London’s Friday Night Legend: Alvin Smith
By Mike London
It’s not often we get to talk about a Salisbury Post employee as a Friday Night Legend, but Alvin Smith, who has earned Post paychecks for more than 40 years, certainly qualifies.
Smith was part of a golden era in local athletics, a time when signs at the city limits and on license tags proclaimed Salisbury the home of champions.
What Smith accomplished in the calendar year of 1955 is hard to beat. He was a starter on three state championship teams.
In the spring, he played outfield for the 12-2 Boyden team that had Joe Ferebee coaching and Tommy Eaton pitching. Boyden beat Wilmington for the 3A championship.
That summer, Smith was the center fielder for the Salisbury Post 14 American Legion team that won the state championship with a group that included Ferebee, Eaton, catcher Virgil Bernhardt, third baseman Richard Snider and second baseman Paul Roberts.
Smith was best-known as a hard-nosed football player, but he had a great summer of ’55 tracking down flyballs with a new glove Gene Auten gave him when Auten headed off to military service. Smith also swung the bat with authority. The leadoff man batted .354 with 63 hits and 44 runs scored.
With Eaton pitching a no-hitter against North Charleston and beating New Orleans on back-to-back nights, Salisbury added sectional and regional championships on it way to the Little World Series in St. Paul, Minn.
Hustle Award winner Smith had the honor of stepping to the plate as the first batter in that World Series.
After Eaton was injured in an opening win, Post 14 lost its second game ó 7-6 to Washington, D.C., on a wild pitch. The final loss was even tougher. Smith’s two-run double in the top of the 10th gave Salisbury a 5-2 lead but Cincinnati scored four runs in the bottom of the inning to eliminate Smith and his teammates.
The Legion season had lasted into September, so the transition for brokenhearted Boyden football players such as Smith, Roberts, Bill Eaton and Milt “Lucky Strike” Clement was almost overnight. Boyden football coach Bill Ludwig’s rigorous, three-a-day boot camps in South Carolina were the stuff of legend, and the Legion boys had already missed that annual ritual.
“There wasn’t much for boys to do in those days except work and sports,” said Smith, who used a bike for transportation. “Most us played two or three sports because everyone was trying to be an athlete. We grew up idolizing Jerry Barger and Ken Owen at Boyden and Bill Barnes at Landis.
“I remember we rode the train from Minnesota back to Salisbury, got home on a Sunday and were supposed to play Statesville in football Friday. The baseball players had to earn their spots, but I was on the field against Statesville.”
Boyden had gone 3-6-1 in 1954, but a major turnaround was coming. Smith was on his way to his third title in an eight-month span.
Roberts did serious damage in Ludwig’s single-wing offense. He ran a lot and threw occasionally. As a wingback on offense, Smith’s job was to block for Roberts. Guys went both ways, so he also started at defensive halfback.
“With Coach Ludwig, it was all about discipline,” Smith said. “Blocking and tackling is what he believed in, and he made us work like crazy in practice.”
If the offense was scoring against 11 reserves, Ludwig might put 13 men on defense ó or 15. One day, Smith counted 20, but the offense kept moving.
Smith, who weighed about 160 pounds, spent practice time fighting off some young men 30 or 40 pounds heavier. He got even tougher.
Roberts had two TDs and Smith had a 40-yard scoring run to beat Statesville 26-6, but Boyden lost 18-0 to Rocky Mount the next week.
Ugly as that setback was, Boyden, which had great linemen such as Larry Pring (Notre Dame) and Shrine Bowler Ronnie Bostian (Duke) wouldn’t lose again.
Roberts scored three TDs in a 28-0 rout of Mount Airy to start a seven-game winning streak.
Smith remembers a grueling trip to face strong Asheville during that run.
“Coach told us whoever won that game would win the playoffs,” Smith said.
Boyden won it ó 14-0.
Smith also remembers a 16-0 victory over long-time nemesis R.J. Reynolds, a team Boyden hadn’t beaten since 1949. Boyden was the smallest school in the state’s largest classification and was always outnumbered, but the difference in student-body size was most obvious against the Demons.
“They had 100 players, and we had 33,” Smith said.
Boyden had a chance to lock up its first league title in 22 years when it faced undefeated Gastonia in its last regular-season game.
Boyden scored the first points Gastonia had allowed in a league game and fought to a 7-7 tie. That forced a playoff the following week with Gastonia at Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium for the Western Conference championship and the right to play for the state title.
“A player from Gastonia said in the paper they could beat Boyden anywhere, including a cow pasture or a sandlot,” Smith recalls. “I remember we were warming up at Memorial Stadium and they started playing Eddie Arnold’s ‘Cattle Call’ over the loudspeaker. So we all started humming and singing along. That loosened us up, got us ready to play.”
Boyden won 21-7. Roberts returned a punt 70 yards for a TD. Wally Plyler sealed victory when he returned a pick for a score.
“We just kept the ball in the running game, right up the gut,” Smith said.
The 1955 football season ended in glory on Thanksgiving weekend with a 13-6 victory over undefeated Durham on a cold, rainy night in Salisbury. Roberts threw two TD passes to Tom Page that shocked Durham, and Roberts also made a game-saving 57-yard quick kick when Boyden was backed up on its 1-yard line. The people who paid a dollar to watch never forgot it.
In the winter of 1955-56, Smith nearly made it four state titles in a row. He was a reserve on the Boyden basketball team that coach Derwood Huneycutt and high-scoring Eddie Goodnight led to a 13-game winning streak and a conference title. Boyden lost to Raleigh in the state tournament, but it beat High Point and Asheville for fifth place.
It was a time of championships and champions.
“Rowan has always blessed with athletes, and I felt good that I was good enough to play on three championship teams,” Smith said. “I’ve always felt I was an average athlete who was lucky to be in there with some great ones. I cherish all the memories.”