‘Small, Special and Family’ – Barton Celebrates 90-Year Affiliation With Conference Carolinas


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WILSON, N.C. – As the only remaining original member of Conference Carolinas, Barton College serves as the shining beacon on the athletic hill as the league celebrates its 90-year anniversary on Dec. 6, 2020.

Founded as Atlantic Christian College in 1902, the school did not field an intercollegiate sports team for the first five years of its existence. Then in 1907, a rag-tag group of baseball student-athletes, under the auspices of first-year coach James (J.J.) Walker, became the first team to represent the college on the athletic field of competition.  

In what amounted to a half cup of coffee, Atlantic Christian posted a 0-2 season record. So much for grand openings.    

Yet, the school continued to add sports to its modest athletic program over the next two decades, including men’s basketball (1914), football (1920), boxing and men’s tennis (1928).

According to unofficial sports historian C.J. Holliday, the football team unveiled a first-ever Bulldog mascot in 1928. Named “Mutt,” it should be noted that the dog was not an English Bulldog full breed but, indeed, a mutt.

Then at the height of the Great Depression, the school joined its first-and only-athletic conference. Atlantic Christian College President Howard Stevens Hilley, a Rhodes scholar and Oxford graduate who would preside over the college for 29 years (1920-49), attended a meeting of school Presidents from Appalachian State, Catawba, Guilford, Elon, High Point and Lenoir-Rhyne at the Washington Duke Hotel in Durham, N.C. on Dec. 6, 1930. When the meeting adjourned, the North State Intercollegiate Conference (the forerunner to Conference Carolinas) was born.

For Barton College (renamed in 1990), it’s a marriage that has lasted 90 years. To put that into proper perspective, Duke and North Carolina have belonged to the Atlantic Coast Conference for 67 years (ACC was founded on May 8, 1953), while South Carolina accepted the invitation to join the Southeastern Conference on Sept. 25, 1990.

Beyond being the elder statesmen of Conference Carolinas, Barton continues to thrive in league competition. The Bulldogs captured the conference’s coveted Joby Hawn All-Sports Cup three straight years from 2002-03 through 2004-05, and claimed national championships in tennis (1979 and 1984 NAIA) and men’s basketball (2007 NCAA Division II).

A church-affiliated school with an enrollment of 1,200, former four-time NAIA Tennis Coach of the Year Tom Parham credits the school’s athletic prowess and longevity to two words: humility and pride.

We are such a small school with a limited budget compared to many of the other programs,” said Parham, who steered Barton to a pair of NAIA National Championships and 11 consecutive conference crowns during his tenure (1964-83). “Wilson was a nice little tobacco town filled with teachers and preachers. Not a lot of big money folks. But we still managed to be successful. It was the quality people at Barton that made the difference.”  

Parham, who also served as Barton’s athletic director from 1983-85, was the architect behind the school’s first national championship in any sport when his 1979 men’s tennis team ran the table in the NAIA Tournament.

In many ways, that national title opened the door for many Barton athletic teams to bust down barriers and flourish.

I think we made a real statement to the other sports on campus,” said Parham. “We showed our kids that you can be as good as anybody in America. Of all the legacies I left at Barton, this one is the one I’m most proud of.”

And unlike most college tennis programs, that 1979 squad was composed primarily of American-born players. One of those student-athletes was Tom Morris, a two-time All-American and the No. 1 singles player for the Bulldogs for four straight seasons.  

Morris, who was inducted into the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010, later enjoyed a sterling coaching career. He was a four-time Conference Carolinas Coach of the Year in leading Barton’s men’s team to six conference championships and women’s squad to four league crowns. He later coached East Carolina’s women’s tennis team to the most victories (320) in school history over 22 seasons and also guided the men’s team for the Pirates to 68 wins in six years.

Parham said Barton’s culture in athletics began to turn in the early 1970’s with the hiring of David Atkins as Athletic Director in 1972.

We were overmatched for a long period of time,” said the legendary tennis coach. “I think we were eighth out of the eight conference teams in overall sports success for 20 straight years. We went through the tough Vietnam era, where our previous Athletic Director wouldn’t let the student-athletes wear long hair or even jeans. When Atkins came in, he supported women’s athletics and the recruiting of minority and international athletes to the school. Before long, we went from eighth to first in the conference.”

