Locals who knew Newt Gingrich before politics - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Locals who knew Newt Gingrich before politics

Baker High School graduate Newt Gingrich keeps rising in the polls.  Thursday, a new report shows Gingrich with a 21% lead over Mitt Romney.  That is the largest gap any Republican presidential candidate has boasted over fellow GOP candidates this year.

We sat down with two people who knew Gingrich before his political career began when he was just another student at Columbus's Baker High School, Class of 1961.

Ishmael Nazario remembers when Gingrich transferred to Baker High School their junior year.

"He was a good guy, and he was an honest person.  He was a person with integrity.  I just remember that he held himself up very high," said Narazio.

He says you could not miss the smart, future presidential candidate with his black-rimmed glasses walking down the hall.  Gingrich was even voted Most Intellectual by his classmates.

Nazario says he did not officially meet Gingrich until a tackling exercise at football practice.

"So, I just wisped right by him.  I hardly even hit him, but when we made contact, he tumbled backwards," said Narazio.

Baker High School has changed since 1961.  The school was destroyed by fire in 2010 and then demolished.  Now, it is just an empty field.

Gingrich sent a video to his fellow Lions last year talking about the memories they made at the school.

"When we came from Germany, it was really a big school compared to anything I'd ever seen before.  As an Army Brat in a southern town, I somehow felt comforted by all my fellow Army brats wandering around those halls," said Gingrich.

Coach James "Bubba" Ball was the head football coach when Gingrich was number 82 on the field.

"I look back at Baker, I think about Coach Ball, and the lessons I learned playing football," said Gingrich.

 Ball says he and the other coaches would laugh at the questions Gingrich would ask during practice.

"He [Coach Davis] used to say it takes so long to run something with Newt that you have to explain everything to him because he wants to know why we do it this way.  And, what's this guy doing next to me," said Ball.

The coach says Gingrich may not have been the best player on the field, but he was a hard-worker in sports and in his studies.

"We had five National Merit Scholars the year Newt was a senior and Newt was one of them.  And, no school in Columbus had five National Merit Scholars at the same time."

His coach and his classmate say they have spoken to Gingrich in years but are proud of his accomplishments.  They are confident in Gingrich's ability to possibly be the President the United States.

"I expect to be his semi-campaign manager," said Ball.

"If he could survive four years at Baker High with the influence that we had from out teachers, and the student body, he can handle this country.  He can handle anything," said Nazario.

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