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Price Hall of Famer Bush dies

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
When J.C. Price’s first Hall of Fame class was announced on June 16, 2007, Theodore Lamont “Shaky” Bush was one of the original inductees.
That was a huge honor to be selected as one of the best handful out of hundreds of worthy candidates.
Bush died Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 78.
J.C. Price, Salisbury’s school for black students in the days of segregation, won 80 percent of its games in the 1940s and early 1950s. The Red Devils were directed by S.W. Lancaster, Rowan’s all-time winningest football coach, and were an annual powerhouse in western North Carolina.
Lancaster was a believer in the running game, and Price usually battered foes with power sweeps or tricked them with reverses.
But in Bush’s seasons as a Red Devil — he was very good in 1949 and fantastic in 1950 — Lancaster tweaked his offense to take advantage of his personnel. The Red Devils had a great passer in Wade Jones and terrific receivers in Bush, the right halfback, and end David Elder, so they threw it around quite a bit.
In 1949, Bush hauled in a bomb to beat Laurinburg, and he made a leaping catch in the end zone — jumping right over the defender’s head — to nearly pull out a bitterly fought homecoming struggle with arch-rival Lexington Dunbar.
Bush’s amazing catch gave Price a chance to tie, but the Red Devils lost 13-12 when Jones was stopped short of the goal line on the PAT try.
That 1949 season wasn’t a spectacular one by Price’s standards, but it was a young team. Most of them, including standouts Jones, Bush, Elder and Roy Burney, returned for the 1950 season.
Price’s line in 1950 averaged 175 pounds and the backs checked in at 165 — a bigger team than Lancaster usually was blessed with — and he drilled them for four solid weeks in anticipation of a banner year.
Price had that banner year. Bush, known as “Shaky” because he was elusive, not because he was nervous, was a key to it.
The “Air Devils” were on display right from the start. Jones threw two TD passes in a 32-0 rout of Concord Logan, and Bush rushed for a score.
In a 25-6 victory against Statesville Morningside, Bush raced for two scores, including a long, backbreaking jaunt on one of Price’s patented reverses.
Jones dominated a 13-0 win against Sampson County with his arm and legs, and he threw TD passes to Bush and Elder in a 19-0 triumph against High Point William Penn.
The homecoming game was against Kannapolis Carver, a school that had shocked the Red Devils with a 7-7 tie in 1949, but this time it was no contest. Bush set the tone early, picking off a pass in the opening minute and returning it 60 yards for a touchdown.
A clipping penalty brought that one back, but Bush scored two more TDs that counted in a 47-0 rout.
Price went undefeated (7-0) in the regular season and qualified to play Raleigh Booker T. Washington for the North Carolina High School Athletic Conference state championship.
At its peak, the NCHSAC included more than 100 black schools. Some of them — Durham Hillside, Greensboro Dudley, Winston-Salem Carver, West Charlotte — still make an impact on athletics today.
Others such as Hickory Ridgeview, Asheville Stephens-Lee, Chapel Hill Lincoln, Wilmington Williston — and Price — became part of history when schools were fully integrated in the late 1960s. Price played a huge role in Salisbury’s history, culture and athletics from 1922-1969.
When Price played Raleigh Washington in 1950, it was challenging a much larger school in the 3A division, but it didn’t feel overmatched. Price had won the 3A championship in 1940 with an amazing club that didn’t allow a single point. That team had buried Raleigh Washington 19-0 in the title game.
Raleigh Washington, under legendary coach Pete Williams, had won state championships in 1945 and 1949 and hosted Price in 1950 at Chavis Field.
Raleigh scored on a sustained drive for a 7-0 halftime lead. Then it had another march for a 14-0 lead in the second half.
Bush tried to spark a comeback with what may have been his most spectacular play.
With Price on its 12-yard line, Jones fired a pass that Bush snagged at the Price 40. He was “shaky” after that, darting around and through defenders on a dash that carried him to the Raleigh 4 before he was dragged down. That play covered 84 yards and kindled hope for the Red Devils.
But that exciting play didn’t lead to points. Raleigh was awarded a controversial pick in the end zone right after that, although Price supporters still insist the ball hit the ground and was caught on a bounce.
Price was outweighed 30 pounds per man on the line, but statistically it was a close game. The Red Devils just couldn’t put it in the end zone, and great careers, Bush’s included, were over.
The 1950 team’s run led to two more great seasons by the Red Devils. They went undefeated with two ties in 1951, although Hickory Ridgeview was chosen to represent the West in the 2A state championship game.
In 1952, the Red Devils racked up their fourth undefeated season and second state championship by beating Tarboro Patillo for a 2A title.
Opportunities were limited for black athletes in the early 1950s, especially in the South.
Bush went on to Livingstone, then entered military service and raised his family in Salisbury.
He retired from the V.A. Medical Center and Cone Mill.
The legacy of players like Bush is now part of Salisbury High, the 2AA state champions. The red in the Hornets’ uniforms is a tribute to Lancaster’s Price Red Devils.

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