Sports excellence a ‘family tradition’ for the Hearn’s By Jake McMillian

Billy Hearn dons a UGA football helmet with a red stripe and a single-bar facemask.

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon the history of William Waller “Tiny” Hearn while searching for a topic for my weekly sports column. Fascinated by the athlete, I began to delve into his story, and I discovered a man who earned prominence as a multi-sport athlete. Whether participating on the gridiron, the baseball diamond, or, most notably, the basketball court, Tiny was a dominant physical presence, for he towered over his opponents at 6’9”. “The Jacket Giant” was also a pioneer in the early years of professional basketball, competing in two championships in the ABL (the first professional basketball league in the United States). With both my research and my column complete, I assumed my involvement with the Hearn family legacy had ended. However, this would not be so, for I soon learned that athletic prestige within the family did not end upon Tiny’s retirement from athletics in 1938. Rather, the Putnam County baller’s prowess was passed down to his son, Billy, as athletics became a family tradition for the Hearn family. William Waller Hearn, Jr. was born June 22, 1936, to Tiny Hearn and Stella “Nana” Weglicki Hearn. During that time, Tiny was still competing in the American Basketball League for Kingston, New York. Billy grew up in beautiful Eatonton, Georgia, the home of his father. In 1954, he graduated from Putnam County High School with honors. Like his father, Billy was a tremendous, multi-sport athlete, excelling in football, baseball, and basketball. Young Hearn began garnering serious attention for his athletic talents; upon graduation, he received multiple offers to play professional baseball along with extensive recruitments from numerous major college programs. After considering options for his future, he decided to forgo professional baseball and attend college at the other member of the “Rivalry of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate,” the most heated rival of his father’s alma mater: the University of Georgia. In Athens, just as Tiny had done on the Flats, Billy became a star athlete. By the time of his graduation, he would letter in three sports, the last Dawg to accomplish such a feat. Billy Hearn lettered as a baseball player from 1956-1958. Baseball was arguably Billy’s most successful sport as a Bulldog despite suffering a major shoulder injury in the fall of 1956; the young phenom posted a 12-5 record as a pitcher for the Dawgs while maintaining an incredible 3.19 career ERA. One of his greatest performances came in his final season on the diamond. Hearn was the starting pitcher for UGA when the Dawgs battled the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game of the Rollins Round Robin baseball tournament. According to an article from the March 23, 1958 issue of The Daily Tar Heel, UGA and UNC were deadlocked at 2-2 entering the eighth inning of the contest when the Bulldogs tallied five runs and emerged victorious, 7-2. Hearn was recognized as the winning pitcher, surrendering only seven hits for the ballgame while allowing just two runs. Young Hearn also lettered in football for the Bulldogs in both the 1956 and 1957 seasons under legendary head coach Wallace Butts. His most successful season occurred in 1956, in which he experienced some memorable moments in the red and black. Hearn was voted Most Valuable Offensive Back on the football team that season. He started at quarterback and defensive back for the Dawgs, wearing number 10. Though the forward pass had developed tremendously in the landscape of football when compared to the early 20th century, rushing still dwarfed passing as the major source of offensive output for football teams. Nonetheless, Hearn still tallied solid statistics under center. Out of 61 pass attempts for the season, a total which many teams surpass in just one game in modern football, he completed 26 passes for 294 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions. Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his career occurred on September 22, 1956, when the Bulldogs hosted the Florida State Seminoles in a defensive battle of epic proportions. The two teams each finished the game with 55 offensive plays for 214 yards exactly. Deadlocked in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles began to threaten with a drive led by none other than ESPN’s legendary College Gameday analyst, Lee Corso. Corso marched the Seminoles from their own 17 yard line to midfield after a series of pitchouts and an 11-yard scramble. However, on the next play, Corso would be outmatched by fellow quarterback and defensive back William Waller Hearn, Jr. Corso launched a pass toward tight end Ronnie Schomberger when Hearn leapt and intercepted the ball from Schomberger’s hands. Billy began to march the Dawgs downfield, completing a clutch 10-yard pass in the process. However, the drive stalled, and Georgia was forced to attempt a 43-yard field goal, the longest attempt in Sanford Stadium history at that time. Kicker Ken Cooper clinched victory for UGA by nailing the field goal, and the Bulldogs survived by a 3-0 score, improving to a 2-1 record on the season. Billy Hearn will forever be a part of the storied rivalry that Georgia shares with Auburn University as well. The Bulldogs and Tigers were competing at Memorial Stadium in Columbus, in 1956 when a dirty, first quarter hit sent the two sides into a frenzy. Hearn dropped back to pass and was injured by a bone-crushing hit by a tandem of Auburn defenders Jerry Wilson and Tim Baker; he was forced to leave the game with a badly separated shoulder. On the next play, backup quarterback Ken Schulte heaved a pass downfield that was intercepted by Auburn at the 5 yard line. Meanwhile, at the line of scrimmage, an intense fistfight had broken out between Tim Baker and UGA offensive lineman Harold Deen Cook concerning the previous play. The brawl cleared both benches along with coaches, police officers and a few spectators. The fight had become impossible to extinguish until the Auburn band was instructed to spontaneously perform the National Anthem. The players immediately stopped throwing punches and returned to the sidelines out of respect for their country. Oh, how such patriotism and respect is missing from football today. Yet another fight broke out in the third quarter, and the violence of 1956’s contest completely overshadowed a 20-0 victory for Auburn. In the midst of all of the ruckus, Billy Hearn was sidelined with an injury too severe to be calculated at the time. Head coach Wally Butts is quoted as saying, “I hope we have not ended his baseball career.” Unfortunately, his fears would be confirmed, for Billy, a once touted baseball prospect, was never the same after that fateful day at Memorial Stadium. His professional baseball hopes had been diminished. Neverthless, William Waller Hearn, Jr. is a proud son of the city of Eatonton, and he is dearly missed. He continued a legacy that had begun with his father, Tiny, and he provided the good people of Eatonton with countless memories.

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