by Charlie Norris
Every UGA football fan knows Bob McWhorter was UGA’s first All-American football player in 1913, but who was Georgia’s first great football player? Many think it was Harold Ketron, UGA’s first celebrated, highly publicized, all-star player. I agree with that thinking. Following are excerpts from The Ghosts of Herty Field by John E. Stegeman in regards to Ketron, truly a great Bulldog (I strongly recommend every Dawg fan read The Ghosts of Herty Field).
Probably no athlete has ever been more identified with Georgia football through the years than Harold Ketron, a rugged lineman of the early nineteen-hundreds. Raised on a mountain farm near Clarkesville, Georgia, he and his brothers roamed the hills of Habersham County, converting any likely pasture into a playing field, and participating in any available contest of skill or brawn. Since most of the competitions ended in scuffles, Ketron learned early in life to defend himself and his brothers, and his rallying cry of ’War Eagle’ often echoed through the valleys of Habersham. To him, a good fist-fight was an integral part of a hotly contested game.
Ketron himself was only medium sized and, contrary to legend, he did not always come out on top. I saw him take some good lickings, his brother Grover recalled, but I never saw him shy away from anyone. The boys’ father, a physician, patched them up often enough to develop a low opinion of sports, and came to regard football as little more than a general brawl. He was glad when the time came for Harold to enter Georgia to follow more gentlemanly pursuits. But great was his horror in 1902 when he read of a free-for-all in which ‘War Eagle Ketron’, of the UGA football team, had played a prominent part. The doctor immediately dispatched a letter to Athens directing his son to turn in his uniform.
The arrival of the message created a campus crisis, since Harold was UGA’s best player. He decided to protest his father’s ruling and left for Clarkesville immediately. Grover Ketron, then sixteen, never forgot the scene. Harold didn’t come alone. He brought head football coach Billy Reynolds with him. The two of them sat with the doctor before a big fire and talked all day long while the younger members of the Ketron family hovered in the background, not missing much. Coach Reynolds played up the virtues of football, and played down its vices, in a masterly fashion. Finally everybody went to bed, and when the doctor awoke the next morning he was completely won over. The coach and his star player returned to Athens in triumph.
Harold was described as a devastating player. He was named to the All-Southern team in 1902, the first UGA player (with three teammates) to earn all-star recognition. After the 1902 season, Coach Reynolds was replaced by Marvin Dickinson, who had returned to Athens expecting to play another season at halfback, but was appointed head football coach. Dickinson inherited a Georgia team with exactly one starter returning, Harold Ketron, but the Atlanta Constitution wrote, fortunately Ketron is a whole team in himself. A transfer player from Emory at Oxford, Virlyn Moore was attempting to make UGA’s football team. Moore did not know where he stood until he overheard a conversation from Ketron and others. Someone asked, who is that Moore? Then the words came from Ketron that relaxed Moore, I don’t know, but he is one hell of a football player. Moore later served over forty years as a judge in the Fulton County Superior Court. The robust, sharp witted Moore was interviewed and told this story: many years after my UGA football career, I was in the balcony of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC. A disturbance occurred on the floor of the House. The speaker called for the Sergeant-at-Arms to restore order, said Judge Moore, and out of the side door came Ole Ket, as powerful as the days when I knew him on the football field. Order was soon restored.
In 1903, Georgia players were given smallpox vaccinations a few days before the Clemson game, and after getting whipped 29-0, it was noted that the left arms of some of UGA’s team hung stiffly at their side. After the 29-0 loss, football captain Harold Ketron and his teammates offered the Clemson team a bushel of apples for every point over 29 they scored against Tech. Ketron and his group were ready to promise Clemson anything, but the Carolina folks esteemed apples most. Eating apples was said to be the crowning dissipation of the Clemson student body. The town of Clemson was not yet incorporated on the map, and such vicious habits as demon rum, ping pong, and other forms of vice common to a large city were unknown. However, no sooner was school dismissed than the collegians rushed to the apple granary to feed on the succulent fruit as a pastime. Now orchards at Clemson were bare and apples were what the boys wanted most. When Clemson outdid themselves by beating Tech 73-0, Ketron and his teammates and friends began trying to round up forty-four bushels of fruit for shipment to Clemson. UGA met Tech later at Piedmont Park. Ketron was moved to tackle, where he dropped behind the line and served as an effective ball carrier. UGA won handily 38-0.
