Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 13, 2007

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
ALBEMARLE ó More than four decades after their lives first intersected, Lonnie Chandler and Garland Davis walked through the doors of the Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame together on Monday.
Both graduated from Catawba ó Chandler in 1963, Davis in 1970. They met in the North Stanly High gym in the summer of ’65.
Chandler’s first job after graduation was at a Fayetteville junior high school. He was a biology and P.E. major. Naturally, they hired him to teach algebra.
“Lonnie was teaching algebra twice,” Duke broadcaster Bob Harris informed the audience at Stanly Regional Medical Center. “To himself at night, then to the kids the next day.”
Chandler, who was a fine athlete at old New London High, jumped at the chance to escape polynomials and return home to coach North Stanly’s girls basketball team.
Chandler was preparing for his second year at North Stanly and handling summer driver’s education duties when his ears detected the thump of a basketball.
A bouncing ball was music, so he followed the sweet sound inside the gym. He found three teens shooting. One was a head taller than his companions.
The tall kid was Davis, who recently had made a life-changing decision.
Davis is African-American and attended segregated West Badin for three years.
He spent the first two paying dues behind super players, carrying bags, riding pine, getting his ribs bruised and his nose bloodied every practice.
His third year, he’d been West Badin’s only junior starter. He would finally be the main man as a senior.
But “freedom of choice,” first step in the integration process, was law. Davis couldn’t be denied attending North Stanly, if that’s where he wanted to go.
Davis elected to spend his senior season at North Stanly. He was shooting in the gym that would be his new home when Chandler discovered him. They talked. Davis explained he dearly loved to play ball and was transferring from West Badin.Slams were rare occurrences in high school gyms in those days. Chandler laughs about it now, but he was totally serious when he asked the 6-foot-4 Davis if he could dunk.
“One hand or two?” Davis replied matter-of-factly.
The one-hander was first.
“Top of the circle, one dribble, then he just slams it through,” Chandler said. “The ball rolls under the goal, and he picks it up by palming it. You didn’t see a whole lot of that back then.
“Then he dunks with two hands. Backwards.”
Chandler was on the phone, dialing North boys coach Joe “Fireball” Kelly, before Davis’ backwards jam struck the floor.
“Joe, I’m in the gym, and you need to get down here now,” Chandler yelled. “There’s a fellow here that’s going to make you a lot better basketball coach.”
Davis exceeded the hype.
North Stanly’s boys started with a double-overtime loss to Central Davidson and a one-point loss at East Rowan, but then Davis got comfortable. His fourth varsity game was a rematch against East in New London, and he scored 43 points. The Post didn’t record rebounds, but people who were there swear he had 30-plus boards and at least 10 blocks.
Davis never looked back.
He was the first African-American to suit up for the West in the 1966 East-West All-Star Game. He turned in a double-double that earned him the MVP award,
While Davis got to play in the East-West showcase, Chandler got to coach in it.
Davis moved on to a Hall of Fame career at Catawba, playing for coach Sam Moir for four years. He was a decade ahead of his time, soaring above the rim and snatching more boards than anyone in school history.
He had 31 boards in one game. His rebounding records for his career (1,652) and one season (546 his junior year) probably will never be threatened.
Davis also scored 1,572 points, despite missing the last semester his senior year.While Davis consistently pounded backboards, Chandler built a spectacularly consistent coaching record. He piloted North Stanly’s girls for 33 seasons, winning 556 out of 786 (70.7 percent).
He experienced just four losing seasons, won 11 regular-season banners and five conference tournaments.
Chandler’s 1975-76 team, anchored by 6-4 senior Krystal Kimrey, went 26-0 and is well remembered. Sometimes forgotten is he was 25-3 the following season when he was supposed to take his lumps.
“Lonnie built a program, not a team,” Harris said.
Chandler never claimed to be a genius. But he was smart enough to borrow from the best. His 1-2-2 defense was modeled after Albemarle coach Dave Holcomb’s. He watched Salisbury coach Bobby Pharr beat David Thompson’s Crest Chargers in 1971 and incorporated Pharr’s offense. Chandler dropped a six-OT game to East Rowan, but he once won 34 straight home games. It was often a family affair in New London. Chandler’s wife, Linda, handled the scorebook. He coached two daughters, Amy (1985) and Joanna (1991), into Western Regionals.
How Chandler squeezed in nine years as the Comets head football coach and a quarter-century as athletics director, no one will ever know. In his spare time, he organized Pfeiffer’s first women’s hoops program.
Chandler says success came from “surrounding himself with good people and high expectations.” He told his girls every year he expected to win the conference. Usually, they did.
Chandler’s been sort of retired for a decade, but he’s probably busier now than ever. He’s involved in mission work and building Habitat For Humanity houses.
Davis’ life also expanded beyond basketball. He’s gotten more rewards from working with youth than any dunk, and his college diploma has been more important than all those rebounds.
“Playing sports is a privilege, but education is a right,” said Davis, who accepted induction in honor of his wife, Connie. “The hoorays from athletics stop. Education goes on and on.”
Davis and Chandler’s lives intersected once again at an event staged by the Stanly Chamber of Commerce and capped by words of wisdom from NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett.
The ovations Davis and Chandler received were overdue. It was fitting they listened together.
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or