Evans “Buddy” King
Kudos to the men and women who worked on this project and brought it to the finish line. To me personally, Christiansburg was a special place to grow up, and as I have written before, the hometown high school was an integral part of the experience.
My Dad was principal at CHS for many years and my Aunt Maggie taught government and English at the school for almost 40 years. Several other of my relatives were also teachers at the old school on the hill. My Dad and all seven of his siblings were graduates, and I had a bunch of cousins who were Blue Demons as well. Most participated in sports to one degree or another. The establishment of a Sports Hall of Fame is a neat event for me obviously.
I was asked by a member of the committee to write a “history” of CHS sports for the inaugural program. Sadly, I am not the person for that task, not a comprehensive history at least. I left Christiansburg more or less for good in the late 70’s after college and most of my knowledge was from the 1950’s and 60’s and early 70’s when my dad was principal or when I was in school. Although my mom and dad and aunt kept me abreast of scores and events until they passed, I am not the one to write a full history.
I have written a few columns over the last few years about my memories of CHS football, and I refer folks who are interested to those pieces. But as is usual with my writing, I’m game to give it a try. Facts be damned. I am willing to do an anecdotal account of my knowledge of stars of Blue Demon sports past whom I remember. Forgive the obvious bias for family and teammates and friends. Or don’t!
First, I must admit that, not surprisingly, I did not recognize many of the names of the initial class, and I won’t give those names away in case there is a “reveal” contemplated. I don’t have the list in front of me either.
One name that I did see, and that meant the most to me, and whose name darn well better have been there, was that of my cousin Joe Board, who played football and ran track under legendary CHS coach and administrator James E. “Buddy” Earp (whom I hope is also an inductee).
Cousin Joe scored 40 touchdowns during his football career and single-handedly won the State track championship his senior year of 1958. He held state records in the 100, the 220 and the broad (long) jump when he graduated. He also unofficially set a school record for fouls in basketball, his skills from the gridiron and the track not transitioning smoothly to the court. Joe’s accomplishments also gained him a football and track scholarship to UVA, and he went on to a distinguished career as a domestic judge in South Carolina.
Cousin Joe passed in 2016. He and Coach Earp continued their classic “player-coach” relationship to the very end. I never heard Joe refer to Mr. Earp by anything other than simply “Coach”’ and “Coach” always referred to Joe as “Board,” in his best raspy Marine Corps voice, any hint of affection being well hidden.
Suffice it to say, a CHS Sports Hall of Fame without Joe Board would be like the Louvre without the Mona Lisa, Cooperstown without Babe Ruth, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without Elvis. You get my point.
I’m going to devote the rest of this piece to the names of some of the athletes I hope are either being inducted or someday will be. This is not intended to be critical of the committee or to second guess anyone. Just some memories and feelings.
First, contemporaries and teammates of Cousin Joe. I remember these names mainly from family oral history. Red Griffith (there better be a bunch of Griffiths in the HOF, including my position coach Mike, who was Red’s youngest brother and a Little All-American at Emory & Henry). As I recall, Red was a big (for the day) lineman and earned a football scholarship to Tech. He was a year ahead of Cousin Joe, and they went 8-2 Red’s senior year at CHS. There were 4 football playing brothers in the family, Red, Dude, Bobby, and Mike, and they spawned many others over the years. I had the opportunity of coaching two of the “spawned,” Blake and Jay (“Fuzz”), in youth basketball right after I finished college.
Jack Sayres, perhaps Cousin Joe’s best friend in those years, a multi-sport star at CHS who ran track at Tech as I recall. In later life, Jack went on to become a national level senior Olympian. He ate dinner at our table many times when I was a kid.
