When Bon Jovi sang, “Who says you can't go home? There's only one place they call me one of their own,” he could have easily been referring to Union native Whitt Welch last Thursday night.
Welch, a senior football player at Leake Academy, found himself at Union’s midfield serving as captain for his team from Madden as the Union Yellowjackets faced off for the second time in as many seasons against the Rebels. And, while last year’s game was noted as a public versus private school match up and the first meeting of the two schools in any sport, this year’s game was different for Welch because it was played at Union.
Bon Jovi concludes the chorus with, “Just a hometown boy born rolling stone/Who says you can’t go home?” Making the 20 minute commute from Union to Madden every school day, Welch might seem like a rolling stone, but he confidently claims both Madden and Union as home. Welch has grown up in Union where his father, Bo, owns a business and his grandfather Wayne is a former mayor. Welch plays football and basketball at Leake now, but as a kid he spent his time with teammates on Union’s little league fields.
“It feels like it’s almost at home because I knew everybody on the field, like every play I get up, and they would start trash talking me.” Welch said. “It was just like we would walk off and end up laughing because I played t-ball with half the guys out there.”
At the end of the game, as Union celebrated a 13-6 win over the Rebels and tied the series 1-1, both teams met again at midfield to shake hands and walk away as is traditional. But, again, it was a little different for Welch going down the line and shaking hands with people he sees around town every day. Union’s Carlos Hickmon grabbed Welch in a bear hug and lifted Welch off the ground.
“He’s one of my buddies. We’ve known each other for a long time,” he said. “We’ve been real close, and we’ve always had the same love for the game. He’s always worked hard. He didn’t get that much playing time last year, but when he did he would hurt you. He’s a big dog on the field. I really respect him a lot.”
Welch also made a special note of Union’s Tristan Wallace.
Even if he runs over me or I run over him, we both get up and start laughing,” Welch said. “That’s just football and true friendship.” Welch said he and Wallace alternated playing pitcher and catcher for each other on various Little League Union teams from the time they were five years old.
“It didn’t matter who was pitcher or catcher,” Welch said. “We were just always close. We still are. That’s what sports are about - friendship.”
Amy Hedrick Robertson is a staff writer for the Newton County Appeal.