The Valdosta Daily Times
One step inside the office of Wes James and one thing becomes apparent, the man loves sports.
A gaze around the room reveals memorabilia that any sports fanatic would die for, including a Bobby Bowden-signed football, a photo with Michael Jordan — accompanied by some signed sneakers — as well as the autograph of MJ’s legendary college coach, Roy Williams.
However, James’ prized possession is easily his set of championship rings earned through many years in the commentator booth.
James has been known as “The Voice of the Vikings” for the last 12 years, since joining Lowndes as the play-by-play man at the same time Randy McPherson became the Vikings’ head coach — 2002.
Twelve years in the booth has given James a unique view of one of the biggest rivalries in the nation – the annual Winnersville Classic.
Even though James has witnessed more than 1,000 live games in his career, not including his years spent as a high school referee, four editions of the Winnersville Classic stand out in James’ memory.
“In 2004, we had a team that was fairly young, but we knew we had the chance to be fairly good,” James said, as he leaned back in his chair to reminisce. “We had racked up some scores against lesser opponents, then we beat Colquitt 31-0. Then it was time for the Winnersville Classic. It was Randy’s first win (in the series) 28-7.
“That first one always stands out, that was the '04 season. We also went undefeated that year, winning the first of two consecutive state championships.”
In addition to his time with Lowndes, James has spent 12 seasons running the color commentary with the Valdosta State Blazers, and not only did James call Lowndes’ state championship game, but that same week he also provided the play-by-play for Valdosta State’s national championship.
Then, on Dec. 15, 2007, James’ 52nd birthday, he became the first broadcaster in Georgia to announce a college national championship and a high school state championship in the same day.
As James said, the Vikings rode the momentum of a Winnersville win to a state championship in 2004, and with a talented group of kids including Darriet Perry, Glenn Williams, Doug Belken, Gerald Demps, Greg Reid, and Randy J. Williams, Lowndes did the same the next year.
“’05 was our second win in a row over the ‘Cats,” said James. “We just had a real good game plan when we went in there. I can name you guys all day long that played in that one and mean a lot to me. '05 was a special year.”
The Vikings beat the Wildcats 28-0 that year.
An easy choice for James’ top Winnersville moments came in 2009. Lowndes took a roster loaded with future college prospects and handed Valdosta their worst loss of the series in front of a full house at Martin Stadium.
“Of course, the 57-15 ball game in '09 was just unbelievable,” James said, trying to fight off a big grin. “You had Khary Frankin at quarterback; if you’ve never seen him quarterback, he can hide that football. He does things with a football that were unbelievable. You’d think he’d give it to one man, and then he’d give it to someone else, but he’d still have it.”
Despite the big win, going into the game coming off a 10-7 loss to Northside Warner Robins, everyone in Martin Stadium was surprised by the Vikings domination.
“Troy Braswell, Robert Anderson, Sam Duncan, Tyler Hunter, you had just a great group of kids that could play football. It was just a team effort. No one expected Lowndes to win like they did,” said James.
The best part of the 2009 victory was the fact the game was televised to a national audience on ESPN3, and due to lack of programming, James’ broadcast of the game was picked up and run on Armed Forces Radio.
After 12 years of historical games, James witnessed history in last year’s game, making it his most memorable Winnersville yet.
“If I’m going to talk about my favorite Winnersville, it’d probably be last year,” said James.
To enjoy the full effect, you have to know the full story. In 2011, the Wildcats broke their streak of seven consecutive losses to the Vikings in dramatic fashion.
Trailing 17-7 late in the fourth quarter, Valdosta scored two touchdowns in just a minute and 46 seconds to take the 21-17 advantage and a victory.
James gives his account of the thrilling revenge the Vikings enacted the following season capped by a player that played soccer the year before.
“The score was tied 14-14. Gustavo Gonzalez, who the year before was sitting in the stands watching the football game, walks out onto the field, ice water in his veins,” James said. “Valdosta calls time-out to ice him, and we know that worst-case scenario, we’re going to overtime. But the ball sits down. He makes the kick, and it was beautiful. Lowndes wins and it was the first time in the history of the Winnersville Classic that a game ended on the final play.”
James is looking forward to yet another fantastic edition of the Winnersville Classic this Friday at Martin Stadium.
While it will be hard to top last year’s exciting finish in the minds of many fans, to a man that appreciates sports like James, often times the game that is his favorite is simply the next one.
“Last year’s and the loss the year before it would have to be my most memorable Winnersville Classics. But that might just be due to the fact I’m old and I don’t remember much more,” James laughed.