Barton, which has held the mantle of last surviving charter member of Conference Carolinas for the past 31 years when Catawba departed in 1989, also benefited greatly from the unswerving leadership of former Athletic Director Gary Hall, who assumed the reins the same year Catawba left the conference. Hall is  the longest-tenured AD in school history (1989-2015) and still holds the title of Emeritus Athletic Director.

Also serving as chair of the physical education department and head men’s soccer coach, Hall oversaw the expansion of intercollegiate sports from nine to 23 (including cheer and dance) that are offered today. His experience at Barton actually started in 1978 when he enrolled as a student, so he has been a keen observer of the growth of Bulldogs athletics for 42 years.

One of the real pivotal moments at Barton was when we and Conference Carolinas changed our affiliation from NAIA to NCAA Division II in 1995,” said Hall. “I was chairing the league’s AD Committee at the time and I’m very proud of the fact that all of the schools wanted to move as a unit because it was in our best interest to seek Division II affiliation.”

Hall harkens back to the 2002-05 period as a seminal time in Barton’s athletic history.

Years earlier, we decided that we wanted to be competitively successful, not only gender equitable but sport equitable across the board,” he added. “We set the goal of winning the conference’s all-sports award. When we won the Hawn Cup three years in a row, I remember us taking a photo in front of the Bell Tower on campus featuring all our student-athletes, support staff and coaches. That photo became a banner that hung in the gymnasium for quite some time. It was very rewarding because everyone pulled for each other, fulfilling a very unifying goal.”

Hall credits coaching continuity as key to consistent success for Barton’s sports programs.

Another goal that emerged significantly during those years was finding stability in head coaching positions,” said Hall. “We began to have people serve for longer periods of time. They stayed and produced results. And we hired and retained good support staff as well.”

The other catalyst for Barton was when its men’s basketball team won the 2007 NCAA Division II Championship in Cinderella fashion, erasing a seven-point deficit in the final 39 seconds in the title game to beat Winona State, 77-75.

Hall remembers the incredible swell of support for the team upon their return to the Wilson campus.

Our mayor, Bruce Rose, called me up right after the game. He said the city had just purchased an automated phone notification system and asked if I was okay with him testing it by notifying the community of the team’s itinerary coming home. I said yes, but little did I know that thousands of residents would respond by lining the highway and gathering on campus!

Another person with long ties to Barton athletics is Russell Rawlings, whose first memories of the school’s teams came during childhood.   

I grew up in Wilson and first started going to basketball games in the mid-60’s when Wilson Gymnasium first opened,” said Rawlings. “I‘ve had an affinity for Barton athletics ever since.”

It’s no wonder Rawlings is such a Barton fan. His life has been intertwined with the college for seven decades. He attended then Atlantic Christian College from 1974-78 while also covering its sports teams for the local Wilson Daily Times. Then he joined the school as Alumni Director in 1984, serving in that position for four years. Later, he moved to Barton’s public relations and development offices for a 10-year stint from 1990-94. Since then, Rawlings has served as an athletic board member and volunteer alumnus, and has filled the master of ceremonies role at the school’s annual Athletic Hall of Fame banquet for the past 35 years.

With that breadth of institutional knowledge, Rawlings is eminently qualified to make comparisons of Barton athletic teams over several generations and eras.

I think the growth and visibility of the athletic program has been the biggest change,” said Rawlings. “And beneath that are individuals and teams that bookmarked that transition over the years. I credit the administrators for their awareness, dedication and importance placed on athletics, which has made it all possible.”

The former sports writer expressed a particular fondness for the 1979 Bulldogs’ men’s tennis team that won the NAIA National Championship and its colorful coach, Tom Parham.

It was the first Barton team to win a national title,” he said. “I was particularly close to that team and the coach, as I covered it for the newspaper. Parham took a program from the ground and showed the school and the town what was possible. Beyond being a great coach, Tom was such an interesting person. He was a brilliant scholar who also loved music. He tried to hide his amazing competitive spirit, but I would get a glimpse during matches. We’re still good friends to this day, and as far as I’m concerned, the line for great Barton coaches will always form behind him.”

While he still cherishes those Bulldog teams of his childhood, Rawlings claims the school’s athletic prowess has made a quantum leap in the 21st Century.

