The bottom floor of the Peerless Grille on West 10th Street in downtown Anniston is packed, and practically everyone there is a member of the Shaddix family.
Joyce and Carter Shaddix, the matriarch and patriarch of the family, brought their family to Wellborn from Clay County in 1976. Their daughters, Debra Grammer, Dawn Phillips and Amanda Haynes, all live on Cheryl Street in Wellborn, where the nine Shaddix grandchildren have grown up.
The Shaddix family tries to hold all its events at Peerless Grille in an effort to support fellow Wellborn Panthers alumna Kristy Farmer, one of the restaurant’s owners.
If they aren’t at Peerless, it’s a safe bet that most of the Shaddix family can be found at Wellborn High, either participating in an athletics event or cheering and supporting those who are.
“If you live in the area of Wellborn school, you are a Wellborn Panther. That’s just the way it is,” Carter said. They are not referred to as Wellbornians or Wellbornites, Carter said.
Because Joyce and Carter are so supportive of Wellborn athletics, almost all Wellborn Panthers fans refer to them as Nanny and Pop.
“We don’t have anything without the school there,” said Carter, from underneath a black baseball cap with white letters that read “WELLBORN.”
If it weren’t for the Shaddix family, Wellborn High would be missing at least four cheerleaders and one varsity football/basketball player.
“Mostly the people that don’t play football are the fan club,” said Amanda’s 14-year-old daughter, Abby, a varsity cheerleader for Wellborn High. If you aren’t an athlete or a cheerleader, “you’re in the band.”
Football is serious business in Alabama, and that notion seems to be intensified in Wellborn. Before every football game, the parents paint the field, cook an extensive Southern meal, eat and have a big party.
The Shaddix family members volunteer about three times per week, serving as president, second vice president and secretary of the Wellborn High Booster Club.
With the meal-cooking, field-painting and volunteering, this could seem extensive for other communities, but it’s just the norm in Wellborn.
“If you were from here, you would understand,” Carter said.
Even though the Panthers went 1-9 in 2007 and 2008, the Shaddix family continued to support the team and encouraged the players until their very own hometown “Nick Saban” returned to restore their wrecked pride.
“It’s kind of like they had forgotten how to win,” Dawn said.
In June 2009, the school hired Jeff Smith, the football coach at 6A Hueytown High School and a former 1987 All-State linebacker for the Panthers. He was named the football coach and athletics director for Wellborn High.
Smith’s very presence seemed to change the spirit of the team, then the school, and eventually the entire town. The size of the football team doubled once he was hired, and he led the Panthers to the first round of state playoffs.
“The strength of our community had been our togetherness, and we’d gotten away from that,” said Smith, who said he grew up wanting to coach the Panthers. “I wanted to give back as much as I can, not just on the football field, but within the community, to the community that gave me so much.”
After the successful season, the school printed T-shirts that read, “The pride is back.”
“And it is,” Dawn said.
“Yes, it is,” Joyce agreed.
Kiri Lanice Walton is a student in the University of Alabama/Anniston Star Masters in Community Journalism Fellows program.