STATE ROAD — Although coaching styles 50 years ago may have been harsh by today’s standards, the 1967 Elkin High School football team demonstrated the positive impact it can have that goes beyond the state championship it won.
Celebrating the half-century mark of that victory, members of the team and their wives shared stories and renewed relationships at Cedarbrook Country Club Saturday evening.
Although Coach John Charles Sr. was no longer able to be physically present, his memory engulfed the engagement.
Leading those memories was his son, John “Johnny” Charles Jr.
“He was tough on us, but he taught us discipline,” said Charles, relating how the structure he learned through his father lead him be more structured in other aspects of his life including when coaching his own son.
“I’ve tried to teach [discipline] to my son and he teaches it to his kids some,” said Charles, acknowledging the coaching styles have gotten more relaxed through the years.
“Coach Charles could be a tough, hard-nosed Woody Hayes-style coach, but he’s also masterful,” said Will Holthouser, who still volunteers as a coach for East Wilkes High School although he retired after 39 years of coaching.
“He was a masterful psychologist, but he wasn’t a touchy-feely guy. He wasn’t manipulating anybody. He was saying what he thought,” said Holthouser. “There was a system that Coach Charles had that enabled us to win and so in my professional life that gave me a little bit of heads up.
“Part of [being a football coach is being a] master X’s and O’s guy, but part of it is leadership and direction,” said Holthouser. “On behalf of these players I have to say he had that.”
That leadership created a team where egos were not a problem in spite of the talent.
“We had some really, really good players and nobody tried [to rule the game]. Everybody wanted to win. That’s all anybody there cared about,” said Holthouser.
“It was not about the stats. It wasn’t about what mama thinks, what your girlfriend thinks. Every player bought into that. We always had that ambition. It was never said, never spoken, but we always understood it. I think there’s a collective mentality about it that wasn’t discussed.”
It might not have been discussed, but it was acted on as even players who were unable to be active in the championship game still felt part of the day half a century later.
Melvin Wilson had sacrificed himself during practice previous to the game.
“I had two fractured ankles right there in that practice game so the night of the game I was home in bed,” said Wilson. “I listen to it on the radio so it was as if I was there.
“It was just like being there and it felt good when I heard that the team won the first state championship at Elkin High School. You see it took us all the practice to make the first squad prepared to meet the other team,” said Wilson, whose current behavior indicated he had always been treated as though he played in the game.
“It was a family, and to me Coach John Charles Sr. was like our father. I hadn’t been around that many coaches, but Coach John Charles brought out the best in me.
“At that particular time I was kind of small, but being small didn’t stop me, didn’t prevent me. It taught me to be big,” said Wilson, “and the reality of the team made me grow inside.”
The reality of the team these days was summed up by an unknown voice above the crowd, “I must be in the wrong place. I came here for a football reunion, but there’s nothing here but a bunch of old guys.”
A shadow of the players they once were still remained in the bodies that gathered for another team photo, however the lessons learned from that team were prominent as the men shared smiles and stories of hits and happenings in their successful lives.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TBeanieTaylor.