1986 was a hectic year in Atmore’s history

Published 8:29 pm Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This week, we are taking a look back at the year 1986.
In 1986, pretty 17-year-old Cindy Conway won the “Miss Bear Point” contest. This south Baldwin event is staged each year and somewhat parallels the Jr. Miss. Contest. The former Atmore resident is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Conway. The Conways make their home in the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area.
Another charming contest winner in our Miss Atmore Little League contest was Danielle Beach, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Mrs. Mike Beech.

Little River State Park officially became Claude D. Kelly State Park, named in honor of the Atmore native. Mr. Kelly served as our National Wildlife Federation President for a number of years. His son, Don, and I were great friends.

Adjacent to that park was the CCC camp (Civilian Conservation Corps) where many young men worked back in the 1930s and 1940s, planting trees, working on dirt roads and performing various conservation related activities. For several years Auburn University used a couple of the old buildings for housing their summer forestry students.

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Two Atmore teachers, Dean Graham and Clara Phillips, were among a few selected by the Southern Miss Marine Science and Education Association to attend a special seminar on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The event was staged for leading science teachers.

Highly-regarded and well-liked high school football coach, Joe Latham, passed away that year. Joe, after coaching at several Alabama, Florida and Mississippi schools, was the head mentor at Ernest Ward High School. Joe was one of our many coffee drinking regulars at Busters. (For those interested, I am preparing a series of columns about all of those late members of our “elite group.” You’ll discover a sense of nostalgia when I write about the “dozens” who have passed on.)

We lost a close friend that year in Freddie Cantanne. The 93-year-old Perdido native was known by many here in Atmore. He retired after many years of service as a depot agent for L&N Railroad.

I can remember as a young boy sitting with him at the depot and watching him send and receive Morse code messages on that dot…dot…dot…dash, hand-operated clicking machine. Back in those days, passenger trains were identified by numbers. Some of those trains were No. 2, 5,8, 37, etc.

Yes, it always whispers to me, those days of long ago when I think of Freddie and some five or six other depot agents who hailed from Perdido. In addition to Freddie, there were Mr. John Weekly, Mr. Clyde Weekly, J.C Wright and Bert and Albert McGill. Then later, of course, came the famous “Hummingbird” passenger train.

This past weekend, I watched on TV the football drafting process of A.J. McCarron, which reminded me somewhat of the drafting of three local college players a few years ago. They were Guy Dennis, Ron Middleton and Don McNeil.

Dennis, who played his high school ball under Joe Latham at EWHS and as a member of the Florida Gators, was a fifth-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals, the same team that selected McCarron.

McNeil was a first round pick by the Miami Dolphins. He played an important role in the ECHS secondary for three seasons and was a team captain during his collegiate days at The University of Alabama.
Middleton, another ECHS stalwart, was selected in 1986 by the Atlanta Falcons. He played his college ball at Auburn.

These three standout players did not have the TV accessibility to watch the draft process back then. They learned of their selections by phone calls from their respective professional teams.

McCarron, on the other hand was “left to dry” by TV panelists and reporters as they aired him in a somewhat unpopular manner. Despite their unfavorable hype, the Bengals let it be known the former Alabama Crimson Tide signal caller would be groomed to become their quarterback of the future a.la. Bart Starr.

It was an intriguing draft at best. I could not for the life of me understand the selection of Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas in the fourth round. Watching him play on TV this past season, I thought he was one of the very worst looking quarterbacks in college football.

Those former college players are now erased from their teams, as new and returning players get ready to make their marks on the upcoming gridiron season.
I’ll have more news next week from Atmore’s yesteryears.

“…yes, it always whispers to me…those days of long ago…”

You can email Lowell McGill at exam@frontiernet.net.