SAUTEE NACOOCHEE — The biggest mistake the NCAA ever made was doing away with athletic dormitories. Dorms had been turned into a recruiting tool. Some universities had no athletic dorms while others around the country were sparing no expense; really elaborate for the time. One could see how some disparities might be created between the haves and the have-nots.
One of my first memories was the day I met Hugh Nall in the athletic dorm at Tennessee during our recruiting trip as high school seniors in 1976. We had played against each other in high school. Hugh played for R. E. Lee out of Thomaston and I for Jonesboro. Standing there in the UT dorm lobby, killing time, feeding the piranha in the aquarium, we began a friendship that has lasted a lifetime. I have no idea what the flesh-eating fish had to do with the players or the athletic dorm, but it kept us intrigued for a while.
Many players will tell you that the best years in college were not just playing major college football, but also the time spent living in the athletic dorms with their teammates. We lived together, ate every meal together, and practiced and played together. I would think today’s players get few chances to mix anymore with the other sports teams representing the university with everyone having their own practice facilities and dressing rooms now. We truly had some great players in other sports all living together in the dorm during my time at Georgia. Legendary stories permeate the ranks of the lettermen from the University of Georgia in all sports since McWhorter Hall was built. I will leave most of those stories buried in the rubble of McWhorter Hall when it was razed several years ago.
McWhorter was three stories of cinder-block construction. On the north side it faced a huge X-zone parking lot, creating a wide open space between the athletes and the rest of the university. A good idea except it was a very long walk to the bus stop in the winter, with the wind blowing rain sideways some days, causing many a tough hardened athlete to turn around and go back to bed. This I have witnessed with my own eyes. Isn’t that right Rex?
Dominique Wilkins lived with the basketball team on the south side of the dorm as did baseball, track, golf and tennis players. Dominique is a great guy and a greatest player I had the pleasure to watch, a UGA legend. Now during the off season, I do remember watching, and sometimes playing, in the pickup games at an empty Coliseum with likes of Ray Donaldson, Ulysses Norris, Amp Arnold and other scholarship athletes. Games that most people could simply not imagine. These guys were incredible athletes. Ray Donaldson, in my opinion, might have been one of the best athletes ever at UGA. Ray could stand flat footed under the basket and go vertical, slamming the ball at will with either hand. And he was the starting center on the football team not the basketball team.
The “dorm coach,” John Kasay, one of the most beloved coaches, and his family lived in the dorm on the first floor in the two-story south section. Coach Kasay kept the peace in the dorm and would also serve as the alarm clock for some players who had trouble getting out of bed. Now, an important thing to remember is Coach Kasay had a young son that ran around the dorm and everyone called him Brief. Get it, “Brief Kase.” Yes, it was John Kasay, the same little kid who ended up kicking for Georgia, and going on to kick for the Carolina Panthers.
The golfers were a strange bunch, quite different from the other athletes, but an enjoyable group to live among. I ended up moving to the backside of the dorm with the golfers after a blow dryer and baby powder incident I had with my dear friend and ex-roommate Chris Welton. My blow dryer, his baby powder, you get the picture. Chris and I roomed together for two years, and he is another one of those lifelong friends I met at McWhorter.
Chris was well-schooled. I would open the dictionary and read a definition and he could usually provide me the word. Maybe that was due to his mom being an English teacher. My father had been taking me to library since I was old enough to read. There were actually quite a few of us in that class who actually studied and knew where the library was located from time to time.
Don’t get the wrong idea; we played a lot also. But we actually had to make our own entertainment. I know that is difficult for some people to believe but very true. Backgammon, checkers and card games were the dorms merriment of the day. I don’t think Chris and I ever lost at Spades or Hearts either; we may have cheated a little. Some of the guys had cassettes, albums and maybe even a few 8-tracks to play. Next door to us lived Jimmy Womack and Donnie Mac. I loved their taste in music and so did Chris. I don’t think those guys ever missed class. I believe the only video game was Pac-Man, which didn’t come out until 1980, but we had to go to Poss’ on Baxter Street to play. Jeff Hipp, our free safety in 1980, held the Pac-Man record for a long time.
McWhorter was designed with four-room suites that included bathrooms in the middle linking the rooms — two showers, two toilets, and three sinks for eight guys. Yes, we were close; we were very close. Some beds were made daily while others never saw a fitted sheet or a washing machine for that matter.
The number one rule was never your leave door unlocked when gone and sometimes even when you were there. That rule was proven one day when Keith Bouchillon was running in and out of rooms attempting to escape Tim Morrison for some reason. Upon entering my room, he attempts to shut the door quickly, only Morrison is pushing the door back open and then just lets it go and the door slams. Yep, you guessed it! It cut about the tip of Bouche’s left bird finger off, just like a knife. I picked it up and wrapped it in towel. Irony. I never really understood that word clearly until Keith cut his finger off that day. You see, a year earlier Bouche lost the tip of his right bird finger while making a tackle in the South Carolina freshman game. All the guys said it was pretty ugly.
Well, this time, Kasay gets Bouche and takes him to the hospital. He is sitting there under influence of a morphine injection when the doctor says to him, “Keith, I don’t think I can put the tip of your finger back on.” I personally think, in the chaos, they lost the part of the finger I had saved. But Keith just looked at the doctor extending the bird finger of his right hand and says, “Well, doctor, now it will match the other one.” I only wish I had been able to see the doctor’s face.
The dining hall for all male athletes was in the middle of the two sections of the dorm, with the TV room/game room on first floor underneath the cafeteria. I have no idea why they called it a game room because we lost the pool tables the first year I lived there. Someone thought the pool balls were baseballs and pitched one through the picture window. Next day, the pool table was removed.
We had a TV room that had one TV. Now, remember, this was before cable; we only had three or four channels on a good day. There were also no remote controls in those days, so it was the responsibility of freshmen to get up and change the channel when needed. We did have a Coke machine on the second floor my first year before an irritated football player. He picked up the entire machine and tossed it off the second floor. Why? That one is easy; the machine took his money — 25 cents at the time.
Now the NCAA says that athletic dorms are an unfair advantage for some schools that had built the really nice dorms for their athletes. Not sure when the rule was passed, but I don’t think it was given enough consideration. Turning the athletes loose among the student population or visa versa is not necessarily a good idea. Living in McWhorter Hall with the athletes and teams from my time period at Georgia is something I will always cherish and never forget.
While watching the Auburn game from the stands this past Saturday afternoon, I was impressed to see UGA’s tennis and golf teams from 2016 introduced in front of the Georgia crowd at the game. I so enjoyed living with all the sports teams at McWhorter Hall. Though these current UGA athletes have been quite successful, I feel they have missed out on an incredible opportunity to truly get to know each other and share a bond that the dorm life at McWhorter Hall provided us in the 1970s.
Scott Woerner was an All-American defensive back and kick returner for the Bulldogs and played on the 1980 national championship team. He has been tabbed for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in December in New York City. Woerner took the year off from teaching and coaching to enjoy that experience. He will be writing a weekly diary for DawgNation.com in honor of that special occasion.