An avenue painted in Pam Pack tradition
Published 3:30 pm Thursday, March 12, 2015
WASHINGTON PARK — Former Washington High School football players speak of the “Long Blue Line” to reflect upon and, in some cases, instill a sense of pride, loyalty and tradition for the blue and white. The phrase, coined by Bartow Houston, a member of the 1956 state championship team, implies an intangible timeline meant to connect each generation through a common philosophy. The words, painted on the field house, serve as a constant reminder to the players of what it means to sport the signature “Pack” on their helmets.
But what if the line was, in fact, tangible and able to be traversed? What if they shared more than simply history, lineage and brotherhood?
Running adjacent on the waterfront, a quick right after the Runyon Creek Bridge to Washington Park, a street that connects four decades of Pam Pack football — the households of five former quarterbacks stretched across a half mile of, appropriately enough, straight, unwavering road.
Isabella Avenue is where Lentz Stowe, Seth Edwards, Franz Holscher, Austin Thompson and Patrick Thompson call home.
“I’ll be out in the yard — me and my brother are always throwing the football around in the street,” said Austin Thompson, brother of Patrick who played his high school ball from 2005-2008. “I’ll see Seth walking his dog and see Lentz throwing the football. It’s funny to see that we were all quarterbacks of the same team and we still walk the same street, throwing the football.”
Patrick and Austin Thompson — the new kids on the block, moving to Isabella Avenue in 2004 — represent the modern day version of the Pam Pack. The fraternal duo were coached by Sport Sawyer and experienced the adrenaline rush associated with winning football. As varsity quarterback during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, the older Thompson navigated the Pam Pack to a 22-15 record, which included a 33-30 upset win over J.H. Rose and a second-round playoff appearance in 2008.
While Austin had his fair share of success, it was his younger brother who took the Pam Pack to the promise land, a place no quarterback since 1956 had gone, a place that leaves the other four just a little bit envious — the state championship.
Washington dropped that title game, 14-13, last December, a loss that certainly burns deep among the coaching staff and players, but Patrick isn’t the first field general to experience the highest of highs before sheer heartbreak.
In 1982, Edwards, a senior, quarterbacked his team to a 9-1 record, forcing a three-way tie with Tarboro and Bertie for the top spot in the conference. Per NCHSAA regulations at the time, only the top-two teams in each conference qualified for the playoffs, so the coaches voted, electing Bertie, a team Washington had beat earlier in the season, as the first recipient of a tournament seed. But Washington and rival Tarboro were deadlocked, receiving an equal amount of votes. Therefore, it was up to the conference president to break that tie. In the end, Tarboro was granted with the final playoff slot.
“I was really excited for the Pam Pack this year and the program itself,” Edwards said. “I went to the playoffs games and went to Winston-Salem for the championship game. One thing it did was bring back a lot of good memories. There is truth to the “Long Blue Line,” but it also made me ask myself more than one time, ‘What if?’ What could have happened if we went to the playoffs in 1982?”
Thoughts like these were hardly uncommon among former players, while the 2014, Patrick Thompson-led version of the Pam Pack made history — the one-point loss being the closest Washington had ever come to football glory.
Holscher, a linebacker turned quarterback who played for the Pam Pack from 1985-’87 and a 15-year Isabella Avenue resident, is arguably the top former talent on street. After a disappointing two-win season in 1986, Bing Mitchell’s last as head coach, Holscher was an integral piece in the team’s turnaround the following year. As a senior, the lengthy QB piloted his team to a 5-5 finish in the new offensive scheme, an open pass-heavy attack, rather than Mitchell’s signature triple-option.
“We made a lot of strides for the program that year that got the program back on its feet. I’m really proud of that and I think Bob Hannah was a tremendous football coach,” Holscher said.
“We had a lot of really great coaches who taught us a lot about the sport and taught us about life, growing up as a young man. A person can learn a tremendous part about being part of a team that can help them as they grow up and go through life.”
Holsher, who was elected to the East-West All-Star Game that season, was the only Isabella Avenue quarterback never to taste winning football, despite having arguably the best statistical resume among the four.
Patrick Thompson made Pam Pack postseason history, Austin Thompson battled against competitive 3-A opponents in the 2000s, Holscher had his standout single-season campaign in the late ‘80s, Edwards contributed to Coach Mitchell’s first winning season in the early ‘80s and Stowe, whose house sits in between Edwards’ and Holschers’, transformed a 2-8 team into an 8-2 squad in 1978.
“I’ve probably thrown the football at least once with every one of them,” Stowe said. “Of course the Thompson boys are young cats, but I’ll throw the ball with them as long as they don’t break one of my fingers.
Stowe, a senior quarterback, piloted the triple-option offense and gave the Pam Pack its first winning season in seven years. He saw the team’s state championship run as paying homage to nearly a century of football teams — from leather helmets to cushioned chinstraps.
“There is a tapestry weaved,” he said. “These families have been around Beaufort County for awhile and they’re sons of my high school teammates. It was special and exciting for the community. Everybody is always proud of the Pam Pack name, but hey, you don’t always get to be apart of championships. Those boys, talking about a memory … they made a special memory.”