Cary News: Opinion

Athletics programs helped integrate Cary

Charlie Adams: The schools could not have integrated without athletics, because it brought the two races together and kept the school open. The kids didn’t care if you were black or white only about whether you could play. They became teammates and learned to appreciate and respect each other. It carried over into the school, not just in North Carolina but across the country.

At first, they didn’t know each other, so they sized each other up. Once they realized they could play, it brought them together. Then a lot of parents got upset because Sam came here from a black school and took Johnny’s position, or vice versa. But the blacks finally had the opportunity to compete and see who was good. The whites soon learned that these kids could play and could be good friends.

Billy Rogers: In the ’50s, Cary High School’s ball team was called the White Imps. The name came about because UNC’s team was called the White Phantoms, and the Duke Blue Devils were the Imps back then. So they took the Duke and Carolina names and put them together. After desegregation, that name was taken the wrong way. It had nothing to do with the fact that we were an all-white school. So the name was changed to the Cary Imps to avoid offending anyone. Anybody that knew the history of why we were the White Imps knew it was not a racial slur.

Guy Mendenhall: Cary had very few minorities until they started busing them in from some of the urban areas during desegregation. Those black students had been assigned to Cary High School because of the numbers of minorities that were required at each high school. When school started, those kids rode the school buses to school. But before school started at the end of summer whenever sports practice started, the coaches had to send a bus out to pick up the black football players and then get them back home.

Once school started, after they finished their practice, the school bus had already left, so the school system assigned a bus to come back to take the athletes home. During basketball season, it would get pretty late for the last team practices, so a lot of extra time was required of the coaches to get a van to drive the kids home.

I feel sure there was some tension between the races, and probably some isolated incidents, but I heard other coaches talk about how athletics helped more than anything else to ease any tensions with the teams and with getting them together. I heard how once when trouble broke out between groups where the buses were parked, the principal called the coaches to come, and they were a big help in breaking up what started.

There were some very good black athletes that came to Cary High. There are some black kids who have been state champions in wrestling, and each year there are some students who get athletic scholarships from Cary High School.