HARTSELLE — Many years ago, after the number topped 250, Glenn Thompson stopped counting the Hartselle High football games he had attended.
“Your mind gets older, and it’s a job just keeping up with those things,” the 60-year-old joked.
Although he stopped counting, he didn’t stop volunteering.
When the defending 5A state champions open their 2012 season tonight at Hillcrest High in Tuscaloosa, it will be Thompson’s 33rd season as part of the team’s sound and film crews.
He has been with the Tigers through the evolution of both, and he has no plans of quitting “unless the coaches decide I’m no longer needed.”
Thompson added: “I do what I do because the coaches have so many other things to worry about.”
Hartselle head coach Bob Godsey, a former college quarterback, said it’s hard to put a price on what Thompson does.
“I’m starting my 10th season here, and I have never had to worry about getting quality films or the headsets,” he said.
Thompson’s ties to the program date back long before he was born — to the beginnings of Hartselle High football in 1917.
His late father, Cline Thompson, played on the first four Hartselle teams. In every decade except for the 1990s, at least one member of his family, including a brother and son, has been on the team.
Thompson’s role as a player came the late 1960s when his 6-foot-4 frame was a towering presence. He played on both sides of the ball and rarely left the field. As a receiver, Thompson caught more than 100 passes over three seasons, including a school record 50 as a junior, and compiled in excess of 1,500 yards of offense.
Morgan County Circuit Clerk John Pat Orr was the starting quarterback when Thompson played.
He has memories of joy and fear.
The fear came when Orr was a sophomore and had to run the offense in practice against Thompson, who played defensive end.
“When he hit you, it hurt, and it didn’t bother him one bit,” Orr recalled.
On offense, the two shared a huddle.
“Glenn was slow as Christmas, and that’s why so many defenders were always around him,” Orr joked. “But if you threw the ball close to him, he would go up with those big hands and catch it.”
Thompson turned down scholarship offers from smaller colleges because he wanted to play football at Alabama.
Gene Stallings, then head coach at Texas A&M, tried to lure Thompson to Aggieland.
“If I was going to play college football, it was going to be for the best,” Thompson said, referring to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and the Crimson Tide.
He walked on and made the freshman team in an era when the NCAA didn’t permit freshmen to play varsity.
Thompson started at defensive end on a freshman team that finished with a 5-0 record, but he was less successful in the classroom.
“I knew from the time I was a junior in high school that I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “I knew this was my one shot, and I couldn’t play football and be the kind of student I wanted to be.”
With Bryant’s support, he left football for academics.
In 1974, Thompson earned a degree in political science with a minor in English and history from the Capstone.
In 1979, he came back to Morgan County and opened a law office, and brother-in-law Bill Evans recruited Thompson to film games.
“He knew how to shoot film, and that was a big plus,” Evans said.
The two men carried two 400-foot rolls of film to a business on Church Street in Decatur after each game to have them processed.
“There was usually a dozen coaches waiting,” Evans said. “We got our film and carried it back to the coaches at about midnight.”
Thompson’s role as a volunteer changed significantly in 1980 when new head coach Don Woods wanted a method to communicate with coaches in the press box.
After consulting with a friend who worked for the telephone company, Thompson said they “rigged” a battery-operated system that was like talking on telephones.
“We strung wire from the press box to the field and used this system for several years,” he said.
For away games, the two arrived at the stadium two hours before kickoff.
“What’s amazing is that no one ever cut our wires, even during away games,” Thompson said.
Hartselle went to wireless headphones in 1985. Since then, that has been Thompson’s primary responsibility, especially before kickoff.
He arrives at the stadium early to make sure batteries are charged and radio frequencies are assigned to the offensive and defensive coordinators.
Godsey has the only headset with a “toga” switch, which allows him to participate in conversations with offensive and defensive coaches.
The head coach said a lot goes on behind the scenes that helps make the program successful.
“Glenn is dependable. He takes care of the equipment, and he’s one of the reasons we have a great tradition at Hartselle,” Godsey said.
Thompson’s volunteer work doesn’t stop when the season ends. He sends the headsets to Porta Phone headquarters in Rhode Island and is responsible for making sure they get back to Hartselle.
“I know some of those technicians by first name,” Thompson said.
In his 32 seasons as a volunteer, Hartselle has appeared in the playoffs 26 times, played for three state championships and won the 5A state title last year against a team with superior talent.
It was the school’s first state football championship. Thompson said the team was the most competitive he’s seen at Hartselle.
Over the years, Thompson has missed three games — one when his son had surgery, another to attend an Alabama game at Georgia and one last year because he was sick.
“If the lights are on, he’s going to try to be there,” Orr said. “He has done so much for the program.”
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