The Carolinas are filled with great sports stories

05/31/2009 12:00 AM

05/27/2009 5:10 PM

Tales of Carolinas athletic stars abound in “Sports in the Carolinas”: Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, Richard Petty, Ric Flair, Kay Yow, Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice, to name a few.

But this new nonfiction collection, edited by Ed Southern and published by Charlotte's Novello Festival Press, delights with lesser-known sports stories, too.

Did you know, for instance, that Duke University hosted the 1942 Rose Bowl? (The game was moved from Oregon following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.)

Or that the movie “Bull Durham” spurred a resurgence of interest in minor-league baseball?

Or that sports teams at Queens University of Charlotte in the '50s included synchronized swimming? The author of “Synchronized Swim,” Betty Brown, was a team member, though she writes that her reliance on nose plugs kept her from being a star.

In a piece by the late Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the longtime Winston-Salem State men's basketball coach, we learn how sportscaster Billy Packer once ignored segregation laws for the love of basketball.

Packer, then a Wake Forest basketball player, helped organize unauthorized scrimmages between white Wake Forest and black Winston-Salem State players in the early '60s, when such contact was illegal.

Book editor Ed Southern is a sports-loving writer who directs the N.C. Writers Network. His goal, he says, was a collection that illustrates what sports mean to people.

The result will appeal to sports addicts and nonfans. Southern admits bias, but says he marvels at the richness of sports in the Carolinas. Can you imagine the NBA if Michael Jordan hadn't come along? he asks. Or golf without Arnold Palmer? Or NASCAR without North Carolina?

Writers contributing to “Sports in the Carolinas” include Observer sports columnist Tom Sorensen, who profiles Ric Flair, and retired Observer sports columnist Ron Green Sr., who remembers Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice.

Charlotte writer Susan Shackleford recalls discovering in the '70s a draft of Title IX, the legislation that transformed U.S. women's sports. “Just read it,” a women's basketball coach told her in what Shackleford calls a “Nike-esque foreshadowing.”

Despite the range of these pieces, Southern says the book only samples the Carolinas' sports tradition: “We could have very easily produced a set of encyclopedias.”

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