Sportscaster’s visit offered lasting lesson

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 20, 2014

In the early spring of 1964, North Rowan was preparing for its annual sports banquet. The ceremonies for this year would be held in our cafeteria. You can imagine our excitement to find out that it had been arranged for the famous sports broadcaster Lindsey Nelson to address us.
For the younger generation, Mr. Nelson was the Jim Nantz of our time. He was in town to attend the annual awards program of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. Affectionately known as “Mr. New Year’s Day,” he did the Cotton Bowl Classic for 26 seasons on CBS television. He was the voice of the New York Mets for 17 years and the San Francisco Giants for three years. At the NSSA’s first awards ceremony in 1960, Mr. Nelson was selected as the National Sportscaster of the Year, and he was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame in 1979. Fans considered him a talented broadcaster, an expert storyteller and a true sports enthusiast.
So how was it that this legend was to speak for our high school sports banquet? As I found out years later during a casual conversation at Corbin Hills Golf Course with former Salisbury Post sports editor Horace Billings, it came about because Horace knew of our event dates and was aware of when Mr. Nelson was arriving in town for his NSSA presentation. Publisher Jim Hurley urged Horace to try and make it happen. Needless to say, they did. My thought on that summer day at the golf course was what a great group of citizen leaders we had to pull out all the stops for a high school sports banquet.
A few years after that, the genius singer/songwriter Paul Simon began one of his top hits with this iconic line: “When I think back to all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all …” Well, let me tell you, one of the things that I do remember was Mr. Nelson’s closing that night. He would use the poem that Rudyard Kipling penned, titled “If.” The final verses might well describe the virtues of the group of citizens who brought Mr. Nelson to our high school on that early spring night of 1964:

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue
Or walk with kings — nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,
And — which is more — you’ll be a man my son!

In my reflections over the years, I have always thought that the leaders of our county really tried to set the example as illustrated in Kipling’s words and in the action of those citizens long ago who felt enough concern for students to go out of their way to provide such building blocks for forthcoming generations.
Silly me, somewhere over the last few years we lost our way.
Terry Julian is a native of Rowan County who lives in Faith.
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