1990 Syrupmaker team to be recognized Friday night
Some may have a little less hair, or may weigh in a little more than 20 years ago, but the memory of that magical year in their lives has not changed one bit. 1990 was a season to remember for not only that Syrupmaker team, but an entire community. The current Syrupmaker team members were not even born yet, but most of their parents remember and some of them even helped lead the team to the school’s first ever 15-0 season. This Friday night several of those former team members and cheerleaders will gather again 20 years after winning it all in Sylvester, Georgia on a crisp December night, beating Worth County 37-28. That team became the second Syrupmaker football team to win a state championship and the first and still only team to go 15-0.
The 1990 team had the same expectations of every other Syrupmaker team but this team had a special togetherness that seemed to thrive on being the underdog. “No one ever expected us to win it all, nobody ever gave us any credit that year,” said former defensive lineman John “Big Shake” Walton.
CHS graduate and former Syrupmaker quarterback Ralph Jones returned to Cairo to coach his Alma Mater just two years earlier going 6-4 and 6-5 respectfully. Jones rebuilt the Syrupmaker football team into a state champion in just two years. Jones brought in two other former Syrupmaker players as a part of his staff including Don Hancock and Rodney Turner. Other coaches included Steve Bench,Stan Shepherd, Scott Starr, Elliott Walker, Mike Mills, Mark Willis, Joe Kelly and Charlie McBee.Coach Mark Willis played for Ralph Jones in Bainbridge and Wills’ son Mose, handles kickoffs, field goals and extra points. Rodney Turner’s son Hunter plays on both offense and defense for the Makers. Elliott Walker’s son Brian, now at Valdosta State University, quarterbacked the Syrupmakers last year, and his younger son Richard is a part of the Syrupmaker team now.
The 1990 team began to garner some state wide attention with a 38-8 win over the Worth County Rams in the third game of the season. The Rams were the defending state AAA champions and ranked number one in the state. Cairo went on to big wins over TCCHS, Monroe, Dougherty, Crisp County, Lee County, and Westover. However, it would be the 15-8 win over the Thomasville Bulldogs in the final game of the regular season that really began to fire the Cairo community up as the Syrupmakers headed to the state playoffs.
Cairo would win four straight home playoff games including another win over Crisp County, Appling County, Thomson, and Marist. “I remember the coaches having us so fired up to play Marist, they had us so ready to play that night, there was no way we were going to let them come down here from Atlanta and beat us,” “Big Shake” said.
The Makers shut out the Marist War Eagles that night 14-0 and earned a birth in the state title game. However, according to the GHSA rules at that time, the game was to be played at Worth County, even though the Syrupmakers were the region champs from the same region and defeated the Rams earlier in the season. The current GHSA rules would put the game in the Georgia Dome.
“I remember coach (Steve) Bench brought a bucket of grass and dirt from our stadium and we spread it all over the field before the game to make the Ram’s field, our field as well,” said Walton. The Worth-Cairo state title game was a true classic. The battle featured two offenses that would not be denied and big defensive plays when needed. Syrupmaker fans will never forget Raymond Taylor’s scamper down the Cairo sidelines for their first score, and a trick “fumble rooskie” for another big score. The Maker defense stuffed the Rams big runningback Robert Toomer time and time again and came up with a big interception late in the game to preserve the win and the championship, 37-28.
Twenty years later the memories of that special season are still as vivid in the minds of the players and thousands of fans that followed their hometown heroes through fifteen amazing wins. This Friday night many of those players will gather again to be recognized during the pre-game at Cairo’s home game with Dougherty. Former players and cheerleaders are asked to gather in the south endzone near the scoreboard at 6:45 to go on the field at 7:05pm. It will be another night to remember for our Cairo champions.