The men and women who molded one of the best, if not the best, high school athletics program in the country are leaving.
In the last few weeks, we’ve lost national hall of famer Durham Hillside athletic administrator Willie Bradshaw, superb basketball coach Dave Price of South Mecklenburg, North Carolina wrestling king Bob Mauldin and long-time Southern Durham athletic administrator Jim Blake.
They all earned the honor of induction into the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame. They all left a mark on the children who have played high school athletics in North Carolina during the last half century.
High school athletics of the first half of the 20th Century bore little semblance of what was to come. Four organizations administered public high school athletics in the early 1960s.
Many schools fielded football, basketball, baseball and track teams, although a lot of the smaller ones didn’t have football. Girls basketball was very popular in some parts of the state, more popular than boys basketball in a lot of places, but there was limited opportunity for girls.
But with improved roads and more urbanization, high school athletics grew to become a source of regional pride.
Not everyone was sure this was a good thing. There were fears that athletic pride might get in the way of academic achievement.
Regulations were needed and the NCHSAA handbook with rules and regulations grew.
High school athletics often is a good reflection of society and there were huge societal changes in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and people like Bradshaw, Price, Blake and Maudlin were in the midst of the change.
Bradshaw was a giant in North Carolina high school athletics. South Meck was a state boys basketball power and among his best players were all-Americas and all-NBA players Bobby Jones and Walter Davis.
Blake was a leader among high school athletic directors and Maudlin was the foremost high school wrestling expert in the state with his publication Mat News.
They helped guide North Carolina high school athletics through massive upheavals involving integration, consolidation of schools and increased athletic opportunities for girls.
To me, they were typical of a generation that often asked what can be done to make things better.
The challenge ahead
They were not building a statewide athletic program for a year or a decade, but for the long-term betterment of our state.
“Time is marching on,” said Charlie Adams, a compatriot of high school athletic leaders of the last half of the 20th Century and the former executive director of the NCHSAA. “We’re losing the people who built what we have now. But that is the way it is.”
Adams says when he thinks of the high school leaders of the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, he thinks of people who wanted to help.
“They were leaders. Encouragers. People who were willing to work,” Adams said. “Their first questions usually were ‘What can I do to help?’ ‘What can we do to make it better?’”
The need for high school athletics likely will be questioned in coming years. High school sports are ill-suited for the purpose of earning college athletic scholarships, a quest for many parents.
Education is changing.
The next generation of high school athletic leaders must find a way for high school athletics to continue its evolution while maintaining its core values.
The leaders of the past are leaving now. They built an incredible vehicle to teach life values, to build cohesion, and for children to have great athletic experiences.
New challenges await.