Barton sports have grown exponentially in the last two decades,” he said. “The 2007 national basketball champions generated more enthusiasm in the community and on campus and there’s greater support now. I’m also very impressed with the current administration. We have the perfect president (Dr. Douglas N. Searcy) for the time we’re in. His enthusiasm, leadership and ability to get things done is tremendous. He and our Athletic Director (Todd Wilkinson) are a great combination.”

Rawlings also credits the school’s investment in improved facilities, more scholarships and notable coaches as a major part of the equation.

In those early years, we had no facilities. The teams played at the local high school or recreation center. I think our affiliation with the conference also spurred growth because the league provided a measuring stick for us. You could point to the other schools in the conference and say ‘this is where we want to get to.'”

Adding yet another veteran voice to the Barton conversation is C.J. Holliday, the unofficial sports historian whose 50th Graduation Reunion at the school was postponed this year due to COVID-19.

An avid researcher of Barton sports, Holliday has been known to dig deep into old newspaper files and game programs to unearth new findings about his beloved Bulldogs. He speaks fondly of his days as a student when he became a fan.

It was very exciting,” he said. “We played Appalachian State, Western Carolina, High Point and other good teams. Back in those days, there weren’t many NCAA Division I schools, so NAIA coaches had a chance to recruit some really quality players.”

Such future NBA stars like Lloyd “World B.” Free (Philadelphia 76ers) and M.L. Carr (Boston Celtics) played in the conference in those days.

When schools like Western Carolina came here, the gym was filled,” Holliday recalled. “We beat some good teams like Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. Atlantic Christian had a run-and-gun reputation and played an exciting brand of basketball.”

Now some 50 years later, Holliday continues his love affair with the Barton Bulldogs. He offers an explanation for his long-time affection and loyalty to the program.

For me, it’s just about being a fan,” he said. “I just love the college and the people there. It’s a small, special place. Even as a fan, you’re treated like a big fish in a small pond. You have an opportunity for so much access and recognition. You become part of the family.”

The same can be said for Barton’s 90-year affiliation with Conference Carolinas. Small, special and family. The Bulldogs have set the example as the conference’s patriarch member since 1930.

Bob Rose is a longtime sports public relations executive who has worked for the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, the NFL Cardinals, Cal, Stanford and other organizations. Conference Carolinas’ official storyteller, Rose will incorporate unique features through his “Body, Mind, and Soul” series into the 90th anniversary celebration.Print Friendly Version


College basketball teammate, Terry Harris and I were  college smoking teammates too.

Called “Hoss”  (he was a small point guard) Terry may have been the best of all of us keeping up.  Phone calls,  people saying he’d asked about everyone.  Then it stopped.  Why hadn’t I made my own attempt at staying up with him  in Autryville, N.C.   Friendship is work, but worth it all.

Friend, “Country” Boykin  ran down Morgan’s (Terry’s brother) phone number.  “Terry has moved to the mountains.”   Low and behold, there’s is Hoss on the other end.  Sounded different.

Finally I asked Terry if he still smoked.   “Gave em up five years ago!”  Knowing he’d struggled with quitting,  I commented,  “Hell to quit aren’t they”

“The harder I tried to quit, the better they tasted!”

Friend, Russell Rawlings, said he was worried about our BIG FRIEND, Ralph El Ramey (r.i.p.)  doing the required “REHAB”!  I asked why?  “He ain’t never  done the HAB.”

My quote of this week:  The harder I try to stay healthy, the more parts wear out!


