High schools

Stevens: Tom McQuaid led Beaufort High on and off the court

tstevens@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2013 

Beaufort High’s boys grew up swimming in Taylor’s Creek from the mainland along Front Street to nearby Carrot Island. They would sneak in a back window at the school gym to shoot basketball, and they spent hours playing baseball.

“We’d leave in the morning and play all day,” said Chuck Lewis, who played on the Sea Dogs’ 1959 state championship football team and on the basketball teams that won a state-record 91 straight games and state titles in 1959, ’60 and ’61.

The boys would play tag and the swim to Carrot Island and on to Shackleford Banks.

“We had swam all day and run in the sand at Shackleford Banks all day since we were 10 years old,” said Alton Hill, another of the players. “If you were ‘it’ you might stay ‘it’ for a week. By the time we started playing basketball, it seemed pretty easy.”

Lewis said the Hassell boys, brothers Butch and Johnny and cousins Charles and Ray, were outstanding athletes, and so were David and Calvin Jones, but the key to the basketball success was coach Tom McQuaid, who years following his death in 1988 still has an impact.

McQuaid, who was among the 100 coaches recognized by the N.C. High School Athletic Association last week as part of its centennial celebration, was known for his discipline.

Lewis said he was a junior before he could speak to McQuaid without trembling.

“We were scared to death of coach McQuaid – I still am – but we also knew he was teaching us how to be men,” Lewis said. “That was more important to him than winning games.”

Charles “Pud” Hassell, who later played with his cousin Ray Hassell and with players such as Billy Cunningham at the University of North Carolina, said McQuaid was a coach well ahead of his time.

“When I went to Carolina to play for Dean Smith, there was nothing that I hadn’t already seen on the basketball court,” Hassell said. “Coach McQuaid had already shown us concepts like the motion offense and spread offense, the scramble defense and all the different zone defenses.

“He taught us to fight over screens. Deny the ball. Jim Fodrie was the assistant coach and not much older than we were, and he’d scrimmage with us. He’d say, ‘I’m playing defense and my man ain’t going to touch the ball all day. How can he score if he doesn’t touch it?’ ”

McQuaid would block the top of the basket so the ball couldn’t go in and the players would work for hours on blocking out.

McQuaid regularly corresponded with Clair Bee, whose college teams won 82.6 percent of their games, and Henry Iba.

“I’m in my 47th year of coaching basketball and everything I hear coaches talk about now, coach McQuaid was doing when I was in high school,” Hill said.

Don’t miss curfew

McQuaid enforced a strict curfew. Players had to be in their homes following home games by 10:30 p.m. Lewis once made it by seconds only to find one of the assistants sitting at his table.

McQuaid was a math teacher and Ed Nelson, who did not play basketball, said the coach had an impact on every student that he came in contact with.

The school had a 10-to-1 penalty for tardiness and Nelson once was almost an hour late, meaning 600 minutes of detention with McQuaid. Nelson was worried about the detention, but McQuaid surprised him by teaching him to play chess.

“He really made a difference in my life,” Nelson said.

Lewis remembers the time that some players had knocked down snowmen after a rare snow at the coastal town.

“He chewed us out,” Nelson said. “He told about the little children with their cold little hands building those snowmen and the pride they had. And we had destroyed what they had made. By the time he finished, we felt terrible.

“We played at Kenansville the next day, and we piled into the station wagon and nobody said a word, not a word, the whole trip. The tension kept getting worse and worse. We knew he was still upset. When we got to the gym, there was a little snowman in the shade. He looked at it and said, ‘You missed one’ and all of the tension was gone.”

“Coach McQuaid finally made a joke,” Hill said.

Discipline first, wins second

McQuaid’s discipline played a big part in the winning streak but also was a factor in the loss that ended the state title run.

Several players went to a Friday night party and missed curfew, Lewis recalled, and he coach found out.

On Monday, the team ran and duck-walked the entire practice. Lewis, who missed the practice because of a college interview, did his running and duck-walking on Tuesday.

He could barely walk on Wednesday when the team left for the state tournament in Winston-Salem.

“I didn’t go to the party, but I didn’t tell Coach McQuaid,” he said. “I had too much respect to make excuses. This was about the team.”

The team had little spring in the game. Lewis, one of the team’s leading scorers, struggled, playing his worst game of the year.

“But there was never any question about what was more important to coach McQuaid, winning a game or teaching us that the things we did in life had consequences,” Lewis said. “His goal was help us become men. He did that.”

tstevens: 919-829-8910

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