'Rugged little fullback' recalls glory days
SALISBURY — Boyden High coaches roused their players at Camp Cherokee, S.C., around 6:30 in the morning and expected them at breakfast by 7.
Every day at these preseason football camps, the players pushed through two-hour workouts in the mornings and afternoons, “skull sessions” to go over plays and night-time film study.
There were no girls, limited access to the lake and few distractions.
For 10 days, Head Coach Bill Ludwig had your undivided attention.
You were his.
“You talk about pure hell,” Dick Smith says.
Across the county, state and nation, high school football players are getting into shape, scrimmaging and preparing for a new season. As they deal with 90-degree August temperatures and the relentless barking of coaches, today’s players should realize that someday — when they’re much older — they will look back on these workouts with fondness.
Smith does, and yes, his time in the blazing sun was 60 years ago.
In 1951, Smith was the “rugged little Boyden fullback” returning to play in Ludwig’s single-wing formation. It was an era when sportswriters liked to report that star backs such as Smith were “lugging the leather” and “carrying the mail.”
Best time of his life
Smith knew only that it was the best time of his life. He dated Peggy Russell, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen. He worshiped Coach Ludwig. He played with the greatest guys in the world.
But, man, those long days at Camp Cherokee could take it out of you.
The only breaks were for dinners of steak, country ham or fried chicken, prepared by Louise Butler, a dietician from Wiley Elementary School.
Some players had KP duty, but they didn’t complain because it meant extra helpings around the kitchen.
The coaches also broke up the football monotony with softball games.
The boys slept in bunk beds. Post Sports Editor Jim Foster wrote from camp one year that “Dickie Smith” was the first casualty who reported to nurse Ruth Lentz.
“He knocked himself out in a fall from the top bunk,” Foster said. “Later in the day he starred in the first scrimmage.”
There was no air-conditioning, of course. But kids were used to that back home.
“If it was 100 degrees outside,” Smith says with a shrug, “we’d raise our windows and turn on a little fan.”
In those days, coaches frowned on water breaks during practice.
Smith would go through most preseason drills without anything to drink. The coaches kept a bucket of water on the field for emergencies.
“You were kind of a nerd if you went to it,” Smith says. “Isn’t it funny how that changed completely?”
Weight training also was discouraged. Smith starred in football at both Boyden High and Catawba College. During those eight years of football, he never touched a barbell. Coaches feared players would lose their flexibility and become muscle-bound if they did any weight-training.
Smith laughs again at how things are different today.
Ludwig — “the greatest coach and man I ever knew,” Smith says — had all kinds of rules for players. No swimming — it would make you too tired.
Girls were distractions
No dating on Monday through Thursday nights and Sunday nights. Again, girls were a distraction.
If he were walking down the hall in school with Peggy and saw Ludwig coming, Smith ducked behind a locker or into a doorway — just to keep on the coach’s good side.
“He was a good man,” Smith says. “Everyone respected him. I never heard him say a cussword, but he could eat your lunch.”
Smith knows now that Ludwig was a great motivator and highly organized, assisted by M.L. Barnes, Derwood Honeycutt and Joe Ferebee.
In Salisbury, men used to congregate at Herman Kenerly’s Men Shop downtown to hash over the Friday night football games. Ludwig and his assistants were sometimes in the crowd.
Because of heart problems, Ludwig quit coaching in 1959 but stayed on as Boyden High’s athletic director. He had won two state championships — in 1955 and 1957 — and three Western North Carolina AAA Conference titles. He had only two losing seasons in 26 years at Boyden High (today’s Salisbury High).
“People who know him say this is a man as clean as the Monday morning wash,” Charlotte Observer sportswriter Herman Helms wrote in 1959. “Twenty years a Sunday School teacher. A leader who often took his team as a body to church. A coach who prayed beside his players. A man who gave it too much and wound up with a whipped body.”
Ludwig died of a heart attack a year later.
Smith remembers that after home football games, First Methodist Church offered the hungry players hamburgers and hot dogs. As they entered the fellowship hall, the athletes received hearty cheers and, more often than not, congratulations for a victory.
Ludwig’s Boyden High teams always gave a good showing in a league populated by teams from much bigger cities, such as Charlotte, Greensboro, Asheville, High Point, Gastonia and Winston-Salem.
Smith recently retrieved a scrapbook from his basement filled with clippings from his playing days. “Be careful,” he warns of the musty memories, “if you spend too much time, you’ll end up smelling like it.”
Several Rowan County players recently participated in the East-West All-Star football game in Greensboro. Smith played in that same game, in 1952, when the event was only four years old.
Smith ran 19 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns. His West team, coached by Ludwig, won 19-0. The East coach for that game, billed as “professor vs. pupil,” was Dwight Holshouser, a former player for Ludwig who went on to star at Catawba College.
Jimmy Patterson of Boyden High also played defensive end in the all-star contest. More than his own accomplishments, Smith remembers mainly that his West team won and Patterson “played a great game over there.”
Smith also was named to the Shrine Bowl his senior season, but a badly sprained ankle prevented him from playing for the North Carolina team.
How good was the 5-9, 175-pound Smith? In a game against Spencer, he ran for three touchdowns and passed for two other scores. He was that kind of player. Smith committed to play at East Carolina University but changed his mind and enrolled at Catawba.
He received a full scholarship, which translated to $700 a year, plus an extra $100 he received as a freshman from the Touchdown Club.
Smith chuckles again.
He played all but two games at Catawba over four years and starred on both sides of the ball his last three seasons. He served as co-captain his senior year and made All-North State Conference.
Hall of fame member
Today he’s in the Catawba College Sports Hall of Fame. In 2001-02, he served as co-chairman of a $3 million campaign to renovate Shuford Stadium.
Smith credits Professor Millard Wilson’s connections to the business community in North Carolina for landing him a good-paying job with Southern Bell. He was making good money — $375 a month, right out of school.
“Lord, have mercy,” Smith says, marveling at his good fortune. “That was crazy. I guarantee you Millard Wilson got that job for me.”
Smith worked 32 years for Southern Bell/Bell South and retired as general manager for network operations in North Carolina. In retirement, he moved back to Salisbury and 10 years ago married Peggy, his high school sweetheart.
Smith, 77, finally gave up running eight years ago, but his ankles, knees and hips have held up. He remains in good shape, like a “175-pound steamroller.”
It’s that time of year, in these sweltering dog days, when Smith can’t help but think of summer football camp and all-star games long ago.
“To look at this scrapbook,” Smith wrote in the margins once, “you cannot really know how very, very wonderful these years were. Never before or since has there been a time in my life so great.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org