For those of you keeping score, get a red pen or pencil and draw a star next to the date Saturday, September 10, 1955. On that muggy night a group of boys from West Fannin High School became the first team in the history of Fannin County to participate in a real, organized, official football game. These local pioneers in their sport did themselves proud that night by fighting the Bradley County Tennessee High School junior varsity team to a 7-7 tie. Quite an accomplishment when you consider that the powerful Bradley Bears had the best team in the entire state of Tennessee, and the boys sent up the river to face West Fannin were only a step away from being members of that elite group.
One of the stalwarts of that 1955 West Fannin team was sophomore fullback Leon Guthrie. Leon scored the first touchdown in West Fannin history on a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter and then added the all-important PAT on another run of similar length. The West Fannin squad, running the single wing attack of Coach Buddy Padgett would win 5 games, lose 2 games and have one tie during that first season. The offensive attack was led by Leon Guthrie at fullback and Charles Woodall at tailback, a formidable one-two punch unleashed on opponents. Leon contributed 35 points to the effort on the strength of 5 touchdowns and 6 points after touchdown. He also threw a touchdown pass to Jim Fry that was a critical contribution to the 13-6 victory over North Whitfield.His performance during the 1955 football season was the first chapter in an athletic body of work that has landed Leon Guthrie membership in the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame.
Leon is the oldest of the four sons of Travis and Lucy Guthrie. Travis was the Fannin County School Superintendent from 1945 until his retirement in 1969. The Guthrie family is one of the prominent families of Fannin County and has a rich tradition of athletic excellence, scholarship and citizenship. Leon has certainly done his part in upholding these traditions.
Leon grew up in the Epworth community and attended school at Epworth through his freshman year in high school. He participated in any athletic activity available, but basketball was the only organized, school-sponsored sport in Fannin County schools until the county-wide consolidation in 1955. Leon was a member of the final basketball team at the old Epworth High School during the 1954-55 school year.
Moving on to the new West Fannin High School as a sophomore in the fall of 1955, Leon found the mother lode of athletics available and became a valuable member of the football, basketball, baseball and track and field teams at the new school. He was a valuable contributor in all four sports during his three years at West Fannin.
The 1957-58 school and sports year was a big one for Leon. Injury-free for the first time since the 1955 season, Leon and his teammates posted a 6-3-1 football record in 1957. It was the best record in the history of West Fannin football, matched on three occasions in subsequent years. At the beginning of the season, the West Fannin players elected Leon Guthrie and his long-time pal Ron Hartness to serve as co-captains of the football team. These two young men would prove to be strong leaders and role models as the season developed.
Early in the 1957 campaign, the Purple Hurricane of Cartersville High visited Fannin County to do battle with the Yellow Jackets. Cartersville had an established program having played organized football since 1909, plus the Purple Hurricane had routed the Yellow Jackets 42-14 in 1956. Leon Guthrie scored a touchdown on a 40-yard run in this game leading his team to a 14-6 upset in the first signature victory in West Fannin history. Defeating Cartersville established West Fannin as a force to be reckoned with in North Georgia football circles. The Jackets closed the season with another upset, this time a 13-8 win over Cherokee County High School from Canton. In this game played at Ducktown due to weather related road problems in Fannin County, Leon led the effort by scoring the winning touchdown.
Leon Guthrie scored 8 touchdowns during the 1957 season. He was named to the Atlanta Constitution Prep Honor Roll for his performance against North Whitfield. He scored two touchdowns on runs of 10 and 12 yards in that game. At the end of the season Leon was named to both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Associated Press Class AA Honorable Mention All-State teams.
During the latter part of the 1957-58 year, Leon accomplished another first in West Fannin sports history. He was a member of the Mile Relay Track team in the spring of 1958, along with his brother Carlton, Bill Franklin and freshman Rene Godfrey. These boys finished second at the Region 3AA track and field meet, entitling them to participate in the State meet. These four boys were the first athletes in the history of West Fannin athletics to compete at the state level.
Leon was selected as the Most Athletic Boy by his classmates in 1958. He also served as Vice-President of the senior class and the Key Club. He was the epitome of the Big Man of Campus in all areas of endeavor.
After graduation from West Fannin, Leon attended the University of Georgia and earned his degree in 1963. He joined the Army Reserves in 1965 and retired in 1997 as a full Colonel. Running has been one of Leon’s passions throughout his adult life. He has run several marathons with his best time of 3:36:46 coming in the 1980 Huntsville, Alabama ‘Joe Steele Rocket City Marathon’.
Leon is retired now and lives in Chattanooga with his wife Jane. They are avid scuba divers having participated in that pastime in many places around the world.
The Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is proud to welcome Leon Guthrie to its ranks that already includes two of his brothers, Carlton and Robert.