch. Beckham recalled when the team would run tackling drills how players would try to jump into Lynch’s line from Jones’ grouping and how the other players would turn them back.
"Clyde was tough," said Robinson who just a few days earlier visited Jones. "When we’d be running plays and they would be over there with Coach Jones beating one another to death, I said, ‘I’m glad I wasn’t in that line.’"
Beckham said Jones wasted little time in announcing his presence to the stunned Camden players.
"I remember Clyde wanting to set a tone on the first day of camp," Beckham said, "You would have this drill where you would use your right shoulder and then your left shoulder. We’d go do that drill and we were doing right shoulder, left shoulder. Clyde came in and said, ‘Whoa. Whoa. You’re going to hit face-to-face.
"He said, ‘Back up.’ You’d back up about 10 to 12 yards and it was just a pure collision. Once, the second or third person who came through there accidentally hit Blair Holden in the neck and Blair couldn’t breathe and he was standing there gasping for breath while Coach Hutch (assistant coach H.N. Hutchinson) was trying to help Blair.
"Clyde said ‘Run over him.’ We actually knocked Blair into the creek."
In order to understand
In order to understandwhere the magical ’64 season got its start, you had to go back to the previous year when Lynch took a over green group of Bulldogs. That team only lost one game by more than a touchdown. That squad was loaded with juniors who would form the nucleus of the 19-senior squad the following season.
Beckham, a wide receiver, said local history has not e judged the 1963 team as fairly as thatteam should have been evaluated.
"When you talk about 1963," said Beckham who would later coach under Ammons before being the color commentator for CHS football radio broadcasts, "we were in every game. We were 3-8 but we only lost one game by more than seven points. We were competitive. We didn’t have but two or three seniors on that team. We had a ton of talent coming back."
That talent was brought together in the off-season by Craig Team and Lynch who started an off-season program after the season in preparation for 1964. "Craig put us through it and that may have been one of the earliest, serious high school off-season programs," Ammons said. "I think that helped set the stage for us that following season."
For all the returning players, the ’64 team showed little signs of being one which would gain national publicity in the pre-season. "I remember when we first started all the fumbles we had," Sturkie said. "What was it 20-something or 30-something fumbles? Things weren’t going well at all; things weren’t going well at all for us in those first couple of scrimmages."
When the lights came on at Zemp Stadium and other locales on Friday nights, things all changed for the Bulldogs. A 25-0 win over Winnboro opened the dream season. Then came a 12-0 victory over Sumter. In that contest, what would become a string of 11 consecutive shutouts nearly went up in smoke against the Gamecocks.
"One thing that happened early, in the (second) game of the year," Beckham said, "was that Sumter scored but they called it back. They were offsides or, something. They actually scored again later in the game but it was one of those things where they blew the whistle and the quarterback threw it but nobody reacted to it."
The Dogs then blanked, in succession, Dreher, Hartsville, Chester, Dentsville, Brookland-Cayce, North Augusta and Darlington. That set up a huge home game with Eau Claire in week 10. The Shamrocks were a state power and had played for the state title a year ago.
On that night, fans arrived at Zemp in the afternoon to secure a prime viewing spot. By game time, people were everywhere, including some sitting in trees, to get a glimpse of the much-ballyhooed contest. "I remember coming out of the locker room and having to crawl or jump over people. There were people everywhere," Robinson said.
"It was a big game because you had the big vibe with the local press," Beckham added. " Eau Claire was good and had played for the state championship the year before. There was a lot of press fot that game. We had even received some television coverage for that game."
Camden won the nail-biter, 7-0. In that game, Ammons said he remembered one particular instance when he heard one voice louder than any of the other 9,000 or so fans. It came after a mistake on his part.
"The funniest thing about the Eau Claire game to me," he said, "and what I can always remember was I threw a pass and had it intercepted. I came back to the sidelines and (longtime Bulldog fan) Skeeball (Williams) was on the sidelines and yelling, ‘Ammons. Don’t you ever throw that ball again. Run that ball.’"
The scoreless streak reached 11 games in a 35-0 win over Orangeburg the following week. The chance to run the table without surrendering a point ended when a Stall running back broke loose on a long run in the Lower State finals, a game won by the Dogs, 30-6.
"The only person I remember talking about it was Rodger Williams saying something about four or five games into the season that we hadn’t been scored on," Ammons said when asked about the string of shutouts. "I don’t remember anything other than that being said about it.
"It was more important to win. Nobody said the goal was to go unscored on. That was just another factor involved."
Beckham said that not having allowed a touchdown to that point in the season, the CHS defense had a problem when Stall lined up to go for two points on the conversion.
"The funny thing about that is after they scored, they were going for two and they had a really big fullback," Beckham said. "The problem was, that we had not practiced point after touchdown defense. Then, all of a sudden, I heard James Williams say, ‘Run that big (son of a gun) over this way.’
"James was the cornerback but he had gotten up next to the defensive tackle. So, James is telling them to run the thing and I’m thinking to myself, ‘If they roll out, there is nobody going to be out there defending the pass.’"
With that game behind them, the Bulldogs went to Easley on Thanksgiving Day and put a neat bow on the championship season by downing the Green Wave, 26-0. With the game in pocket, Robinson recalled a conversation he had with Ammons in the huddle with the ball at the Easley two yard line. It was one of the few times which the players went against Lynch’s orders.
"I remember Billy calling the play and it was a quarterback sneak," Robinson said with a smile. "And I asked him to let me run the ball in and, Billy changed the play. I remember going back to the sidelines and Coach Lynch saying, ‘Who in the hell called that play?’"
Title secured and after a regular season in which no team scored on their defense, the Bulldogs were the toast of Camden.
"I think there was a lot of excitement; it was the town’s team," Beckham said of a love affair with the ’64 team which has been going on for 50 years. "People still talk about going to games early. Adults would come up and talk to you at church or in the neighborhood. It wasn’t like you became a celebrity, but people would talk about it."
"It was the closest thing to being a celebrity in a small town," Robinson added, with an ear-to-ear grin spreading across his face. "I don’t think we expected it, but it sure was nice. It seemed like it all fell together for us as a team."
For all the blood, sweat and tears these four men and their teammates went through, the quartet --- to a man --- said they would do it all over again at the drop of a hat.
"You grow up fast whenever you go through that kind of stuff," Ammons said.
For Sturkie, playing football at Camden and, especially as a member of the ’64 team, was a defining period in his life which took him from Camden to the Far East, in service to our country, and many a spot in between.
"For me," he said, "it’s kind of been the focal point of my whole life. When I go through any adversity in my life, I look back on it and say, ‘It ain’t as bad as football camp.’ You just suck it up and keep going."
Friday night, in a stadium in which they shared many of their finest moments as student-athletes, the ’64 team will be back in their old stomping grounds at Zemp. For the many who watched that team in person, it will be a trip back in time when the surviving members of the squad reconvene one more time. It is a scene which never grows old.
As for some of the players who were part of the magic, time has passed by quicker than a Billy Ammons pass, a Ray Robinson run, a Chuck Sturkie block which rattled the teeth of an opponent or a scoring toss hauled in by Buster Beckham.
"It’s been a short 50 years," Robinson said
"You just wonder what happened to it and where it went," Sturkie said after the four-men went through the roster and talked about their former teammates and what has happened to them since the 1964 season.
"It’s just gone so quick. It’s amazing that you still have those great thoughts about the games, the team, the guys and the coaches."
Expect plenty of those and more stories and emotions to come flooding back Friday night at Zemp.