Jesup, the seat of Wayne County, is where there is the storied Altamaha River (pronounced “Altamahaul” by locals) and an alluring swamp teeming with all types of varmints. There are also unlimited timber resources, Sybil’s Family Restaurant and a Friday Night Lights tradition that has resulted in a steady stream of players who have matriculated at the University of Georgia over the years.
Incorporated on Oct. 24, 1870, with a mission of survival following the American Civil War, this town of 10,300 was named for a general who distinguished himself in war against the Creek Indians. In the past, Jesup often had so many pulpwood trucks moving about that it would require a team of accountants to count them all.
If you enjoy hunting and fishing, come here. If you are looking for a football player who can help you win games, you are likely to find one in Jesup. If you want a winsome smile from a pretty girl, you will likely find one on every block in Jesup — that is, unless they have all vacated the premises to enter the state university in Athens.
On Sunday following the Missouri game, there was a gathering of young Jesupians at the University Arch. There were enough of them to start a Sunday school class, where many of them were headed following a picture taking session. As I watched them hug and interact, I was taken by the wholesomeness of the atmosphere. Fellowship permeated and punctuated the inviting ambience that prevailed. Love and Laughter was as prevalent as hotdogs once were across the street where the old downtown Varsity stood for years.
There were six graduates of Wayne County High, along with a few parents, surrounding the football personalities — quarterback Greyson Lambert and fullback Glenn Welch, both Wayne Co. grads, too. The coeds included Adeline Kenerly, reigning Miss Georgia, a Redcoat majorette and her sister, Jameson, along with Miranda Williams — the latter twosome being feature twirlers of the band. Majorette Mary Elizabeth Nipper was there, too, as were a couple of Georgettes — Blythe Bland and Laurel Smith. Six members of the band from one small community! Jesup proudly beats its breast with enduring pride. If you like the band, and I do, a thumbs up to Jesup for sending all that talent and beauty our way.
They sang a few of their old high school fight songs as they posed for the camera — college kids enjoying themselves when half the campus was still sleeping in. Nobody was hungover, nobody had partied until the wee hours. It was a refreshing, upbeat mood that fit in with the cool fall temperatures, which made you want to initiate a “sing along” session.
The scene was an example of what a state university is all about. It draws support and feeling from all its 159 counties and will send out, following graduation, some outstanding citizens who will complement and energize the respective communities where they settle. That is the way the Jesup contingent grew up.
Looking on was a pretty and charming mother, who once enjoyed the same experience the Redcoat’s Jesup Six are enjoying now. Joy Bland, married to Lex Kenerly, who was a walk-on player in the Vince Dooley era, enjoyed twirling for the band in her years on campus, which was during the time of Herschel Walker. She set the example for her daughters and their friends to emulate. She was a beauty queen, majorette, and serious student. She gloried in her campus days but never forgot her hometown.
When college ended, she returned to Jesup, married Lex and started a family. She found time to teach the art of twirling to her daughters. She began an academy to provide instruction for young girls interested in twirling. She recruited majorettes for her alma mater. Small town life is so often the good life.
“I can’t tell you,” she beamed, “just how much Jesup is enjoying the moment. We are proud of all our band members, and we are proud of Greyson and Glenn. All these kids grew up together and love being part of the excitement on Saturday afternoon between the hedges.”
Likely there will be another generation of twirlers from this group, a quarter of a century down the road. Thanks, Jesup, for sending your finest our way.
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.