When a group of coaches met to establish the S.C. Athletics Coaches Association in 1946, the idea for the North-South All-Star football game was hatched as a way to showcase the fledgling organization.
The idea was simple: Gather the best high school players across the state and let them test their skills against one another. The inaugural game kicked off in 1947 at Columbia’s City Stadium, and there’s been an all-star game every year since.
This year, the all-star game and the highly anticipated announcement of the 2013 Mr. Football award have a new title sponsor—South Carolina’s electric cooperatives.
“Football is part of the lifeblood of so many of the communities we serve,” says Mike Couick, president and CEO of The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina. “We appreciate the significance of this game and are proud the cooperatives are playing a part in supporting this year’s event.”
Opportunity is a central theme of the all-star game. The selection committee scours the state to choose the 88 players who will arrive in Myrtle Beach six days before the game, which is on Dec. 14 this year. The practice fields are a popular stop for college recruiters on the hunt for talent, and for the athletes, the game is one final chance to secure a college scholarship. Over the past 20 years, almost half the players in the all-star game have played football at the collegiate level.
“This game represents the entire state,” says Keith Richardson, co-director of the North-South All-Star Game. “That gives some of these young men from the smaller programs a chance to see how they stack up and gives them some recognition they may not have had.”
That was certainly the case for Bob Paulling, CEO of Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative in Lexington and a member of the 1978 South squad.
“No question, being a part of the North-South game was one of the biggest thrills I’ve ever had,” says Paulling, who took his talents to Clemson and played on the Tigers’ 1981 national championship team. “I was just a small-town boy from St. Matthews, and we didn’t get a whole lot of attention. To have an opportunity to shine in a big game meant a lot to me.”
Since 1995, the association also has awarded the prestigious Mr. Football award to the state’s top high school player. This year, the award will be granted during halftime of the all-star game, and if history is any guide, the winner will be one of the most sought-after college recruits in the country.
Two of many highlights during 65 years of North-South rivalry
1971: “The Best There Was.” It was the year of integration for many of the state’s public high schools. In Sumter, that gave Freddie Solomon the opportunity to take the helm of the Sumter Gamecocks. as quarterback, Solomon shined as an electrifying runner and dangerous passer. He was such a phenomenal talent that a sportswriter once wrote Solomon “was faster than anything that didn’t burn fuel.” Named the MVP of the 1971 all‑star game, Solomon had an outstanding professional career, helping the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl in 1982.
1993: “A Clash of the Titans.” Leading the North team that year was Woodruff head coach Willie Varner. A gruff man straight from the old school, Varner captured an unheard of 10 state titles in his time. The South’s head coach was John McKissick of Summerville High School. No slouch, McKissick had six state titles of his own, stamping Summerville as the Lowcountry’s powerhouse program. The 1993 all‑star game was the one time these two coaching legends ever squared off against each other, and on a dreary winter day in Myrtle Beach marked by sleet and snow flurries, Varner’s North team beat the South 31‑8.
“I guess when you’re playing friends, someone you respect like John McKissick, you feel a little apprehensive when you win big like that,” Varner told The State newspaper that day. “Friends are more important than winning.”
At the age of 87, McKissick continues to coach Summerville. He’s in his 62nd year as head coach and has won more than 600 games, a national record.