February 1, 2004 - The Lake City Reporter

By H. Morris Williams

In 1944, G. T. (Doc) Melton gave Columbia High School a great gift: a football season! Here's the story. It was during World War II and all young, able-bodies males, including CHS football coaches, were going to war. This left CHS with no one to coach the football team and there was a real possibility the entire football season would have to be canceled. You can imagine the disappointment the CHS students felt.

But into that gloomy situation stepped local businessman, Doc Melton. Past the age for military service and also a former coach, Doc decided he would not let the season be canceled. So, he went to the School Board and volunteered to coach the team--and without any pay at all. Thus the CHS football season was saved to the great delight of the CHS student body and the entire community.

Coach Melton and the team members immediately bonded and they went on to a winning season. In the process they accomplished something no other CHS team had done before or since. They played and beat Live Oak twice in the same season.

Naturally the players especially appreciated Coach Melton for saving their season. Some of those players' names may be familiar to you. Billy McDuffie, owner of McDuffie's Sporting Goods; Jack Rountree, owner of the Ford Agency; Lynwood Colson, our county's first Director of Juvenile Services; Bill Carter, a pharmacist who moved to Jacksonville and once served as Chairman of the Duval County School Board; Wink Criswell who later coached our Tigers three years himself; Fred Rozelle who served ten years as Executive Director of the Florida High School Activities Association; and Rev. Ed Montgomery who served as long time pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.

It was Ed who later got to thank Coach Melton on behalf of his teammates for saving their season. Here are Ed's words:

"I do not feel inspired to write a poem about Doc Melton. Poetry does not seem to fit him very well for he is a very matter-of-fact, down to earth kind of man. But I would like to express my appreciation to Doc for what he meant to me as a young man growing up in Lake City in the mid-1940's. At the end of my freshman year in high school, the legendary CHS Coach Hobe Hooser had left Lake City. This seemed to many to be the end of the ‘Golden Era' of football for CHS. To make matters worse, World War II was in full swing which meant that our chances of getting any football coach at all were practically nil.

It was in these difficult circumstances that Doc Melton volunteered to coach our CHS football team. He not only coached us to a winning season but he taught us the value of hard work and discipline in achieving a worthwhile goal. He also taught us that if you play the game with enough heart you can make up for lots of shortcomings. Thank you, Doc, for your part in helping us young men grow up, and for teaching us some valuable lessons which have stood us in good stead throughout the years."

Doc Melton went on to an outstanding career himself. The Rotarians honored him with the prestigious "Paul Harris Fellow" award. He became a state senator, served as Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and was once mentioned as a possible candidate for governor. He was largely responsible for bringing Lake City Community College to Lake City and the LCCC library is named after him.

Yet, after receiving so many honors throughout his lifetime, he often said that being the coach of so many fine young men at CHS was a highlight of his life. In turn, CHS will always feel indebted to the late, great G.T. (Doc) Melton for saving their 1944 football season.

Frank Oosterhoudt was also a volunteer coach at CHS that same season and I will tell you more about in a later column. square

H. Morris Williams is a local historian and long-time Columbia County resident.