Following the Tech game, powerful Vanderbilt was next on the schedule. Outspoken Vandy coach J.R. Henry was at his best, frequently running out on the playing field advising his players, causing a protest by UGA. Henry claimed he had the perfect right to be on the field as an official representative from Vanderbilt. Several times Henry ran up to the umpire and told him to keep an eye on Ketron from UGA. Virlyn Moore later gave the details of Ketron’s favorite maneuver. He would grab his man by the hair and spit tobacco juice in his face. Officials, unable to see the stream of tobacco juice, would often times penalize the enraged opponent for taking a swing at Ketron. Finally, when once again Henry ran out on the field, a fight broke out and a crowd swarmed around the combatants. An Atlanta newspaper reporter could not see who was involved but, upon hearing the shout, Hit him Ket, he had a good idea who one of the participants was. He moved in a little closer and found Ketron and Coach Henry slugging away at each other. Others joined in. When the melee had subsided to some degree, Ketron was struggling with two policemen, one of whom was throttling him and the other attempting to hold him, while Coach Henry was being forcibly taken off the field by several other guardians of the law. Ketron was allowed to return to the game, but Henry was lugged down to the station. Later a Vanderbilt substitute came to the headquarters to offer the collateral necessary for Henry to be released, but he, too, was arrested.
Ketron did not play in 1904 or 1905. He came back in 1906 to play with his younger brother, Grover, who was known as Little Ket. On the eve of the Thanksgiving game in Macon, Coach Mike Donahue told the Macon Telegraph that his Auburn boys were in great shape and should beat UGA by two touchdowns. But UGA held off an early assault, and in the second half, drove close to the Auburn goal. When Auburn braced, Dick Graves booted a field goal to give UGA a 4 to 0 lead. Auburn roared back, but Morton Hodgson ended the threat with UGA’s first ever pass interception (passing was first allowed in college football in 1906). Then Auburn drove down the field once again. With last down and a minute to play, the ball rested six inches from the UGA goal. The Auburn center bent over the ball and, opposite him, Harold Ketron dug in for the last defensive play of his long UGA career. The hearts of all the faithful arose to their throats wrote the Red and Black. Lacey of Auburn drove straight ahead, but met Ketron head on, and was slammed to the ground a full yard short of the goal. Georgia took over on downs and ran the clock out securing the Dawg victory. Ketron began and ended his UGA as a leader. He was indeed a truly a great one, both on the field and after graduation.
After his playing days, Ketron later fired up UGA football teams as only he could. Ketron’s loyalty to Georgia football never ended. Tim Gardner wrote an article for DawgPost in February, 2001 entitled Charley Trippi-A Georgia Immortal. Charley Trippi is considered by many to be the greatest all around athlete to ever wear the Bulldog’s red and black. In the article, Trippi was quick to point out that he credited the late Harold’ War Eagle’ Ketron for the opportunity he had to play for the Georgia Bulldogs. Ketron operated Coca-Cola bottling plants in western Pennsylvania, where he was always on the lookout for athletic prospects who had the ability to play for UGA. At that time, boosters could recruit, even offer scholarships, which is exactly what Ketron did to Trippi. Said Trippi, a tremendous amount of the success I enjoyed as an athlete and the fine education I received at Georgia is parallel to War Eagle Ketron taking a chance on me. He took great interest in me, and I’m so happy he did. Trippi opted for an additional year of honing his football skills at LaSalle Military Academy in New York, where his exposure drew scholarship offers from all the football powerhouses. But Trippi was a man of his word. He had told Ketron he was going to Georgia and that was it. Ketron was responsible for Charley Trippi and many other great players coming down South to UGA.
This writer went too many years without Harold ‘War Eagle’ Ketron being on his all-time favorite UGA players list, but that error has since been eliminated. You cannot help but like a Bulldog like Harold Ketron. Yeah, the ‘War Eagle’ nickname causes a few stomach aches every now and then, but who knows, the Aubies probably stole the dawg-gone War Eagle nickname from Ketron and used it along with the many other nicknames they have. Today I salute Harold ‘War Eagle’ Ketron, truly a great Bulldog player who was not only a great player, but also a great leader, and a man who truly loved UGA. One can’t be fully knowledgeable about Georgia football history without knowing about one of its most colorful characters, and its first great football player, Harold Ketron, a DGD!!
Sources: The Ghosts of Herty Field by John E. Stegeman
Charley Trippi-A Georgia Immortal by Tim Gardner