By Gordon Pynes
As Atlanta Rabbit fans prepare to welcome in another football season they may not be aware that it has been 100 years since the Rabbs were born. Coach Ed Rabb came to Atlanta as a young lawyer after World War I in 1919. Having been a football player at Cumberland University he decided to form a club team in town built around young guys who were both in and out of high school. Someone (maybe Rabb himself) gave the team a mascot name – the Wolves. The group became the high school team shortly thereafter.
It is in the Atlanta School Annual – The Trailblazer in 1923 when for the first time Atlanta’s mascot had become the Rabbits. The story is that the players so respected Coach Rabb that they wanted to honor him in some way. So now for a hundred years we were not named for the fuzzy bunnies but instead for our first Football Coach, That was certainly a unique way to come up with a mascot.
The Rabbs have played in at least three venues. I’ve been told that the first was a field across from where the Highway Department is. There were no stands and the crowd roamed the sidelines. From 1938 thru 1995 Bivins-Trice field served for lots of excitement. The current Rabbit Stadium has hosted games since 1996.
Looking back over a century our sports history is filled with exciting thrills and accomplishments of our athletes. What follows are some of the statistics and highlights of the Rabbs since their inception in 1923.
Mainly we will focus on football history to see how the Maroon and White have fared in competition. There have been 22 Head Coaches since Ed Rabb engineered that first kickoff. Overall, Rabb gridiron teams have won 567 games while losing 416 and tying 33. They made the playoffs numerous times and in so doing won 35 games, lost 35 and had 2 ties.
There has only been one State Football Championship which was earned ini 2003. Other State crowns have been 7 in boys track, 1 in baseball and 1 in girls track. The 1946 football team produced the most points scored, rolling up 475 in a 9-2 season. That team rolled up the highest score I could find routing Hughes Springs 76-0. On defense the Rabbs were stingy in 1966 only giving up 51 points in ten games. Most season wins were contributed by the 1994 State finalist team with 13. There have been only two winless seasons with an 0-9 record in 1935 and most recently with a 0-10 finish in 2021.
Atlanta’s three most common opponents have been Linden (LK), Daingerfield and Jefferson. The Rabbits hold the advantage over each one. LK game totals are 41-22-3 ties, Daingerfield 34-31-1 and Jefferson 38-20-1.
Ben Scharnberg (1988-2007) and Leonard Cannaday (1945-1954) have been by far the most successful winning coaches. At least four former Rabbit players came back to Coach here with Bear Allday filling in the 1942 season during World War II, Richard (Bull) Johnson in the mid 1950’s, George Jackson in the early 1970’s and Matt McClure recently.
With integration here in 1970, Booker T. Washington High School athletes moved from being Wolverines to Rabbits. That event brought a solid injection of talents to the Rabb sports program.
Over this century there have been many outstanding Atlanta athletes. I’ll just mention some from the football side. Certainly the first great was running back Bear Allday. He went on to star for a powerful Centenary team that whipped most of the Southwest Conference members. Richard (Bull) Johnson was a stout guard and center who went on to fame at Baylor during and after the War years. He may be the only Rabb selected to play in the East-West Shrine game. Coulter Kennamer (Mule) and Duncan Thompson led strong teams in the mid 1940’s and both went to Arkansas. Booty Jordan and George Jackson were key backs in the mid 1950’s. Ted Thompson led the way in the early 1970’s and played for SMU, then with the Houston Oilers. Marcus Hatley was a big end who starred for Tulsa and earned a spot with Seattle in the late 70’s. Speedster Phillip Epps played for TCU’s Horned Frogs before a great pro career at Green Bay. Derrick Blaylock played for the Kansas City Chiefs after his college career with Stephen F. Austin. Defensive standout Randy Garner played for Arkansas in the 1990’s and did several stints with NFL teams. Halfback DeCori Birmingham was a key figure for Arkansas in the early 2000’s and played in the NFL’s European League. Dallas Washington played as a defensive back for Arkansas. A major league baseball standout, Drew Stubbs had been a Rabb football player also. James Epps may have been our only Rabb to play in the Canadian Football League. Rickey Hatley is probably our most recent success with a career with Missouri and some time with the Houston Texans. Certainly there are many more who made great contributions during their years as Rabbits.
