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Brookwood-Valdosta game tugs at Bazemore's allegiances

A great high school football game. Tailgating. Family in town. Friday sets up pretty nicely for Curt Bazemore.

He plans to sneak off a little early from his job as director of physical therapy at Southern Orthopaedic Specialists in Suwanee, and then head out to Cannon United Methodist Church, which is hosting a tailgate party for Friday night's Brookwood-Valdosta game.

It should be a blast until game time.

"Then the issue comes, which side to sit on," Bazemore said.

With deep ties in the Gwinnett athletic community, Bazemore always roots for the local team over an out-of-town bunch. But this is no ordinary out-of-town bunch.

It's Valdosta, home of the nation's most storied high school football program. More importantly, it's the one that his late father, Wright Bazemore, built into a power. The Wildcats' stadium bears his father's name. That stadium also holds tons of memories for the younger Bazemore, who played on two state championship teams himself under his dad in 1968 and 1969.

"Friday night's sort of a tricky situation," said Bazemore, who had a 36-1-1 record as a high school player at Valdosta. "I know so many of the Brookwood people and so many of the Brookwood kids out there (on the field). I know the Brookwood coaches, obviously I know the team physician, the trainer. At Valdosta I really don't know the people.

"I know the Valdosta fans but unless it happens to be one of the sons of somebody I played with, I don't know if there's anybody I know on the team. I really don't know the coaching staff yet."

Complicating matters on Friday is Bazemore's out-of-town guest list. It includes his mother Betty Louise, 79, and still a die-hard fan of the school where her husband became a legend, and his sister and brother-in-law, both longtime Valdosta supporters.

Their loyalty was built around Wright Bazemore's historic career at Valdosta. He coached the Wildcats from 1941 to 1971 (except for the World War II years of 1943-45), compiling a 268-51-8 record with 14 state championships and three mythical national titles.

Bazemore and his family, even while living in metro Atlanta, have always supported Valdosta. His own daughter Jennifer, now a Brookwood grad, cried when the Broncos defeated Valdosta 45-24 for the state title in 1996. Then a middle-schooler, she loved the Wildcats and their quarterback, Dusty Bonner, her cousin's longtime boyfriend.

"Jennifer just loved Dusty," Bazemore said. "I remember her crying when Brookwood was just putting a thumping on Valdosta in the second half. I told her, that's Brookwood. That's where we live. But she said, that's grandaddy's team."

After graduating from Brookwood, Jennifer's allegiances to her alma mater have obviously grown. Her brother Brad goes to Greater Atlanta Christian, but he'll be rooting for Brookwood because he goes to church with so many Broncos.

Because of his friends in Gwinnett, Bazemore said he's hopeful for a Brookwood victory. But he still wouldn't be terribly upset if Valdosta won.

"I'm still trying to think through where to sit," he said. "Do I go sit with my family and be the only one cheering for Brookwood? Or do I stand in the end zone and just hope for a good game? I kind of feel like I can't lose. My heart's always going to be Valdosta. I'll always pull for them because of that. But Brookwood's one of my new homes.

"I'll probably split some time on both sides. I feel like if I cheer for Valdosta and Brookwood should lose, it would be hard to live in the Brookwood area and go to church with the Brookwood folks.

"But if I sit on the Brookwood side and cheer for Brookwood and Valdosta loses, mama might not let me come home. And with Christmas coming up, that kind of presents a problem."

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays.