Thursday, March 10, 2005


This past Sunday was as good a day as one can hope to live. Marilyn and I arrived at Maple Springs United Methodist Church around 8:15 AM. We enjoyed visiting with friends prior to the 8:30 contemporary service. The service was excellent. It included performances by children's choirs, songs by the praise team, a good message from Pastor Randy Waugh and Holy Communion. Holding hands with a loving wife while listening to God's Word and sitting in the company of church family is a special treat. If you have not experienced this lately, I recommend you give it a try.

After the service, Marilyn and I participated in a lively, thought provoking, spirited Sunday School discussion. There was agreement, disagreement, laughter and joy during the discussion. It will be nice to continue the discussion next week.

After Sunday School, I took Marilyn home before going to Burkhead United Methodist Church where I visited with more friends. Three of the best guys in the whole wide world then got in my car and we headed toward Chapel Hill N.C. On the way we stopped at Jimmy's Diner in Kernersville and enjoyed a good breakfast.

At Chapel Hill we parked in the Bowles lot and road the shuttle to Bowles Hall. Here we were enjoyed refreshments while watching the UNC women's basketball team on a big screen TV. We only saw the last 4 or 5 minutes of the game. What we watched was remarkable. The "Phil Ford" of women's basketball, Ivory Latta, and her team-mates put on a show. In the final 3:44 the Heels out-scored Virginia 17 to 2. The final score was 78-72 which put UNC in the finals of the ACC tournament against Duke!

When the game ended, the lights flickered in Bowles Hall and we proceeded to our seats in the "Dean Dome", also know as the Smith Center. The Smith Center is a premier basketball arena named after the greatest college coach of all time. Our $37 lower seat arena tickets were precious. There was not an empty seat in the house. We or anyone of the other 22,121 attendees could have sold our tickets to hundreds of folks waiting outside the center with only a hope of getting inside. It is illegal to sell a ticket for more than $3 over face value in North Carolina but one fellow sitting behind us claimed good seats had sold for $1,000 and up.

The basketball rivalry between Duke and UNC is as great as any other sports rivalry. Each of these teams have gone on multi-year streaks of being among the best in the nation. The "big four" of North Carolina are UNC, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest; all great universities in their own right. It is impossible to describe all the emotions involved in supporting one of these teams.

Growing up as a North Carolina Methodist who's respected maternal Aunt was truly Duke Blue all the way through, meant there was no question where I would go to college. Part of the excitement about attending was to see the basketball games in person. As a child, my family loved to munch popcorn while watching ACC basketball on TV.

By the time I was a teenager in 1963, my interest was especially keen. Duke won the regular season ACC titles in '63, '64', 65' and '66. The problem in those days was that only the ACC tournament winner went on to play in the NCAA post season tournament. Duke won the ACC tournament in '63 and '64 but perhaps their best team of all time was the 1965 team. My parents frowned on wagering but when I offered my brother all the other ACC teams against Duke he was ready to accept. We worked out a wager acceptable to Mom and Dad. The loser would wash all the dishes for the next month. It was NC State that pulled off the upset.

Life's directions turn slowly or suddenly. In 1961, Dean Smith coached his first Tar Heel team to an 8-9 record. In his first five years, his best season was 16-11. During this time he was burned in effigy by "loyal tar heel fans". The Heels had won the national championship in 1957 and fans wanted to win again. How easy it is to criticize a man or women who is doing the best they can do. Many times an outstanding person does an outstanding job and is not allowed to complete the task. Fortunately, the UNC administration had the backbone and foresight to give Smith time to do what he was born-ed to do.

Coach Smith eventually won more division I basketball games than any other coach; a record of 879-254. He set a number of remarkable records including 27 straight years of 20 wins or more. He won 20 games 30 of his final 31 years of coaching. More importantly, he always focused on the important things and he had a positive influence on the lives of millions. Ninety-six percent of his letter men graduated from college and the good these men have done and the teachings they have shared with others is priceless.

I cannot tell you when I decided to attend school at UNC. I remember that Carolina basketball was already on its incredible streak my junior and senior years of high school, 1967 and 1968. I also remember how much my high school friends and I enjoyed college ball.

By 1967, racial segregation was just starting to end. Dean Smith recruited Charlie Scott who became the first black ACC basketball star. A year or two before a black played on that "northern ACC school", Maryland, and another one got a little playing time at that "liberal ACC school", Duke, but Charlie Scott was the one that showed southerners that blacks might play basketball as well as whites. On December 29,1967, UNC fell behind the unbeaten Utah team by 17 points in the second half. This was long before the 8 point comeback over Duke with only 17 seconds to go and many other famous UNC games. The game looked lost. Dick Grubar, Larry Miller and Charlie Scott were among the few who did not believe the game was over. Charlie hit the winning shot with 8 seconds left. I saw it on TV and still have the image of the contested shot in my mind today. I know I pulled hard for UNC to win that night but that does not prove that I was ready to attend UNC. To this day, I almost always pull for any ACC team over any non ACC team.

Writing about Charlie Scott brings up the subject of segregation. I must admit that I was very naive about race relations in 1967. I did not know black people. Our high school student body was composed of 240 white students and Roland Douthit, the only black student. I saw Roland regularly but usually at a distance. I don't ever recall speaking to him directly. A few times, I heard him speak and he was a soft spoken reserved person. I suspect he was a very brave young man. I think he felt out of place at West Forsyth High School and he was surely scared half to death at times. He got along very well with the other students at our school but I felt he risked his life when he attended a high school foot ball game or other after school function.

My best friend in high school was John Kimel. I knew his family had a black maid but I can't remember her name. I do not believe we ever talked directly to one another. The year before Charlie Scott hit the winner at Utah, John took me on an adventure. At 16 years of age, John was sophisticated relative to me. He had an extremely quick mind and a memory of sports scores and statistics like no other. When he suggested we go see Earl "The Pearl" Monroe play basketball at the Winston-Salem Coliseum, I was confused. What was John suggesting? Who is "The Pearl"? Why should we go to see a blacks only basketball game at a second rate college like WSC? I didn't ask any of those questions out-loud. John was my best friend and I was a follower not a leader; if he said let's go, I went.

It was the experience of a life-time! John and I stood out like a couple of couple of corn stalks in a cabbage patch; two white high school kids in a sea of big black people. I didn't wet my pants or visibly shake because I was numb. The coliseum was packed forty-five minutes before the game. Our seats were two thirds of the way up to the high seats if you can say that a 6,800 seat arena has high seats. The seats were in the middle of a long row and we had to step over 8 to 10 pairs of feet to get to our seats.

Continued: see Why is the Sky Carolina Blue?