Mom lent me the family Chevrolet to drive my gear to college, a suitcase and a lamp.
I drove to Wilson on Friday, moved in, rode back to Robbins to deliver the car. Then I rode the bus back Sunday night.
Coach McComas roomed me with fellow basketballer, John Eskew, aforementioned very white young man. The new dorm for men was not yet completed yet, and, being recruited late, there were no rooms in the “old” dorm. We moved into the Alpha Sigma Phi house on Friday. About the time I found out John smoked too, I had to leave for Robbins.
Sunday night at 10:00 pm I rolled back into the Wilson bus station. I walked the mile to the college and fraternity house. No Eskew, someone else in our room.
“You now live on Nash St.” our room’s present resident stated: “The other guy took your gear.”
Given the directions to the Nash Street address, I lugged my Samsonite to the street once called “one of the top ten prettiest streets in America” by National Geographic.
The house was a mansion. I knocked on the door and Eskew descended the antibellum stair well. I was told secretly he’d explain in a minute, as I was shuttled upstairs where he and I shared a room.
Once inside he stated “Don’t blame me, they moved us here.” We were housed across from Jack Boyd.  There were three bedrooms upstairs. One was empty.
Jack was Yankee to the core, and while Eskew seemed okay, Jack was strange. Jack, I found out later was one helluva player. Smith and Street’s basketball issue had predicted Jack to be the next Dick Groat when he enrolled at Duke University. He’d been offered a signing baseball bonus with the Philadelphia Phillies Baseballers, and at that point, held the all time scoring record for high school football in Pennsylvania. Quite a resume. He also was my “most unusual character” (of Saturday Evening Post fame).
I never knew why he was kicked out of Duke, but there he was in Wilson, NC with me, Eskew and land lady, Mattie Dildy.
I met Mattie moments after Jack had come over to our room. She rarely came upstairs, being 70 plus years old, fat and staggeringly drunk a lot of the time.
On this evening Jack succeeded. “Mattie, get the hell up here and I mean now”, Jack shouted. John and I were stunned when she waddled in, disheveled, tight, and ready to party as much as any fraternity man. I had stripped to my shorts, and was lying in my new found bed when Jack said. “Mattie, get in the bed with him!” She laughed and headed my way. Obviously Jack saw how appalled I was, and called her off. “Mattie, he’s got athlete’s foot, don’t get in there!”
I was eighteen years old, out of rural Robbins, not sure of myself two hours ago, and now this weird scene. And it was continually a scene.
Mattie bought a brand new ’59 Pontiac that year. Lying in my bed, or wan- dering around the house, I heard her hit the brick columns on her house gate 23 times that year.
Later she moved her middle-aged son into the front bedroom. Another mis- placed student just sort of moved in. Her son rarely came out of his room.
She wouldn’t turn the heat on so we’d burn a fire in our bedroom fireplace. There was a back room full of old furniture, much of which went up in flames that year. We found a crow housed in the same room. Also Jack had found a small snake, which fascinated him. Being a Philly resident, snakes were a rarity to him. He’d put the snake in the bathtub and watch him for hours. The highlight of many raucous nights was when Mattie, pissed at us for the late night noise, came upstairs. With some beer thrown in, the scene looked like this:
Jack turned the snake out, we opened the door to the back room, and Jack started undressing Mattie and rolling her in the floor. The other college boy was panic-stricken over the snake, particularly after Eskew turned out the lights in the entire house. The cops had been called by the neighbors and when the lights came back on there we were, Mattie rolling on the floor giggling, the snake, the crow loosed, one kid crying and the son from the back room standing in his door scratching his head with one hand, his testicles with the other.
The cop was Ray Hayes. He wore knee high motorcycle boots to go with his motorcycle. What a strange look on his face. Years later Ray would still corner me trying to figure all that out.
One of Mattie’s neighborhood drinking buddies was Georgia Stark. They’d be in the gin pretty good by the mid afternoon. Georgia’s son, Lucien wrote an inter- esting book about Wilson during this time period entitled “The Noise Upstairs.” Wilsonians are trying to figure who’s who in this 2006 first novel by Lucien. If he wants any verification that that part of Nash Street was strange in 1959 he can call me, Eskew, or Ray Hayes.


There were some great games, funny things and tremendous performances. We felt good about 1960-61 but lost our first two games. Our third, at home against Elon was a must. From the bench I watched “Jughead” Irwin of Elon flip in a bomb at the buzzer, over Eskew, to beat us 62-61.
Fellow benchwarmer, Terry Harris and I hit for the dressing room. Alone, first in and changing clothes, we watched as our steaming coach cried “son of a bitch” at the same time he kicked his dressing room door. The door had a rubber stopper which trampolined the door flush into the 140 lb. coach. It flattened him. Terry and I peeked sideways from our sitting position, as we turned purple trying not to laugh. McComas said, from an almost blind stagger, “Don’t you bastards laugh at me.” He sat down, thought a minute holding his head, and changed his mind. “No you can laugh quick before the others get here, but you don’t ever tell anybody about this.” Sorry Coach!


