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Wednesday August 10th, 2022 7:31PM

At 85, Georgia man maintains devotion to high school sports

By The Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — George Groover holds a special place in the hearts of people who love Gainesville High athletics.

At 85, the longtime supporter of all things Red Elephants has served in every role imaginable to support their sports teams.

And still blessed with good health as he nears his next birthday in July, Groover would like to be around for years to come.

Simply put: he’s an institution around Gainesville High.

“Nobody has popped more popcorn and cooked more hot dogs than George Groover,” former Gainesville High athletics director and baseball coach Wayne Vickery said.

And Groover’s mind is still sharp.

The enthusiast of all Red Elephants athletics can still remember the gist of their most memorable events, dating back to when he was student manager for its former coach Drane Watson in the late 1940s.

Gainesville’s biggest supporter can still describe the modest early setup of City Park Stadium, which has been in the same location for almost 100 years.

An electrician by trade, Groover has always made Red Elephants athletics a central part of his life.

As a result, the Gainesville native has forged close relationships with former athletes, coaches and families who have been a part of the school’s rich sports history.

“George is very loyal and wants to be a part of everything at Gainesville,” said Cris Carpenter, who was a three-sport standout for the Red Elephants in the early 1980s and has taught at the school now for 23 years.

As Groover remembers the story, he got his start supporting Gainesville in a managerial role at the direction of Watson, a punishment for cutting up while practice was going on.

After proudly serving our country for three years in the Navy in the 1950s, Groover returned to Gainesville to begin his professional career but never missed a Gainesville football game.

When in the armed forces, Groover recalls his mother would send him press clippings from the newspaper to know how the Red Elephants were doing.

Even the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t assuage Groover’s interest in getting to each and every game.

When it wasn’t possible to ride the team bus due to coronavirus precautions, Groover would still catch a ride with one of his friends to all away games.

Since first watching the Red Elephants play as a kid, Groover said he’s seen approximately 800 of their football games. That means, he’s seen every great athlete and all the memorable games that have taken place.

And even though his recollection of the details can wane, from time to time, he can still recall things with fairly remarkable precision.

And he’s seen even more baseball games.

To this day, the US veteran has his chair behind home plate for games — rain or shine, hot or cold — in the spring at Ivey-Watson Field.

“There’s nobody in this part of the country more aligned with a high school than George Groover is with Gainesville,” said Don Brewer, who coached the Red Elephants’ baseball program for seven years in the 1980s.

His high school involvement with the Red Elephants, in baseball, is just the beginning, Brewer said.

Every summer for more than 20 years, Brewer also coached the local American Legion baseball squad.

And for all “50-60 games a year,” Groover was right there for all of them, Brewer said.

Once Vickery took over the Red Elephants’ program, in 1989, Groover was a permanent fixture with the baseball program, attending all 599 games during the coach’s legendary career.

And with such a deep tradition, the stories of Groover’s involvement with Gainesville athletics are equally as legendary.

The best is the 1984 state championship boys basketball game that the Red Elephants were playing down at Georgia Tech.

Gainesville’s superfan set the record straight on what really happened that day in Atlanta.

For years, the story was that Groover drove down to Atlanta, parked on the side of Interstate 85 and ran up the North Avenue exit ramp to get on the team bus.

That is not the case, Groover said.

He said he just missed the departure of the team bus from Gainesville’s campus, so Groover followed it down to Atlanta.

Once they got to downtown Atlanta, Groover parked his car at the spot available beside I-85, then went on foot to get on the bus before it made it past the ramp.

Either way, it was a special day for the Red Elephants, who won the state title.

Carpenter recalled a picture with him hugging Groover appeared on the front of the next edition of The Times.

The two still share a bond, which remained strong through Carpenter’s playing career at the University of Georgia and many seasons pitching in the big leagues.

“George is one of my best friends,” said Carpenter, who also had three children that played sports for the Red Elephants.

He’s seen six state championships in baseball (the first as a student manager back in 1949), numerous Gainesville basketball championships and the 2012 state title football victory for the Red Elephants.

Not only is Groover a fan, but for years he’s put his skills to use on the sidelines.

For many years, he would set up the telephone lines for coaches to communicate to the press box during football games, back before technology made it obsolete.

He’s carried clipboards, picked up jerseys and run countless concession stands.

For many years, the tradition was for Groover to ride in the front seat of the first bus for travel to football games, former coaches Bruce Miller and Heath Webb both said.

Even now, with active construction going on around its campus, Groover was a fixture at spring football practice last month.

He’s sat through storms to watch the Red Elephants play during inclement weather many times over the years.

Groover’s even sustained serious injury, like the time he was working as a scorekeeper in the dugout for Vickery and was hit with a line drive.

He was sent to the hospital, requiring 73 stitches for being hit in the right eye. As soon as he got cleared by doctors, Groover was right back on the ball field in the following days.

Groover is an example of being an ambassador for what he feels is valuable in life.

“It’s important to love something in life,” Carpenter said. “And he loves Gainesville High.”

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Baseball , AP Online Football, AP Online Basketball, AP Online - Georgia News
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