Kelvin Bryant looked unstoppable in 1981.
Bryant, a junior tailback at North Carolina, was attracting national attention as much as for the way he ran as for how many yards he gained. Tall, deceptively lithe and graceful, he could elude defenders as easily as he outran them.
He scored six TDs against East Carolina, five in the next game and set a unique NCAA record: the first player to score 15 touchdowns over three consecutive games.
With eight games left on the schedule, the major-college record of 29 touchdowns in a season, set by Lydell Mitchell of Penn State in 1971, looked easily within his reach.
Never miss a local story.
Then, in game four, he was tackled by Georgia Tech defensive back Mike Niebanck near the sideline. He had to be helped off the field. Later, it was reported he would miss the rest of the regular season because of a knee injury.
The words “knee injury” in those days meant the end a sports career.
But that year was the first that many people had ever heard of Dr. Tim Taft.
The following week, after a successful surgery on Bryant’s knee, Taft explained “arthroscopic procedure” to a room full of reporters. It was like explaining electric lights to ancient Romans. It sounded like a miracle.
Taft, North Carolina’s team physician, who had performed the two-and-one-half-hour operation to repair Bryant’s knee, said he doubted that Bryant to play in any of North Carolina’s remaining games. But he didn’t rule it out.
Bryant did play, and went on to a successful professional career, and the nation’s perception of “career-ending” injuries changed dramatically.
In the decades since, Taft has helped innumerable athletes. His service to the state has not been limited to colleges.
Among other things, Taft has been a trusted advisor to the N.C. High School Athletics Association, which last week announced Taft would be inducted into the NCHSAA’s Hall of Fame.
“Dr. Taft was at UNC when I was a student there,” noted Chapel Hill High School coach Sherry Norris. “He has been so instrumental in helping athletes and so supportive of N.C. high school athletics.”
Norris will enter the hall along with Taft. They are two of the eight people who will be inducted into the hall next spring. The class of 2015 includes Gil Bowman of Fayetteville, Mac Cumbo of Hendersonville, Suzanne Grayson of King Mountain, Bill Harrison of Fayetteville, the late David Price of Charlotte, and Jimmy Tillman of Wilson, Norris and Taft — bringing the total number to 171.
It’s remarkable that two people from one community are being inducted in the same class. But its completely justified.
Both Taft and Norris are pioneers in their own way. Taft didn’t invent arthroscopic surgery, and Norris wasn’t the first woman to coach sports, but both became experts in their respective fields as these endeavors came into public prominence.
“There wasn’t a single sports team for girls in the Waccamaw Conference when I was in high school,” recalled Norris, who attended Bladenboro High School before matriculating at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Relegated to cheerleading in high school, Norris was eager to get into athletics when she attended UNC. Coaching provided her with a permanent career.
With precious little athletics for women, Norris had to be self-taught as a coach.
Now she’s is the NCHSAA’s all-time leader in career volleyball wins (739-257, state championships in 1994 and 2003) and has a won-loss record in basketball of 545-376, with state titles in 1981 and 2014.
Like Taft, she has the respect of her peers.
“And I respect the Chapel Hill community,” she said. “They think it’s important to support participation in athletics for girls as well as boys.”