I’ll finish up with some individual stats compiled over this one hundred year span. Historical records seem scant until you reach the 1970’s and even more recently. So my apology for some overlooked record that just never got recorded.
The focus is on Rabbit offense with those who carried, threw or caught the pigskin. Kenneth Epps was a workhorse running back who carried the ball 349 times during the 1978 season. DeCori Birmingham was a cog rushing for 4,463 yards during three seasons 1998-2000. He ran for 30 touchdowns in the 1999 campaign. Tyrell Phillips posted the most rushing yards in a season with 2,131 in 2015. Quarterback Chase Musgrove holds passing records of 234 completions and a career total 3,896 yards in 2013-2014. Chase also connected for 27 passing touchdowns in 2014. Billy Oliver caught 13 TD passes in 1994 and the same season had 800 receiving yards. Ted Thompson has a long standing record as he booted a 45 – yard field goal versus DeKalb in 1970.
As to the greatest and most thrilling games there will be broad opinions but let me offer some I have seen or heard about. My all – time thriller came in 1994 when the Rabbs met a loaded Jefferson team in the State quarterfinals at Stephen F. Austin. As I recall we were trailing by ten at the half. The team battled back and with two minutes or so left came from behind on a TD catch by Billy Oliver for a 24-21 win. A berth in the State Finals at the Astrodome followed two weeks later after a win over Abilene Wylie.
Next for me personally also was a 1990 clash with LK in Linden. It was the last game of the regular season and for the District title and a ticket to the playoffs. LK had a perfect 9-0 record and seemed headed for the post season while Atlanta came into the game at 7-1-1. Always a bitter rivalry game, the Rabbs kept LK at home with a 25-0 victory.
Probably the biggest turnaround game in Rabbit history took place in 1998. Early in the season LK had easily drubbed Atlanta 33-6. However, then both teams made the playoffs and met again in Longview. Ben Scharnberg had his team ready for revenge and they shut LK out 29-0 in a huge flip flop victory.
Now for another thriller with Linden on their home field in 1954. The Tigers were undefeated and ranked third in the State. Atlanta came in with a 8-1 mark and the battle for District was on. Linden scored on their first possession to take a 6-0 lead. With time running out the Rabbits passed their way to the half yard line with 10 seconds left. Then with three seconds remaining George Jackson ran for the TD. LK hearts were broken when Booty Johnson plunged for the extra point and 7-6 win. Many LK folks who were in the game or saw it are upset with that outcome to this day.
You can’t leave out the 2003 State Championship game played in Tyler against Marlin. The Rabbs had whipped a good Gilmer team earlier but Marlin loomed as a tough opponent. However, Atlanta fielded probably its fastest overall team ever. That speed overwhelmed Marlin in a 34-0 rout.. Most folks will remember a punt return in that game by returner Dallas Washington who seemingly ran through the entire Bulldogs squad leaving many strewn behind him. That run was a century highlight.
I know there are many other memories from those hundred years. Though I was not raised a Rabbit I have a strong connection to that 1923 beginning. My Dad was a scrawny 14 – year old member of that first Rabbit team. Since I was a child I listened to many stories of Coach Rabb and those early players. Sometime in the 1970’s my Dad took me along to a reunion with those first Rabbs and Coach Rabb himself. Little did I know that some ten years later I would join the Rabbit ranks as a coach. So a century has passed and now the sports fans of Atlanta can get ready for another 100 years of excitement. Get your tickets early, this century will probably top the last one where the Atlanta Rabbits are concerned.