Jack Fitch, a longtime Charlotte resident who played on North Carolina’s nationally ranked football teams of the 1940s, died Wednesday at the age of 90.
Fitch, a backfield teammate of Tar Heels great Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, lived in Charlotte since 1948 and was an active member of Myers Park Baptist Church. Born March 9, 1924, Fitch arrived in Chapel Hill in 1942 from Etna, Pa., and played four seasons for the Tar Heels (taking two years to serve in World War II).
Fitch was good enough to be drafted by the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Colts, then of the All-American Football Conference. According to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1947, the Steelers cut Fitch less than a week after he was married.
The headline read: “Bridegroom Jack Fitch Released by Steelers.”
Fitch and wife Mary Jane soon moved to Charlotte when Mary Jane got a job teaching swimming at the Charlotte Country Club. They remained in Charlotte for the rest of their lives. Jack Fitch worked for New York Life and was a member of the insurance industry’s Million Dollar Round Table which represents the top five percent of agents in the world. Mary Jane died in 2001.
Jack and Mary Jane Fitch raised a family of four children, all of whom were excellent athletes. John Fitch, the youngest, was a standout basketball player at South Mecklenburg High and later at Appalachian State. Daughter Janet Fitch Myers was an internationally-ranked racquetball player in the 1990s. Daughters Patty Fitch Matthews and Carol Fitch Crigler were outstanding swimmers and tennis players. Grandson Dennis Myers is the top-ranked racquetball player in North Carolina.
“Family was everything to him,” said John Fitch, now the boys’ basketball coach at South Meck. “We all played a lot of sports and he was always there with us.”
John Fitch said his father always stayed in shape, doing calisthenics daily and playing basketball until he was 55. He maintained his football-playing weight of 192 pounds.
John Fitch said his father didn’t tell his children much about his days as a football player at North Carolina. He also lettered in basketball in 1944.
“He didn’t want us to feel pressure from him,” John Fitch said.
He also kept his trophies and mementos from the children, although he showed them a game ball he received for the role he played in a Tar Heels victory over Penn in 1943, when he scored the game-winning touchdown and made a critical tackle at the end of the game.
He was also on the field when Justice, perhaps the Tar Heels’ greatest player, made a memorable 73-yard touchdown run in a game against Tennessee in 1946. The ninth-ranked Tar Heels lost 20-14 to the No. 10 Volunteers.
According to a UNC Library blog, Fitch told Justice, the run “was the prettiest thing I ever saw.”
Replied Justice, “Thanks Jack, but it wasn’t good enough to win.”