By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
When Bert Simpson makes the eight-hour, 515-mile trek from Winston-Salem, N.C., to Cullman County later this month, he’ll struggle the whole drive to keep a smile off his face.
Not only does the 1956 Hanceville graduate get to return to his stomping grounds to see family, friends and past teammates, but he gets to do so in style.
Simpson will be one of 11 honorees inducted into this year’s Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame class in a ceremony at the Civic Center on April 26.
“When I think back to the number of folks who are already in there from my generation, I feel really honored to be with that group,” Simpson said. “There are lots of talented athletes and coaches in there, for sure.”
The two-sport athlete lettered in football from 1953-55 and also dabbled in a little baseball — both on the Bulldogs’ team and his American Legion squad.
Simpson’s true love, however, came on the gridiron, where he played halfback on both sides of the ball and was a solid fixture on the Purple and Gold’s undefeated ’55 team (9-0-1) that only gave up two touchdowns all season.
“Football was really important to the community back then, and it still is today,” Simpson said. “I hung on to barely make the team, then started as a senior. The game is different now. Back then, you didn’t have faceguards and you didn’t run the offenses you see now. It was just a different world.”
Although Simpson went to a couple of state tournaments as a baseball player, perhaps his fondest memory comes from the very first time he entered a football game for Hanceville.
A self-admitted “benchwarmer,” Simpson was so nervous and excited to take the field he couldn’t get his helmet on and fastened down, thus forcing him to call for backup.
“Stubby Trimble was a senior during my sophomore season,” he said. “He was probably the best all-around athlete I’ve ever known. He had to help me get my helmet fastened. It took so long that we got a 5-yard delay of game penalty.”
Following graduation, Simpson received a football scholarship at Austin Peay University in Tennessee, where he played a role on both sides of the ball his junior and senior years and was a co-captain in 1959.
Simpson then took the road more frequently traveled, as he got married, raised a family and started a business career that saw him make the move to Winston-Salem in 1974, where he’s remained ever since. Before retiring a few years back, he had jobs in the textiles, shoes and home furnishings industries. Simpson now enjoys his volunteer work with Meals on Wheels and AARP, where he helps low-budget people with income tax returns.
His routine is not without sports, though, as the longtime fan attends myriad North Carolina — his children are alumni — football and basketball contests. He also has season tickets for Wake Forest’s football program. The Demon Deacon campus is a short walk to and from his home. He hasn’t forgotten the most important rivalry, either.
“I’m always looking to see what Alabama and Auburn do,” he said. “That’s just in your blood. I keep up with all the local and ACC teams here. I check in on Hanceville, too.”
One thing’s for certain, though. Simpson is chomping at the bit to return to Cullman County in two short weeks. Although he’s been down a few times for some reunions, Simpson knows it’s a somewhat different treat this time around.
Despite the prestige, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I'm excited and looking forward to it,” he said. “A lot of my family members are coming. I’m looking forward to even seeing some of my old adversaries. It's quite a tradition. That's a good thing they are going down there.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.