GAINESVILLE, Ga. (AP) — George Groover holds a special place in the hearts of people who love the athleticism of Gainesville High.
At 85, the longtime supporter of all things Red Elephants has served in every role imaginable to support their sports teams.
And still healthy as he approaches his next birthday in July, Groover would like to be around for years to come.
Simply put: it’s an institution around Gainesville High.
“Nobody has popped more popcorn and cooked more hot dogs than George Groover,” said former Gainesville High athletic director and baseball coach Wayne Vickery.
And Groover’s mind is still sharp.
The Red Elephants athletics enthusiast still remembers the bulk of their most memorable events, dating back to when he was the student coach of his former coach Drane Watson in the late 1940s.
Gainesville’s biggest supporter can still describe the modest initial layout of City Park Stadium, which has stood in the same location for almost 100 years.
An electrician by trade, Groover has always made Red Elephants athletics a central part of his life.
As a result, the Gainesville native has forged close relationships with former athletes, coaches and families who have been part of the school’s rich athletic history.
“George is very loyal and wants to be a part of everything in Gainesville,” said Cris Carpenter, who excelled in three sports for the Red Elephants in the early 1980s and has taught at the school for 23 years.
As Groover recalls the story, he got his start backing Gainesville in a managerial role under Watson, a punishment for cutting during practice.
After proudly serving our country for three years in the Navy in the 1950s, Groover returned to Gainesville to begin his professional career but never missed a Gainesville football game.
When he was in the armed forces, Groover remembers his mother sending him newspaper clippings to find out how the red elephants were doing.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t dampened Groover’s interest in going to every game.
When it was not possible to take the team bus due to coronavirus precautions, Groover always took a ride with one of his friends for all away games.
Since first seeing the Red Elephants play as a child, Groover said he has seen around 800 of their football games. It means he has seen all the great athletes and all the memorable matches that have taken place.
And even though his memory for details may wane, from time to time, he can still remember things with quite remarkable accuracy.
And he saw even more baseball games.
To this day, the American veteran has his chair behind home plate for games — rain or shine, hot or cold — in the spring at Ivey-Watson Field.
“There’s no one in this part of the country more aligned with a high school than George Groover with Gainesville,” said Don Brewer, who coached the Red Elephants baseball program for seven years in the 1980s.
His high school involvement with the baseball Red Elephants is just the beginning, Brewer said.
Every summer for more than 20 years, Brewer also coached the local American Legion baseball team.
And for all “50-60 games a year,” Groover was there for all of them, Brewer said.
Once Vickery took over the Red Elephants program in 1989, Groover was a permanent fixture in the baseball program, attending all 599 games of the legendary coach’s career.
And with such a deep tradition, the stories of Groover’s involvement in Gainesville athletics are equally legendary.
The best is the 1984 state championship men’s basketball game the Red Elephants played at Georgia Tech.
The Gainesville super fan has set the record straight on what really happened that day in Atlanta.
For years, the story was that Groover drove to Atlanta, parked on the side of Interstate 85, and ran on the North Avenue off-ramp to get on the team bus.
It’s not, Groover said.
He said he narrowly missed the team bus departing from the Gainesville campus, so Groover followed him to Atlanta.
Once they arrived in downtown Atlanta, Groover parked his car in the available spot next to I-85, then walked to board the bus before it hit the ramp.
Either way, it was a special day for the Red Elephants, who won the state title.
Carpenter recalled that a photo of him hugging Groover appeared on the cover of the next edition of The Times.
The two still share a bond, which remained strong throughout Carpenter’s playing career at the University of Georgia and many major league seasons.
“George is one of my best friends,” said Carpenter, who also had three children who played sports for the Red Elephants.
He has seen six state baseball championships (the first as a student coach in 1949), numerous Gainesville basketball championships, and winning the 2012 state football title for the Red Elephants.
Not only is Groover a fan, but for years he’s put his skills to good use.
For many years he set up the phone lines for coaches to communicate with the press box during football matches, before technology made it obsolete.
He carried clipboards, picked up jerseys and ran countless concession stands.
For many years, it was tradition for Groover to ride in the front seat of the first bus to go to football games, former coaches Bruce Miller and Heath Webb said.
Even now, with active construction around its campus, Groover was a fixture during spring football practice last month.
He has sat through storms to watch red elephants play in bad weather many times over the years.
Groover even suffered some serious injuries, like the time he was working as a scorer in the Vickery dugout and got hit in a line drive.
He was sent to hospital, requiring 73 stitches for being hit in his right eye. As soon as he was cleared by doctors, Groover was back on the ballpark within days.
Groover is an example of being an ambassador for what he finds valuable in life.
“It’s important to like something in life,” Carpenter said. “And he likes Gainesville High.”