He's kept track of the Wolfpack

Frank Weedon is 78, and N.C. State is trying to save his treasure trove of sports artifacts

Staff WriterJanuary 10, 2010 

  • 1965 - The Wolfpack wins its third straight ACC football title under coach Earle Edwards.

    1966 - Carter Stadium (now Carter-Finley Stadium) opens in West Raleigh.

    1968 - N.C. State makes its first - and only - appearance in the College World Series.

    1974 - Led by David Thompson, N.C. State ends UCLA's run of seven straight national basketball titles.

    1983 - Jim Valvano's "Cardiac Pack" wins N.C. State's second national title in basketball.

    1998 - Kay Yow reaches the women's Final Four for the only time in her 34 years at N.C. State.

    1999 - N.C. State basketball moves to the state-of-the-art RBC Center.

— Frank Weedon loved it all, every bit of it. Swept along by the current of N.C. State sports for almost 50 years, he grabbed everything that floated past, stashing it wherever he could find space.

Usually, those items ended up in his office, a cinder block cubbyhole barely big enough for a desk that long ago ceased being a workplace and became the closest thing to a museum of athletics the university has.

For years, as N.C. State's sports-information director and assistant athletic director, he collected artifacts documenting that rich, if now dusty, tradition.

Every flat surface in his office is covered with five decades of paper, including newspaper clippings, All-America citations, publicity photos and mail from the 1960s addressed to Everett Case, the N.C. State coach who brought big-time college basketball to the state. Also: the 1956 ACC Championship trophy, Case's Hall of Fame plaque from 1981 and the jerseys quarterbacks Roman Gabriel and Philip Rivers wore in their final games.

Only now is the university moving to preserve those items, but of all the items of significance he has collected over the years, Weedon himself may be the most valuable. The priceless memories stored only in the recesses of Weedon's mind are also at risk of being lost. He knows it as well as anyone.

"I'm thinking about two things at once," Weedon, 78, says apologetically when he stalls in mid-story. "I'm slowing down, getting up in years."

Standing in the upper bowl of Reynolds Coliseum, John Franklin Weedon Jr. can see almost 50 years of N.C. State history as clearly as if it were happening right now.

He can point to where David Thompson tumbled over a teammate and smashed his head on the court during an NCAA Tournament game in 1974. He can reminisce about the old noise meter, operated by a student running a block of wood over a row of light switches. He can describe how, for many winters, he oversaw the conversion of Reynolds into a rink for the Ice Capades. And he can pick out his seat on press row, a vantage point from which he harassed officials for decades.

"How ya doing, Frank?" asks a passing worker, many years Weedon's junior.

"How ya doing there, fella?" Weedon responds, as he has for decades.

Weedon doesn't always have the firmest grasp on names and dates these days, but the day he arrived at N.C. State jumps to attention immediately: "June 1, 1960."

A Washington, D.C., native and a University of Maryland graduate, Weedon worked in Army intelligence and at Lehigh University before taking the job as N.C. State's sports information director. He hasn't left yet, although technically he retired in 1996.

"It's sort of like Frank was born at N.C. State. There wasn't any past," former N.C. State football coach Lou Holtz says. "He didn't play golf. He loved N.C. State, and he loved his mother."

Weedon spent most of his life unmarried, but the Wolfpack became his family, no one more than Francis and Fred Combs, football and baseball players from Hertford who lost their father at a young age and gravitated toward Weedon when they arrived on campus in the late '60s.

They became his "illegitimate children," as Weedon likes to call them, and he would in turn become a grandfather to their children. When Weedon did marry, deep into his 50s, it was to a woman who loved N.C. State as much as he did.

Janice Nixon had been at the university almost as long as Frank, working there for 42 years and volunteering at the University Club, where she kept the books. After being married to his job for decades, Weedon showed the same devotion to Janice when they were married in 1989.

They were inseparable in their Wolfpack red. About the only thing they would do separately was church on Sundays - Janice at First Baptist downtown, Frank at West Raleigh Presbyterian. Then they'd meet at the K&W Cafeteria in Cameron Village for lunch.

On Dec. 30, 2008, Janice finally lost a long battle with breast cancer. One of her confidantes during that fight was N.C. State women's basketball coach Kay Yow, whose own struggle with the disease ended less than a month later, and whom Weedon had helped hire 33 years earlier.

Rarely restrained

Whether haranguing officials, campaigning for one of his players or chewing his way through supply closets - News & Observer columnist Caulton Tudor once described Weedon as "a manic paper chewer" - Weedon was rarely contained and never subdued. He wasted little time putting his enormous energy to use in the service of the Wolfpack, almost single-handedly making Gabriel a first-team All-American in the fall of 1960.

He turned the song "Blow, Gabriel, blow!" into "Throw, Gabriel, throw!" - a tag that stuck with Gabriel through his NFL career - and labeled him the "Noblest Roman of them all," traveling to New York with a satchel of photos and slides to peddle to national sports magazines. Before Weedon's arrival, only two players had been named first-team All-Americans at N.C. State in 42 years. Gabriel was the first of five in the '60s. Fred Combs, in 1967, was the fifth.

Weedon's instincts for attention were unfailing. He insisted that Tommy Burleson, the center on the 1974 national champions, was 7-foot-4, making him the tallest player in the country and therefore newsworthy, instead of his actual height, 7-21/4, which Weedon decided was merely extraordinarily tall.

In those days, men like Weedon were ambassadors, meeting visiting national journalists at the airport or train station to convey them to their hotel, sometimes with a bottle of their favorite libation. Before games were nationally televised, before the Internet, publicists like Weedon were the Internet. They were kingmakers, and the ACC had some of the best.