Once Dr. Sanford and I shared a classroom to give different exams. I watched as people cheated on his test unabashedly. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t look at the blatant collaborating.
As I exited I pointed out boldly: “Doc” those four guys at that table are cheating right now, and they’ve been cheating all period.” I walked out indignantly.
Overnight I pondered that I had just showed up my chairman in front of students. I was certainly concerned about my action.
As I approached “Doc” in the hall the next morning the conversation went like this. (Doc called me “Pie Ram”.)
“Pie Ram. Do you know what the little tree asked the big tree?
“Am I a son-of-a-beech? Or a son-of-a-birch?”
The big tree said, “Oh, I remember your mother, what a lovely piece of Ash.” He then added, “Those boys cheat all the time, don’t worry about it.”


Small college teachers often have colleagues’ children in their classes.  They are often the brightest is the class or’ “the others”.  Love for colleagues, or the realization that one of your own may be one of “the others” breeds special attention to the “not yets”.

Recently I talked to John Sanford, son of legendary “Doc” Sanford, our baseball  coach and my department chairperson.   Doc and I changed schools.  He came from Elon to Atlantic Christian College, now Barton College, and later I moved to Elon.  One day at Elon Doc called saying he was bringing 12 year old son,  John,  to visit Elon.  I made preparations.

Doc came to Atlantic Christian because of a bitter turf battle with the  Elon basketball coach, the irascible  Bill Miller.  Vying  over services of Richard Such, future baseball Hall of Famer caused the tift.

Elon’s gym housed a hosting room, the Huey Room, where they displayed Elon’s athletic greats, or Hall of Fame members.   Large pictures of members were  hung on the wall in no order.  Before Doc’s impending tour I crept into the Huey Room and rearranged the pictures, putting Doc right beside Coach Miller.

After greeting Doc and John I escorted them down to the the shrine, all the way extolling the athletic prowess of his father to young John.  As we entered and squared away at the pictures I interrupted my praise.: “Oh my god , Doc!  They’ve got you up there by Miller!”

Doc said: “… yeah- move me down there by” Peahead” Walker!”

I asked John if he remembered that visit some thirty years ago?   “Like it was yesterday”.  he added, “..Coach, thanks for helping all us faculty kids.”





One cheating case I sat in on involved “Doctor” Kelly. Billy Kelly was not overly intellectual. And he was called “Doctor” for a reason. It was well known that Billy would tell his date anything to make progress. “I love you”, was blurted out within moments. He was a self-proclaimed doctor, movie star, Olympic ath- lete, widow, or whatever he perceived to get the job done.
A handwriting expert had proven Billy and two others had turned in exams, done by the same person.
Billy was the first to be told that fact. I was Billy’s advisor and listened, as the next defendant, unaware of the evidence, threatened vehemently to “sue the school out of existence for this travesty.”
As he drew his first breath, “Doctor Kelly” interjected, “Ah hell, George, I done told ‘em we done it.”
Case closed.


My freshman basketball teams played at a now defunct, E.M.I., or Edwards Military Institute. Pete Maravich had prepped at E.M.I.
The gym was cold and the clock wouldn’t start properly. That was okay because we were way ahead. Then E.M.I. rallied, and the lead dwindled. And the clock wouldn’t run. A twenty-minute half must have turned into forty-five basketball minutes. I went to the scorer’s table repeatedly. They decided to run a hand held clock.
E.M.I. led one time by one point. The moment they scored that goal the hand held horn blared. “You’re shitting me!”
I was livid. I knew enough about sports to know the “Chicago Cubs” dictum: “The situation hopeless but not serious.”
Or, “300 million Chinese don’t give a shit.”
All the sayings coaches try to calm themselves with, “Just another pothole in the road of coaching.” Still I was pissed at this blatant robbery. Reason set in. I’d hide so as to not let my temper overload my ass.
My refuge was a storage room that housed gymnastic equipment. Parallel bars, side horses, mats, etc. There I stewed until I felt I could keep my mouth shut. Next problem:
The door wouldn’t open. I was locked in. I hollered and banged on the door. No one. Minutes passed before I noticed a big piece of ply board nailed on the oposite wall. In anger, again, I went over and banged it as hard as I could.
The plyboard, held only by four ten penny nails, fell backwards where it hit the old lady running the concession stand in the head.
We were both angry now, but I was also embarrassed.


