One professor had decided P.E. majors on full scholarship ought to play two sports. This was because he was having trouble filling the track squad he coached. With the implication being that he might influence grades if we didn’t agree, I began to wonder.
He approached me, sized me up and decided I’d make a fine middle distance runner on his team. Uh, oh!
I convinced him that basketball season had left me “burned out” and given two weeks rest, I’d come out for track.
Two weeks to the day I reported in black converse low tops, to track practice at Fleming Stadium, home of the Wilson TOBS (Tobacans). Today was the scene of a blue-white track meet. This later was the scene for the “rain-out” mudslide featuring Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. But today it was fireball Parham in the
440 yd. 880 yd., and leg on the blue team relay.
I was exhausted the first twenty yards of the first event. And so, in the last
one (the mile relay) when called on to run the last lap, I watched from half way around, as the other team crossed the line. The race was over and so was I. I began to “walk it in”. As I walked into the final turn of the track, the manager, clipboard in hand, ran at me yelling, “don’t quit, don’t ever quit”. I replied, “Who the fuck are you? Winston Churchill?” All the while I was wondering how the hell to get out of this trap.
While I’d long been proud of my dad’s tennis win in Madison, I’d played very little myself. Robbins had only one court; an abandoned asphalt topped private court belonging to a dentist, Dr. Alexander. We convinced him to let us repair the court, and my senior summer we played a little. The only other courts were in Southern Pines, and if we went down there to sneak on, the “redneck detector” buzzed and we were evicted. No River Rats.
There were six black topped courts in Wilson in 1961. The first people I saw play while wandering around this court at the Recreation Center were Bobby Dunn and Walt Brown. I was amazed at how hard they could hit a tennis ball. I enrolled in a “P.E.” tennis class held on the brand new five court “green” surfaced (by Van Sumner) college facility. Ed Cloyd was my P.E. department chairman and he and my P.E. teacher were about to establish the first summer tennis camp in North Car- olina. (Page 109) Virginia Skillman was an adjunct teacher Mr. Cloyd knew, and I was lucky to stumble into her class. Mrs. Skillman, soon to become a friend and colleague, was a godsend. Stately, constantly smiling, she had authored a tennis instruction book in the Wadsworth series on P.E. books, under her maiden name, Virginia Dumas. Virginia’s husband, Frank, worked for Dupont and their family members were all a part of the summer camps to come. Later Virginia played Frank in the Singles Championship at Kinston, NC. Virginia let Frank win.
Bobby Dunn, having graduated as a fine math major the previous May, had returned to get a second degree. He had decided to teach and coach, a choice Ed Cloyd and staff convinced hundreds to make. Bobby was also the assistant basket- ball coach, while still living in the dorm. He was sworn to silence.
About the time I’d cussed out the track manager, the man just hired to coach the men’s tennis (no women’s team) became ill to the point he resigned. One after- noon Bobby came to the dorm and stated; “now I’m the tennis coach, too”. Here was my chance. I asked Bobby what you had to do to qualify for the team and he
said, “be warm and breathing”. The next day I’d borrowed a wooden P.E. racket from one-eyed 81-year-old Hugh Faley Bowen, Mr. Cloyd’s P.E. equipment room manager. I hit for the green courts by the creek, not knowing what it would yield me.
The team was so weak; in five practices I was #4. Please don’t take that to mean I was tennis-talented. But this was a weak team. And I loved it, even losing to skinny, redheaded lefthanders, who were about as athletic as cheese.

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