This is a town divided by the Norfolk Southern Railroad but is on the same page when it comes to its football team whose former players and alumni gathered with the greatest of feeling last week to honor its long-time former football coach, Ray Lamb.
Lamb was recruited in 1967 to this town, which historically was one of the many Georgia communities whose survival was linked to a textile mill. When Commerce lost its mill, it didn’t lose its spirit. It found a way to survive. Much of the embodiment of its attitude could be found in the way it rallied around the Tiger football team.
Lately, S. K. Battery America has invested generously into Commerce with plans to hire 2,000 employees by 2025. That has made this town of 7,387 smile with affection for the economic shot-in-the-arm that is taking place.
The economic health of a community is vital anywhere, but so is its emotional health. To appreciate traditions, long standing social mores and the basic tenets of sportsmanship and fair play will never lose its value at the local high school where Lamb established a winning tradition, after a struggling start, but culminated in winning the Class AA state championship in 1981.
Those were the days. Ray was in his prime and life was good. Everything centered around his family. He was head coach at home, too, but gloried in his familial team—oldest son Bobby was the quarterback and his second son Hal was a wide receiver. Lynn, his daughter, was a cheerleader.
In the stands leading cheers from her vantage point, was his wife Linda, who can cook a vegetable plate that would turn Paula Deen’s head. A mild-mannered woman, normally, Linda would have been compatible with life imprisonment for any official who made a mistake not in favor of Commerce.
Ray spent 35 years coaching before becoming head of high school relations for the University of Georgia football program. By the time that job ran its course, Bobby was coaching at Furman, Hal was entrenched in Calhoun. Hal’s offensive coordinator was Mike Davis who is married to Lynn.
Bobby’s son Taylor was the quarterback at Tennessee Tech. Ray and Linda came close to catching all the action of all the family participants spread across four states every fall weekend.
They would arrive in Calhoun on Thursday to rest up; They took in Hal’s game on Friday. Then they headed to Cookeville, Tennessee, where Taylor, Bobby’s son, played at Tennessee Tech. Later on, the itinerary included Boone, N. C. where Hal’s son, Tre, was enrolled at Appalachian State.
As often as they could manage, they wound up in Greenville, S. C. for Bobby’s game while he was the Furman head coach. When Bobby moved on to Mercer, that made it easier. Now, the Lambs are down to a couple of attendance considerations, both extraordinarily convenient. Bobby is the new head coach at Anderson University in nearby Anderson, S. C. and granddaughter Lindi Rae Davis is the starting catcher for the UGA softball team. Talk about family togetherness. Nobody could top the Lambs.
The most recent gathering in honor of the Lambs was to celebrate a fundraising initiative to create a corpus that will fund a couple of annual scholarships named for Ray for deserving kids from Commerce.
In the beginning, a former player, Brad Brown, who became the trail boss of the effort was hoping that the effort would bring $30,000 to the coffers.
He organized a blue-ribbon committee, which applied uncommon energy and unlimited passion to the effort. Money started accumulating rapidly. Some wrote checks, many bought tables and many underwrote costs of putting on the banquet. That allowed for a favorable bottom line. It was the ultimate pitch-in campaign. By the time the organizing committee gathered to host the banquet they were doing the math and realized that their collective efforts with the eager support of the community that more than $86,000 was in the bank with more on the way.
Many of Ray’s friends in coaching came to honor him including George and Mike Bobo, Sonny Smart, Ray Goff, Clay Hendrix, native son, who is the head coach at Furman, and many Lamb assistants over the years including his successor, Steve Savage.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart was the keynote speaker and gave Lamb the highest of marks for his legacy as a high school coach. All speakers were in agreement that the popular coach was special. His family was all smiles as “Poppa,” the sage of Commerce, was the focal point of a community’s magnanimity.