THOMASVILLE — Athletically, there wasn’t a sport Jimmy Harper couldn’t master.

The Thomasville High School graduate was part of a basketball team that played for a state title in 1952. He played for a state championship in tennis when he was a freshman. Harper was part of Thomasville’s first baseball team as a senior — a team that played for a state title.

“If you played one sport, you pretty near played them all,” Harper said.

Harper made his name in football, however. The son of Thomasville’s first football coach, J.K. Harper, Harper Jr. played quarterback for the Bulldogs before playing four years at the University of Georgia.

“He wasn’t one of these pushy dads you know,” said Harper. “He never interfered with the coaching part. As far as trying coaching me, no, he never did that. In fact, that’s one reason why I think he didn’t coach after World War II because I was coming along.”

Harper lived in Thomasville before his dad was transferred to Fort Mack in Atlanta. Harper returned to the Rose City in seventh grade. While Harper only played in a couple of games as a freshman, he was a starter his final three years (1949-51).

“I was fortunate to play with a lot of really good football players,” said Harper. “We couldn’t beat Valdosta.”

Following Harper’s career in Thomasville, he moved on to Athens to play with Georgia. A four-year letterman, Harper was selected to the All-SEC freshman team and was an Academic All-American quarterback. He also played baseball in 1954-55.

“He was tremendous,” said longtime Thomasville and Georgia fan Sarah Annie Floyd. “He was a real Bulldog, here and at Georgia. He was fun to watch.”

Harper’s time at Georgia wasn’t all peachy. The Bulldogs endured an eight-game losing streak to arch-rival Georgia Tech in the late 40s and early 50s.

“Coach (Wallace) Butts told me, ‘Harper, you didn’t start the drought, you didn’t end it, you just prolonged it,’” joked the Thomasville native.

Times were also tough for Harper, considering he was forced to play on offense and defense for the Bulldogs. In 1954, Harper said he averaged more than 50 minutes a game.

“That’s a lot when you’re talking about Athens in September,” said Harper, who also played left halfback (or cornerback). “It was hard; it was really tough.”

Though Harper’s playing career soon ended, his affiliation with the Southeastern Conference had just begun. Recently retired, Harper served as an SEC official for 33 years.

“That’s probably one of the greatest hobbies you could ever have,” said Harper, who began officiating games in 1963. “It was an honor to go on the field and referee a game in the Southeastern Conference.”

Harper refereed three national championship games and 43 bowl games. He was also inducted into the National Hall of Fame and Georgia State Hall of Fame.

“Even though they cuss you, holler and scream at you, it was still a great honor,” said Harper, whose last year as an official was in 1996.

Among the most notable bowl games Harper officiated was the 1984 Orange Bowl in which Miami defeated Nebraska 31-30.

In 1992, Harper refereed the Rose Bowl where Washington beat Michigan.

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