Country was afraid of Gerald Wallace. That’s saying a lot, but he was justified. Gerald could get a lot drunker that we could, liked guns too much, and invariably got us kicked out of wherever.
Gerald convinced me to buy a gun. I’ve never shot it. Then he said I needed more guns and ammunition.
I did laugh at him.
“Parham,” Scope said, “you college people think you’re smarter than people like me, but I know that the Scar of Russia took all the guns up.” We called him “Scar” in Wilson.
People in Greensboro, his home, called him “Scope.” Why? I asked.
“Well, when we went skinny dipping, the rest of ‘em had to hide in the water. I’ve got a “bankwalker.” Up scope!
Gerald was high up in the Greensboro Elk’s Club. His buddy “Gooch” Lane start- ed the first topless bar in Greensboro, and the rest of them went down hill after that.
Pal “Percy” was home bound later on because he wouldn’t try to get his re- voked driver’s license back. “Percy, I get just as drunk as you do. I feel just as bad as you do the next day. To hell with you, I’m not driving you around anymore.”
Percy stayed at home. Drank all day, and ate pecans.
Gerald called me late at night, often, and often drunk. One night he told me
he’d talked to Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil. “Horse shit, Gerald.”
“Parham, we were at the Elks Club and we decided we wanted some tickets to the Redskins-Cowboys football game in Washington. The “Professor” (one of the Elk’s Rat Pack) has a son named John who works in Tip’s office. It was Sunday, so
we called John’s office. Tip answered.”
“Oh, Mr. O’Neil, we were trying to talk with John” Gerald’s entrée.
“I’m sorry, but he’s not here,” politely Mr. O’Neil replied. “Can I help you?” “Well,” Scope revealed, “we’re trying to get four tickets to the Washington-
Dallas game next Sunday.”
“Hmmm,” the Speaker replied, “that’s mighty tough to do!”
Gerald swore he came back with “…well, goddamn Tip, if it was easy we’d do
it ourselves.”
See why we got kicked out a lot? When Gerald told me this I didn’t believe
him. “Call Percy, he was there.” He gave me Percy’s number.
“By golly yes, I’ll call Percy tomorrow!”
I didn’t want to give Gerald an advantage so I asked Percy if Gerald had re-
cently talked with any “politicians.” It was noon, a little early for Percy. After a moments silence a voice asks “oh yeah, you mean when he called Skip O’Neil?”

Gerald’s housing centered around a place he could walk home from the Elk’s Club. He’d had two D.U.I.’s. Someone told me he’d bought a moped. This ought to be good. I called him.
“Scar, how is it driving around Greensboro on that moped,” was my question.
“Well, Parham, it’s a lot like screwing a fat woman. It ain’t bad till your friends see you.”

I asked Gerald how his daughter was doing once. “Her mother and I flipped a coin to see who’d get to shoot her.”


Another summer failure was a college foray with an East Carolina student. I was hired by Virginia Beach Photo Service, located on 15th St., Virginia Beach. The trick was to sell pictures on the beach, which were developed, and placed in a key chain “plastic viewer.” $2.50 charges netted a commission of 50 cents per sale. Strictly commission.
The summer job gods got me good this time. It rained for 17 straight days. I mean no one was at the beach. I almost starved. Finally the sun shown.
I was an apprentice without sale #1. My mentor advised me to leap when I felt froggy. I watched several sales pitches and began to think I could do it.
As we approached two seated teenaged girls my employer went into high gear. He: “Let me take your picture.”
She: “No”
Through several “pitches” she remained firm, where upon he reached down and yanked her up by the arm and took her down to the shoreline and snapped her picture.
My turn!
Me: “Let’s join your friend.”
She: “No way.”
After three similar rebukes I employed similar tactics as my teacher.
As I grabbed her arm and started to lift her she began to shout “I’ve got an
artificial leg! I’ve got an artificial leg!”
As I watched the towel that had covered her prosthesis, I observed in compass
fashion, her leg draw a half circle in the Va. Beach sand.
Bus back to Robbins. Borrowed the fare.