The almost fanatical obsession with the 1956 Georgia flag by certain Confederate history groups now borders on comical.

On Wednesday, a day after a majority of voters affirmed their preference for the current flag, some of the so-called flaggers called for a boycott of Atlanta, which they called a "cesspool" of liberals and political correctness.

"Large segments of the Georgia General Assembly have more regard for the Yankee dollars ... than they do for the wishes of their constituents," said Ray McBerry of the Georgia League of the South.

Yankee dollars? What about dollars from the West, Midwest and elsewhere in the South? All of these tourist and investor dollars were at risk as long as a flag that was deemed racially offensive flew over the capital and other public buildings.

Although the concern over lost business was certainly paramount in the minds of those elected leaders who abandoned the 1956 flag with its Confederate battle cross, it had become symbolically reprehensible as well. Most African-Americans in this state and throughout the country found it offensive.

The flaggers wanted voters Tuesday to reject the current flag adopted last year that closely resembles the stars and bars, the first national flag of the Confederacy. They wanted the 2001 flag adopted under Gov. Roy Barnes to win so they could press for a vote on the 1956 flag. It didn't happen, and now they are making some wild claims. Most politicians, taking an inclusive view of their constituents, are unlikely to listen.

It's unfortunate that the Confederate battle emblem, which had been carried by many of the South's brave soldiers, had been turned into a hate symbol. But the late Rep. Denmark Groover from the Macon area was a member of the all-white General Assembly in 1956, and he said it was changed in response to federal officials forcing integration and the end of legal segregation.

The time has come for us to let go of such a symbol, and bring Georgia into the 21st century.

VALDOSTA -- For the first time in Valdosta State head football coach Chris Hatcher's four-year tenure, he had no gold to hand out.

In Hatcher's first three years, the Blazers won Gulf South Conference championships and Hatcher handed out gold championship rings during Valdosta State's annual spring football banquet. Wednesday night at the 2004 football banquet, there were no rings, but maybe more importantly, Hatcher said goodbye to his first recruiting class, the one he brought in back in 2000.

"It's kind of weird tonight at the banquet because this is the first time we haven't given out (Gulf South Conference) championship rings," Hatcher said. "But nevertheless we had a great season."

The Blazers were unseated as conference champions by North Alabama in 2003, but finished 10-2 overall and made their fourth straight playoff appearance under Hatcher. Valdosta State's senior class completed a 46-6 run in four years, played for a national championship in 2002, won three conference championship rings and finished ranked in the top 10 four consecutive years.

"I told them tonight they will leave as the most successful class in Valdosta State history," Hatcher said. "Ever since they've arrived, they've been winners and I promise you they'll be missed."

Wednesday night at the banquet, the Blazers' coaching staff didn't give out any most valuable player awards, a policy Hatcher created upon his arrival in 2000.

"We don't give any most valuable player awards because we stress the team play so much," Hatcher said. "That's the concept I've been dealing with since I became the coach here."

Valdosta State football did give out one award Wednesday, the Jerome Jackson Memorial Blazer Award, an honor to Jackson, who scored the first touchdown in Valdosta State history. The award was established by alumni to pay tribute to Jackson, who died in 1999.

"(The award) goes to not the most valuable player but the guy that epitomizes what a college football player should be," Hatcher said.

If Hatcher was looking for a player that goes along with his concept of teamwork, he found him -- senior fullback Lee Tarpley, the 2004 winner of the Jerome Jackson award.

"Guys like Lee Tarpley, who do all the intangibles, those are the guys that you've got to have in order to have a championship team," Hatcher said. "It's not a glory position (fullback), but he fills that role just fine."

Said Tarpley during the 2003 season, "On offense, I'll catch a pass or get a run here and there for one or two yards and a first down, but most of the time I'm blocking for those guys that can really tote the rock. I love opening holes for those guys and seeing them score."

While Valdosta State officially put an end to the 2003 season Wednesday, the Blazers open up the 2004 football year Friday with the first day of spring practice at 3:10 p.m. on Reames Field.

The Blazers will practice 15 times in March with team scrimmages scheduled for March 13, 20 and 27. Valdosta State finishes spring practice on March 30 with the Red and Black Game at 7 p.m. inside Lowndes High's Martin Stadium.

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