Tex Ritter warbled – I dreamed I was there in Hillbilly Heaven. Oh what a beautiful sight. These weren’t the late greats of country music in the auditorium of Goldsboro High School. This was a cornucopia of North Carolina sports heroes from the mid 20th century.
Attend enough sports award banquets and you learn they can be as dull as a plastic spork. Ones including Danica Patrick in a spandex mini are the exception and far too rare. This one did not have Danica but it was vintage.
….. Guthridge, Bubas, Corchiani, McCauley, Mullins, Robinson, Narron, Vacendak, Carr, Waters, Crumpler, Mattocks, Adams, Long, Bryant, Trevathan, Holland, Murdock, DeBerry, Marin and dozens and dozens more. Never underestimate the combination of Wilbur’s Barbecue
…. and one irascible Old Leaguer named George Whitfield.
Have you stood at home plate with a fungo bat purposely hitting major league pop-ups to a catcher? George can do it in his sleep …. and probably does. I’ve known George almost half a century. He and I agree that mankind’s single greatest invention may have indeed been the fungo bat …. and bemoan the demise of sanitary hose in baseball uniforms.
There may be more than one way to execute a suicide squeeze, but there was only one way to properly wear sanitary hose and stirrup socks. George knew it. I knew it. It’s now a lost art along with the two-handed set shot and boning a bat.
The several 100 in that small town auditorium Friday night had a simple link – we all understood the sheer joy of taking infield on a sandlot or shooting baskets all by yourself in the school gym at 2 AM.
You see, we were the kids who were trusted with our own key to the gym …. and the coaches, like George Whitfield, who somehow knew which kids could be trusted with their own key to the gym.
In our ensuing adulthood no key to the most expansive high-rise corner office would ever be as special as your own key to the gym at age 16.
The winningest high school baseball coach in our state’s history, George Whitfield has put on a high school baseball clinic at Goldsboro High School for the past 38 years. Kids, their dads, and high school coaches from near and far come to receive invaluable instruction from veteran coaches from college and the pros. The recently late, and quite great, Clyde King was George’s Jiminy Cricket in the endeavor. 38 years of baseball, barbecue, coaches and kids.
George has always believed that sports, especially boys playing baseball, is the glue that might keep America from totally cannibalize itself and joining Rome, Carthage and the Assyrians among the fallen empires of human civilization. George is also heavily into The King Jimmy and all the character stuff that entails.
George is deliciously eccentric in the way that a lot of the guys and gals in my rolo-dex are. It’s why most of’em are in my rolo-dex in the first place.
George created George’s Hall of Fame (that’s what everyone calls it). Each year he, and he alone, selects a bunch of people to induct. No committee, no text voting, no Paula Abdul …. just George, a piece of paper and a pencil, and his rotary phone. George Whitfield is old school.
He picks whoever comes to his mind from among the ranks of North Carolina sports personalities from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. He has no partisan allegiances. If you bounced a ball, carried a ball or hit a ball with some distinction you might get a letter from George telling you to come to Goldsboro in late January and get a giant plaque.
Their wives will say put that tacky plaque in the basement with the rest of your silly awards because it’s humongous and no one’s ever heard of George’s Hall of Fame any way. ….. for reasons peculiar to each inductee they do indeed come to Goldsboro like pilgrims to Lourdes. Go figure.
The attendees queue up in the school cafeteria for Wilbur’s ‘cue & puppies, moving about the room saying hi to one another, especially the ones they had assumed were dead. They are united as either Old Friends of George or Someone George Thinks Should Get a Plaque. The spectrum of notoriety varies from consensus All-Americans … to a downeast mega-mogul selected all-campus third baseman at UNC in 1933 … to a small town Rotarian who ran a rec league program for fifty years having a positive influence on 1,000s of boys becoming men. George’s definition of sports hero is flexible and his alone.
Did I mention there was a VN Medal of Honor recipient on hand ….. plus the current US Ambassador to Afghanistan who 72 hours earlier over lunch with Ahmed Karsi in Kabul, had mentioned he had received an invite from George. Ahmed was so impressed that he donated one of those funny hats he wears for Goldsboro’s Afghan Museum. Who knew there was one or why? Amb. Gene Eikenberry was student body vice president at Goldsboro High School in 1969. He reminisced about his campaign speech in that very auditorium.
If George had invited Danica Patrick I bet Ahmed mighta come with Gene.
George read his personal introductions for each of the 2011 inductees in G’sHoF. The average introduction took 8 minutes (seemed like 80) going into incredible detail beyond anything Wikepedia could imagine. Did you know that Duke basketballer Jack Marin could whistle at the age of four?
My buddy Charlie was near the front of the inductee list due to it being alphabetized. As Charlie sat back down carrying his big ol’ plaque he nudged me – BobLee, I counted at least 20 plaques. It’s gonna be a very very long night.” – and it was. The seats in the GHS auditorium are narrow and unpadded. 8 minutes X 20 inductees and lots of bladders filled with sweet tea. I’m thinking column fodder out the wazooo.
The whole event was as hokey as putting one’s hand over one’s heart for the Star Spangled Banner – as American as apple pies and Chevrolets – and, as George Whitfield figured out, maybe, just maybe, one way to sustain what’s still darn good about our society.
What You Do Matters.♦♦♦
Puhleeze, if you ever take any of the priceless advice I dole out here take the following: …..
Never Never walk up to someone of any level of reknown and say – I bet you don’t remember me do you? NEVER!
Whether he/she was a sports hero, a beauty queen or Ambassador to Afghanistan, they really really don’t like it when you do that. No good ever comes from it.
NOTE: Blondie says this rule applies with anyone, not just people of reknown.
Unless your target is standing at a urinal or putting serious moves on the lil’ gal carrying around the platter of rumaki, simply approach and introduce yourself ….. Hi, I’m Joe Doakes. I lived one suite down from you in Avery Dorm in 1968. We bumped into each other once in the Laundromat. I have always been a huge fan of yours ….
He will appreciate your appreciation and likely engage in some pleasant banter. The I bet you don’t remember me opening is a major buzz-killer.
I saw that scenario three times Friday night involving three different individuals. Don’t be a jackass fan. Just be nice and friendly. Old jocks who come to such gathering love to relive the old days and appreciate that they have not been forgotten. The terminally constipated ones don’t show up …. unless they are paid to.
Friday night everyone was in Goldsboro on their own nickel …. and Wilbur’s doesn’t serve rumaki.
There was a period in the mid 60s when I had keys to: my high school gym, my home town’s football/baseball stadium … to Kenan Stadium, to Carmichael Auditorium, to Woollen Gym and to a 1964 Plymouth Valiant. Dang, I never had so much power again until I got my own website twelve years ago.