By Rory Sharrock
Clayton County is a region full history from the Native Americans, who once ruled the area, to the pre and post Civil War landmarks that decorate the community.
High school football also plays an important role in the county's legacy and two of its oldest institutions, Jonesboro and Forest Park, will add another chapter to the history book when both schools meet tonight at Tara Stadium.
Jonesboro holds the title as the oldest football program in the county, having organized a team in the fall of 1946. The following season, high school teams were divided into regions with the Cardinals competing in Class C, Region 3-C.
Forest Park fielded its first football squad in 1950 under head coach Al Jeffrey and played a Region 3-C schedule in 1951.
In 1952, the Panthers moved up to Region 3-B, where they would instantly develop a geographic and league rivalry with the Cardinals.
The Cardinals-Panthers series dates back to Friday, Nov. 14, 1952, when Jonesboro blanked Forest Park 34-0 at Jonesboro High School.
While this series has lost some of its luster in recent years with the explosion of newer schools in the area, which diluted the talent pool, and the lack of playoff appearances, it still holds a special place in the hearts and souls of many long-time residents, whose passion for local high school sports runs as deep as the waters of Lake Jodeco.
"The impact of this game on the county goes back to the 1950s. When I came to Clayton County in the early 1970s and you came to a Jonesboro-Forest Park game, if you didn't get there early enough, you had to sit on the bank to watch the game," said Clayton County athletic director Bob Brannon.
These teams played annually from 1952 to 1996 before taking a two-year break in 1996. They renewed acquaintances again from 1998 through 2001. However, the series was once again left off the schedule in 2002 and didn't resume activity until 2004, where its returned as a staple of the community for the past four seasons.
Each school alternated hosting the game until Oct. 3, 1969, when it was moved to Tara Stadium. The Panthers won 68-6, which resulted in the most lopsided score in the history of this series.
Throughout the history both schools, Jonesboro has lived in the shadow of Forest Park as the Panthers hold the overall lead 37-15, which includes a 13-year undefeated streak by the Panthers from 1960 to 1973.
However, Jonesboro has won three of the last four meetings and Cardinals' head coach Clint Satterfield hopes to keep this trend going and pull closer in the overall series record.
Satterfield, who played at Jonesboro in the 1990s, has led his alma mater to consecutive victories against Forest Park, winning 6-0 in 2006 and 10-7 in 2007.
This season, his squad is 4-2 and tied for second in Region 4-AAAA at 3-1, two games up on Forest Park (2-4, 1-3) in the standings.
Jonesboro appears to be in the midst of a renaissance in 2008 as the Cards' modest four wins are the most they've earned since 2004 under Larry Mortonson, who now is the head coach at Morrow. The team's last playoff berth came in 2002 when they went 7-4 under Tommy Webb.
In the 56-year history of this series, there have been a host of county legends from both sidelines, including Kent Woerner, current Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes and Atlanta Falcons rookie wide receiver Harry Douglas, all of which hailed from Jonesboro.
Former Forest Park greats who've competed in this series features names such as Donald Cook, Dexter Hartsfield and Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Forest Park is 14-7 versus Jonesboro at Tara Stadium. The teams have only played twice at Twelve Oaks Stadium with Jonesboro winning both games.