Bulldog football is on the way back

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Maybe the Bo-Hun-Kus won’t make a comeback but Bulldogs football sure is.

Barton College, nearly 70 years after it retired the sport for the second time, has another football coach in place with Tuesday’s announcement of the hiring of Chip Hester. The Bulldogs won’t start playing again until 2020 but having a coach on staff is the first tangible step towards reviving football on campus.

For those who might not know, Barton, which was Atlantic Christian College from its inception in 1902 until 1990, first fielded a football team in 1920. The Little Christians, as they were known, played until 1927 until the Bulldogs nickname was born because then head coach Mark Anthony, the fourth in school history, was a former University of Georgia standout. The initial run of Bulldogs football ended in 1930 when, said former Barton professor Jerry MacLean in his seminal 2002 book on the institution, “Barton College: Our Century, the board of trustees voted to halt the sport for two years, likely due to the economic conditions of the day.

Two years turned into 16 as Atlantic Christian didn’t field a football team again until the fall of 1946. The first revival was largely due to the efforts of then athletic director M.J. Bird, reported Rick Stewart in the July 12, 1972, edition of The Wilson Daily Times. However, the second round of Bulldogs football lasted just five seasons when it was shelved again.

Now it’s back and the plans to build a stadium with a turf field on campus, along with a new strength and conditioning center suggest the third version of Bulldogs football will last longer than either of the first two. The scene that Hester described during his introductory speech — players having their pregame chapel visit and meal on a crisp October morning, fans prepping by going to a women’s volleyball match in Wilson Gymnasium, the excitement building throughout the morning as fans congregate on campus — is closer than could be imagined in the searing June heat, but it’s going to happen.

Like the men before him in Barton’s history — Howard S. Hilley, the college president from 1920-1949, and Bird — current Barton President Douglas Searcy has a determination to make football not only succeed in a way that it hasn’t before at the college but also to help drive the overall success of the institution.

“Quality is important to us so this entire process will be built on the concept of doing it right and making sure that we have quality at the highest levels, from facilities to our approach to student recruitment and support to how we bring on an entire new group of people to the campus and help them to fit within this community and to feel that great,” Searcy said in a May interview with the Times. “I don’t consider that a challenge, I consider that a wonderful, exciting opportunity because this institution is an open and accepting place. It’s going to bring in this new group of students in a way that will increase the energy, increase the vitality and help us think about what is the most important part of our community, which is our academic proposition.”

Barton has a long and proud athletic history that goes back to the early 1900s, just after it opened its doors. An original member of Conference Carolinas, the college has one of the oldest intercollegiate athletic programs in the state. Even Chip Hester may not know that he will be following in the footsteps of Peahead Walker, whose first football head coaching job was at Atlantic Christian, a full decade before beginning his legendary career at Wake Forest University. For the record, Peahead’s Little Christians posted the best record in program history at 6-1-1 in the fall of 1926, his only season as football coach.

And then there’s the Bo-Hun-Kus, the wooden bucket trophy that went to the winner of contests in the sports of basketball, baseball, tennis and boxing (yes, boxing) between Atlantic Christian and its upstart rival, East Carolina Teachers College in Greenville. When football was reinstated at Atlantic Christian, the wooden bucket — painted blue and white on one side and purple and gold on the other — was at stake in the rivalry.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask now that ECTC has become East Carolina University, a Football Bowl Subdivision program, and Barton is a fledgling program for the third time, but what a rivalry game that would be. Just think of the sponsorship opportunities with a Parker’s Barbecue in each city — The Cornstick Bowl!

In any event, Bulldogs football is coming back and it won’t be long before it’s here.