1970 team still makes impact

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I decided last Thursday what this week’s column was going to be about.

When I was told that there would be a Friday morning press conference at Bertie High School to announce a new football coach, I knew then it would be the topic of my next column.

There has since been a change of plans.

While I still wish to offer congratulations to Tony Hoggard on being named as the head coach of the Falcons (and a well deserved thank you to Willie Roberson for all he has given to my former high school), I have to tell you about an extraordinary group of men I had the opportunity to meet Saturday night.

The 1970 Bertie State Championship team held their 35-year reunion this weekend.

I am preparing a story for our upcoming Crossroads section and went in hopes of getting a few photos and hearing from the players what that state championship meant in their lives.

Little did I know how much more I would get.

Like everywhere else in the country, Bertie County was going through a lot of changes in the late sixties and early seventies.

The Vietnam War was still heavy on the hearts of most citizens and integration of our schools was controversial at best.

In 1970 however, the citizens of Bertie County found themselves united behind a common interest, a very uncommon basketball team.

Made up of both white and black students playing together for the first time, few thought Coach Jerry Smith and his squad had much of a chance at a successful season.

Apparently they didn’t know Coach Smith.

Having met him Saturday, his genuine respect and admiration for his former players made quite an impression on me.

It became clear early in the evening that he cared not only about the players and coaches but about their families and accomplishments.

It also became quickly apparent that the feelings were mutual as I listened to player after player stand up and thank Coach Smith and his former assistant Bing Mitchell for the impact they had on their lives.

Coach Smith and his staff demanded excellence and complete effort from all of his players, both black and white.

His tryouts were tough (each athlete had to run 100 miles to even be considered for the team) and his practices were tougher, yet not a single player could be heard complaining about it Saturday.

Instead they talked about friendship, teamwork, family and respect.

They talked about the lessons they learned from each other that year and how they continued to apply them in their everyday lives.

One of the comments that stuck out to me Saturday night was from a former player, &uot;Most people think hard work builds character but they’re wrong,&uot; he said, &uot;It only reveals it&uot;.

These men had character when they arrived on the campus of Bertie Senior High School.

By the time they left, their friends knew it and after meeting them Saturday, I know it too.

In a time when racial tensions were high, this group of young men found themselves working together towards a universal goal.

Little did they know that they would inspire not only themselves but an entire community.

I feel honored to have met these men and their families.

They accomplished a goal few thought were possible and I am living proof that even 35 years later, they continue to inspire.

I’d like to hear from you. If you agree or disagree with my opinion on something, have an idea for a column topic or just want to let me know someone is reading this every once in awhile please e-mail me. My address is david.friedman@r-cnews.com. See ya next week!