About once a month, a reunion takes place around New Albany. The occasional lunch date with former Bulldog coach, Bill Ward, gives the gentlemen who played football in the 1960’s time to reminisce on the program in the that era, which is parallel to this year, as New Albany completed their first undefeated regular season since 1963-64.
“We began this reunion thing with him a couple of years ago,” former Bulldog Mike Robbins said. “Coach Ward would always bring up how the team’s doing and ask if we've been keeping up and would tell us all that's going on in New Albany.”
Ward took over a W.P. Daniel program in shambles in 1961. Coming off an 0-11 season that ended with 21 total players in uniform, Ward’s turnaround of the program included the school’s first win over powerhouse Starkville in 1961 along with back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1962 and 1963, a total of 20 straight wins.
“I think Coach Ward was a great coach and had a great knack for things, much like this current staff,” Robbins said. “He had the one thing that every great coach has, and that's the ability to make everyone feel important. He made you think if you didn't give your all, it would affect the whole group, down to the managers.”
Wanting the community to be as involved as possible, Ward held open practices and it became well known that if the Bulldogs were on the road, New Albany would shut down that night.
“Parents didn't have much interest, but Coach Ward convinced the guys at the coffee club that if they didn't get out to watch practice, it would have a negative impact,” Robbins said. “We had a lot of following, much like Hoosiers, where the entire town left when we were on the road.”
Former teammate Barry Hamilton echoed Robbins, adding that the closeness with the 1960’s teams, particularly the two undefeated, helped in their success on the field.
“There's a closeness with playing team sports,” he said. “I can't think of any one thing that brought us closer together than Coach Ward and that football team.”
Looking at the similarities between the last undefeated team of 1963 and this year’s squad, both battled adversity, rising from losing seasons and close losses to achieve success.
“I think anyone that wins anything, particularly an undefeated season, you've got to have a lot of things going,” Robbins said. “You've got to have talent, organization, discipline, respect, and you have to have a little luck. It's a will to win. That's what we had, and that's what I think this team has.”
“Seasons like that are hard to come by and it gets tougher as you go along,” Robin Boswick added. “Anyone at any time can beat you, but I sure hope these boys can do it. It would be a significant milestone for this town.”
Boswick, now an optometrist in town, is one of many former Bulldogs who still call New Albany home, and it is these men who are nothing but excited to see the community rally around the current team.
“We’re not like the 1972 Miami Dolphins,” Robbins laughed. “Times like this are a reminder of what we have done, so we're real proud of that and proud of this team, and we're pulling for them. It puts us back on the map. New Albany is the best hometown, and it's been a long time for this community.”
New Albany begins their run in the playoffs Friday night, hosting Tunica Rosa Fort, and the message to the team is simple: stay true to what has gotten them to this point.
“Work hard, believe in your coaches and believe in each other,” Robbins said. “They have it, but it's a reminder to not slip on your responsibilities or respect for yourself, your teammates or your coaches.”
“Here you are, you have 11 wins and you have the chance to win five more,” Hamilton added. “It's the old clique, but it's your second season. Make every play count.”
New Albany will take on Rosa Fort at 7 p.m. Friday night at Kitchens' Field.