Garinger High School’s graduating class of 1960 will honor the school’s only state championship football team when it gathers Saturday for its 55-year reunion.
The Wildcats beat Greensboro to capture the N.C. 4A title in December 1959, just four months after the new school opened its doors on Eastway Drive.
“They won the championship right off the bat and that has not been duplicated,” said reunion coordinator and class member Jerry Busby. “We thought it was important to recognize them for their accomplishment, so we’re dedicating our reunion to the team.”
Nineteen players from the team and one student manager have committed to attend the event from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Red Rocks Café on Providence Road, Busby said. Among them will be the team’s captain, Ralph Kinsey, who went on to play college football at East Carolina and practiced law in Charlotte for decades.
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Busby noted that Garinger’s 1960 yearbook includes a photo of Kinsey and two of his teammates holding the championship trophy over their heads.
“We’ll have the trophy there at the reunion,” Busby said. “We hope to re-enact that photo.”
The first team, coached by the late Joe Tomanchek, instantly set a high standard for a program that would go on to produce standouts such as Dwight Clark, immortalized for making “The Catch” to score the San Francisco 49ers’ winning touchdown on a pass from Joe Montana in the 1982 NFC Championship game; and Troy Pelshak, a linebacker on the 2000 Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams.
After its first title, Garinger played in three more state championship games over the next six years. The school’s modern football legacy is far different, however. The Wildcats lost 47 straight games from 2001-2007, have not won a game since 2011, and this season were 0-6 entering Friday’s game with Rocky River. That contrast, Busby said, makes honoring the 1959 team all the more appropriate.
Most of Garinger’s original staff (including Tomanchek and principal Ed Sanders) and first students moved to the new school from the old Central High, which closed in 1959. Busby said he and his classmates have a special affection for Sanders, who led the school until 1971 and died in 2010.
“He was such a dear fellow,” Busby said. “He played an important role in integrating Charlotte’s schools, and that was important.”
Sanders is largely credited with the peaceful desegregation of Central High, where Gus Roberts became the first African-American to graduate in 1959.
Busby said in addition to the 1959 trophy, organizers will have the championship game ball and other memorabilia at the reunion.
“It should be a special day,” Busby said. “And those were special times.”