Waking up a Sleeping Giant – Decatur Baseball Back on Top

(Decatur, Ga) – I have a special admiration for Georgia High Schools that existed before racial integration in the 70s and continue to thrive today both athletically and academically. (I myself came from such a high school, as I graduated from Mary Persons High School in 1983). The Decatur High School Bulldogs baseball team has just earned a trip to the Elite 8 of the Class AAAAA state playoffs. Of the final eight teams, four of them have previously won a state baseball championship; Loganville, Buford, Locust Grove and Decatur. (Three of those schools existed before integration as well, with Locust Grove the newest school of the group.)

Championship Pedigree

The Decatur Bulldogs won the 1948 Class A (Largest Classification) State Championship against the Lanier Poets at Memorial Field in Macon by a score of 10-3 (Lanier is now Central Macon High School). The Bulldogs were led by shortstop and pitcher Jim Umbricht who later starred at the University of Georgia and played five seasons of major league baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Houston Colt 45’s (later to become the Astros). Umbricht died of cancer in 1964 in the prime of his MLB career.

Decatur Alumni Jim Umbricht

Umbricht started the championship game at short but pitched a perfect 4 1/3 innings and also went 4-for-5 at the plate for a memorable performance.  This was just less than three months after the 6-foot-4 Umbricht scored 22 point against Savannah to finish in third place in the 1948 state basketball playoffs. The Decatur baseball coach who guided them to the championship was Charlie Waller.

Box Score for the 1948 State Championship Game

A Breeding Ground for Coaches

Charlie Waller coached both baseball and football at Decatur High School. In addition to his 1948 baseball state championship, he was more renowned as a football coach and would lead the Bulldogs to pigskin state championships in 1949 and 1950 before moving on to the college football ranks with the Auburn Tigers in 1951. His coaching journey took him across the United States, Auburn to the Texas Longhorns to Clemson and then to the professional ranks, where he was the head coach of the 1969 San Diego Chargers. He was also a member of the coaching staff of the 1973 Washington Redskins team that lost in Super Bowl VII.

Former Decatur Head Baseball and Football Coach Charlie Waller (L) as the Head Coach of the San Diego Chargers in 1969.

Other coaches at Decatur include Eddie Fowlkes who was the head coach from 1982 to 2002. Fowlkes brother, David, was drafted in the 5th round of the 1976 baseball draft by the Indians and would later coach the West Georgia Wolves for 19 seasons.

Kelcey White was the coach in 2005 when the Bulldogs finished 16-8 and qualified for the state playoffs for the third year in a row. Coach White has been successful at several coaching stops in his career after Decatur and is currently the head coach of the Westlake Lions baseball team. One of the top players on his 2005 team was Carlos Cardoza who would sign to play in college at Georgia State.

Decatur Head Coach Kelcey White with the 2005 Decatur Bulldogs

After finishing his college career, Cardoza returned to Decatur to become the baseball coach for two seasons. He left after the 2015 season to take a once in a lifetime Major League Baseball opportunity with the Texas Rangers. Coach Cardoza was named manager of the Rangers Dominican Summer League team and he accumulated a record of 141-71 over the past three seasons. This year, he was promoted to the Rangers Arizona League team.

Decatur Alumni and Former Head Coach Carlos Cardoza with the Texas Rangers

One other coach of note, Rusty Bennett who has taken the  Whitewater Wildcats twice to the state championship, was the head coach at Decatur from 2007 to 2012.  

Big Name Players

In addition to Umbricht, Fowlkes and Cardoza, the Bulldogs have constantly developed top-line baseball talent. Dwight Bryant was a perfect 17-for-17 in stolen bases in the 1975 season and played two years of minor league baseball after being drafted by the Cubs. Ernest Brooks hit almost .500 for the 1984 Bulldog team.

In 1951, Larry Morris was named to the North Squad of the All-State baseball team. Morris would go on to star in football at Georgia Tech and in the NFL. He was inducted into the college football Hall-of-Fame in 1992.

Nic Wilson was a four-year letter winner at Decatur from 2007 to 2010 before he went to Georgia State. He was a preseason All-American before his senior season and ended up playing two seasons of professional baseball.  Wilson’s teammate, Trumon Jefferson was drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2011.

More recently, the roster has included the likes of Kendall Ford, a senior at Columbus State, his brother Jarret Ford, a freshman at Florida International, Oliver Livingstone at Birmingham Southern College and Tim Conway at North Georgia.  

The Final Piece

After Coach Cardoza left for the majors, the Bulldogs went with an interim before naming Robby Gilbert their head baseball coach for the 2016 season. Coach Gilbert had a long, rich career as an assistant baseball and football coach at Tucker, which is his alma-mater. He played for Coach David Roman at Tucker and was a high-school teammate of Patrick Pass who later went on the play football for Georgia and win a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. After high school, Coach Gilbert played college baseball at Truett-McConnell

Coach Gilbert has done nothing but win at Decatur. He has won the region championship each of the three seasons he has been there. His current team is led buy Jaylen Paden, Jordan Walker, Cole Turner and Luke Clark. Coach Gilbert has returned the program to where it belongs, one of the best in the State of Georgia. It only seems to be a matter of time before they add more hardware to the trophy case.

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