by BONNIE BARTEL LATINO
WILLIAM BLACKBURN or Willie, as he was known when he played catcher for the ’61 All Stars, described going to the World Series as “ . . . a grand adventure,” despite suffering that summer from a bad reaction to penicillin.
“I only weighed 100 pounds,” he said via email, “LOL, I looked pitiful.”
Willie’s self-proclaimed negative image was short lived. His junior year, the Escambia County High School student body elected him Campus Cutie. His senior year he was elected Most Popular and one of seven Most Handsome Students. Alabama football coach Paul Bryant was the celebrity judge invited to select the Most Handsome from photos the Atmorala staff provided. “The Bear” chose William Blackburn. To cap off his senior year, his teammates elected him Co-captain of the Blue Devil football team.
Willie weren’t pitiful no mo’.
He was also on the EsCoHi staff and played three years of baseball and football, graduating in 1965. He spent most of his freshman year of college at William L. Yancey State Junior College in Bay Minette (as the school was then known). But it was his winning TD catch playing at an ECHS “Old Timers” football game that resulted in an offer for a four-year football scholarship to Arkansas A&M. Willie started all four years for A&M.
#FunFact: ECHS graduate and football player Elijah Ward was already headed to A&M on a football scholarship. ‘Lige and Willie roomed together and were teammates several years. They played in a bowl game and helped their team win a conference championship.
After graduating with a double major in physical education and speech, Willie worked as a swimming coach, in advertising, and motion pictures before discovering that his true calling was “Preaching.” For 35 years William Blackburn has led the way in Harvest Evangelism, Revival, and True Salvation. He has preached over 1,000 revivals in 26 states. Gaius, his college sweetheart and wife of 47 years, has partnered in his active ministry. Now semi-retired in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Blackburns have a daughter, four grands, and two great-grands.
RODNEY BLACKBURN played outfield and pitched for the ’61 All Stars. Like most of his teammates, his lasting impression of their day trip to Washington D.C. is of “ … racing up the (896) steps to the top of the Washington Monument.” Today’s visitors use an elevator to the observation deck.
#FunFact: As I interviewed the former All Stars, I quickly learned the impressions of youth are as unique as each of us. Rodney vividly described how the bus that took them to Williamsport, Penn., “ … Even had a soda fountain set up in back!” Alas, not one other All Star has any memory of a soda fountain.
Rodney’s family moved away when he was a sophomore at ECHS. He played baseball for Autauga County High in Prattville Ala., graduating in 1965. He also was on a local team that played squadron teams from Maxwell Air Force Base. Rodney also coached Dixie Youth baseball in Prattville and later in Daphne, Ala.
After graduating from Troy State University, Rodney worked in the insurance field most of his career. He also served in the Air Force National Guard in Montgomery. Now retired, Rodney lives in Daphne with Helen, his wife of 53 years. They have a son, a daughter, and three
WAYNE GODWIN, or Jerry as he prefers, pitched and played catcher for the All Stars. His favorite World Series memory was, “Just being a part of the Atmore All Star team that made it there.” He also played a year of baseball and football at ECHS before graduating in 1965. In 1966 he married Sandra Drew, his high school sweetheart.
After also joining the Air Force in January of that year, he went through basic training at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas. He then went to Chanute AFB in Illinois for further training. He spent most of his service as an Environmental Systems Technician, working on C-130 Hercules aircraft. By mid-June of 1966, Jerry was stationed, for the next three years, at Dyess AFB in Abilene, Texas. However, he said he “pretty much stayed TDY.” That included a four-month TDY to Cam Rahn Bay during the height of the Vietnam War, December 1968 until April of 1969.
While at Dyess, Jerry discovered his former All Star teammate Larry Troutman was stationed there, too. They went together to the World’s Fair in San Antonio in 1968.
After serving honorably, Jerry Godwin was released from the military.
He began civilian life in classes at Faulkner State in Bay Minette, as Yancey State Junior College was called
by that time.
Jerry spent most of his career in loss prevention with The Travelers Companies. He retired in 2015 after 35 years.
#FunFact: Before Jerry retired he purchased Cordova Cigars. Located at 6050 N. 9th Avenue in Pensacola, the business is known as the city’s “Source for Premium cigars.” Next time you’re over that way, stop by, enjoy a cigar with Jerry, and thank him for his service.
Jerry and Sandra, who have been married 55 years, live at Wolf’s Bay in Baldwin County. They are parents of two adult children and five grands.
Atmore native Bonnie Bartel Latino is a former columnist for Stars and Stripes in Europe, and an award-winning novelist and journalist.