Weedon's passion wasn't limited to his promotional efforts. For years, he was the scourge of ACC officials, a press-row critic who never held back his disdain for any decision that went against N.C. State - or for North Carolina.

He carried on a running battle for decades with Dean Smith over the definition of an assist, once jumped over the scorer's table at a wrestling meet, pens spilling from his pocket, to slap the mat and declare a pin when the official hesitated, and was once assessed a technical foul during an ACC basketball game, to coach Norm Sloan's horror.

Weedon's battle with the officials continued unabated when Willis Casey promoted him to assistant athletics director in 1971. For years, it was just the two of them, undermanned even then, running a department that fielded competitive teams in 26 sports. Weedon would play the same role under Jim Valvano, becoming a familiar figure to generations of State athletes.

When Casey needed an introduction to a young William & Mary football coach, Weedon arranged the secret meeting between Casey and Holtz at a Virginia gas station. ("Lou could charm you!" Weedon says.) When Casey decided it was time for a woman to coach women's sports, Weedon gathered recommendations and produced a name: Yow. When Weedon decided all of State's football and basketball games should be on the radio, he created the Wolfpack Sports Network - in 1961, his second year at State.

In a conference known for its sense of history, he is living history.

Taking stock, taking care

At N.C. State, Weedon has seen more than just about anyone, tried to save more than anyone else and cared more than anyone else. Even now, those instincts remain strong. Wandering through a closet in Reynolds Coliseum, Weedon comes across Thompson's 1975 Eastman Kodak player-of-the-year award.

"Oh, good gracious," Weedon says. "They ought to put that up somewhere."

Weedon has been saying that for years, every time he stashed away a game program or a newspaper clipping. Only now is anyone really starting to pay attention.

Tim Peeler, a 1987 N.C. State alum, covered the ACC for the (Greensboro) News & Record until he returned to his alma mater in 2004 to oversee the gopack.com Web site. Two developments altered his mission.

First, a fire in an office at Reynolds Coliseum in 2005 caused enough damage to raise concerns over the safety of the athletic-department files stored there. Then, after Weedon had a bad fall in the spring of 2008, Fowler asked Peeler to start cataloging and organizing as much of Weedon's collection as possible while Weedon could help.

"After the fire at Reynolds and given Frank's health, it was apparent we had to do something more with it," Peeler says. "That became my project. We have all this stuff. We can't lose it."

Peeler says it will be a "five-year process, at a minimum" to go through everything Weedon has assembled.

"It all gets moved into my office," Weedon says, then points at Peeler. "There's the ringleader right there."

Last summer, Peeler hit the jackpot. While going through the dust-encrusted files locked in the chain-link "cages" in the basement of Reynolds, he found a cache of films going back to 1946, when Case was the first basketball coach to use film as a tool, and including footage of Thompson and Monte Towe playing for the freshman team in 1972, two years before they would bring N.C. State a national championship.

Peeler's retrieval of the priceless footage shocked the Wolfpack community, which perhaps for the first time realized how much of State's athletic history was at risk of being lost.

"Thank goodness for Tim," Wolfpack Club executive director Bobby Purcell says. "We really needed a person with a strong interest in preserving this stuff, and Tim's really interested in it. ... He's like a young Frank Weedon."

Yet the person most closely connected to the treasure trove in Reynolds was not surprised.

"The way it appeared, it was like a discovery," Fred Combs says. "Frank said, 'I told people where it was. They just wouldn't listen to me.'"

The last man standing

The press box at Doak Field, N.C. State's baseball stadium, is the Frank Weedon Press Box, although that is as much a tribute to Weedon as a Wolfpack Club donor as to his time spent as official scorer and unofficial supervisor of umpiring.

After spending so much time as an athletics-department fundraiser, it turns out Weedon's softest mark was himself.

"He was instrumental in the early days of the capital campaigns, but he's also a significant donor," Purcell says.

"Not only did he work here and bleed red and white, but he's given more money than any other athletic department staffer. And not just to athletics, but other areas of the university, too."

Weedon won the ACC's Marvin "Skeeter" Francis Award in 2008, honoring achievement in the coverage of the conference, but he is not a member of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame despite once serving as president of that body, and N.C. State has no museum. Not yet, anyway.

"Our museum thus far has been his office," Purcell says. "Everything for the last 45 years is in there."

Weedon, who will turn 79 in May, still attends almost all home football and basketball games, sitting a few rows up across from the benches at the RBC Center in his bright red sport coat.

He can no longer drive, so one of the Combs brothers will pick him up and take him home - waiting, in the case of the football win over North Carolina, for Weedon to finish celebrating.

"It's kind of hard," Francis Combs says. "He's always been so ready to go, and wanting to go and never missing a game. He had never missed an out-of-town game. Now he realizes he just can't do it any more. It is hard."

Janice's death a year ago was the latest blow in a difficult couple of years for Weedon. His short-term memory had already started to deteriorate before the fall in 2008.

Stories that once spilled out, tumbling over each other, do not come easily, if at all.

Weedon remembers the night at Maryland in 1967 when Sloan picked up two technical fouls and an angry official ended the game early, but he can only acknowledge that it happened. Whatever Weedon saw that night is trapped, unable to escape.

Yet his eyes are as bright as ever, his smile genuine, his fierce passion for the Wolfpack undiminished. He is a bridge across generations to days of glory past, when he pecked away at his Royal typewriter before, and long after, the computer era began.

That old machine is still in his office, on the floor. No one can find a ribbon for it.

"It doesn't work now," Weedon says, "but it had its day."

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

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