Now a few from the years between Cousin Joe’s time at CHS and mine. My grade school years. Don Johnson, a stellar running back whom I recall had a younger brother Jere, who was also a star running back. Dickie and/or Mike Byrd, both big, tough lineman. For certain their dad “Mutt” will be inducted. Mutt was the longtime trainer and sideline consultant to CHS coaches and players for many years. Took two weeks of his hard-earned vacation every year to be at August “two a days.” Like with the Griffiths, if there isn’t at least one Byrd in the HOF, I will tear up my membership card (which I will have had to pay for, my football performances not earning me consideration).
Ronnie Phillips was another great running back on some very weak teams in the mid 1960’s. There needs to be at least one Phillips in the Hall (there were four Phillips kids, Patty, Butch, Ronnie and my classmate Peggy, all football stars or head cheerleaders at CHS), given that their father Red gave as much to youth sports in Christiansburg as any human could. If you look up “All-American family” on Wikipedia, the Phillips family photo will be there. Red didn’t go to CHS but he deserves a spot in the HOF.
I cannot write this column without thinking of my old “backyard neighbor” Carl King, Class of 1965. Carl epitomized the old baseball phrase “crafty, little left hander,” and along with Tommy Barber, Class of ‘64 and a three-sport athlete who should also be in the Hall, gave CHS two outstanding left handed pitchers. I remember seeing Carl pick guys off first who never even took a step back towards the base. I also remember watching Carl lose a heartbreaker in the district championship game to Hillsville in 1964. Carl taught me a lot about baseball on the field and helped develop my love of the game.
I also have to put in a plug for Coach Earp and Coach Ross from that era. They turned many a Christiansburg boy into a man, or at least their faces turned blue trying. Tough love days.
Now, a few nominees from guys I played with or from my era. Don Marshall, a Class of 71er like me. A huge lineman who played both ways, pretty much every play from his freshman year through his senior season and went on to Tech on scholarship. As Don likes to say, our junior and senior years there were only about 17 kids on the team that the coaches would even have dreamed of putting on the field. Don was often a man among boys, but a tired one. He never left the field.
Tony Price. As I’ve said before, in my opinion, Tony was the best athlete in our class of 1971. Quarterback, point guard, centerfielder. Asked to run a few track events during breaks in baseball games. Played freshman basketball at Tech later. Our Tony is not to be confused with the basketball player of the same name who played for that school in the neighboring town a few years later. I understand he was pretty good too. Anyway, our Tony and I were first teammates in sixth grade in Little League Baseball. Last I knew, he was living the good life in Pinehurst now and is quite the golfer. No surprise.
Apologies to my classmates Alan Johnson and Larry Epperly, who were excellent multi- sport athletes too (there will need to be at least one Epperly in the Hall also, probably another Larry Epperly, “Trixie”, Class of 1970, who went on to Emory and then a successful coaching and sports administration career. “Super Ep” never met a shot he didn’t like!)
Jerry Carter, Class of 1972, star running back on teams I played on. We went 3-7 my senior year, Jerry’s junior season, and yet he was back of the year in the New River Valley District. Jerry was a tremendous natural athlete, but his determination and toughness made him special. He received a football scholarship to UVA and played in the defensive backfield for a while. Like a few other families I have mentioned, there must be at least one Carter in the Hall. Jerry’s older brothers Earl and Marshall played on the first integrated football team at CHS in 1966, and their younger brother Harold was a stalwart on a couple of the best basketball teams ever at CHS, in the mid-70’s.
Finally from my era, and somewhat sadly, I have to nominate Betty Jo Lester, a couple of years behind me in school. I say sadly because the schools of that time didn’t have many opportunities for girls. But I remember Betty Jo as a tremendous natural athlete with determination and drive. As I recall, she played volleyball and ran track.
And from more recent years, Brenden Motley (who later played some QB at Tech) and his cousin (whose name I don’t recall), who together led CHS to a remarkable run of appearances and deep runs in the football and basketball playoffs about 15 years ago, culminating in a state basketball championship their senior year.
Well, as I said at the outset, this column suffers from whatever you call the opposite of recency bias. And I apologize to many others I could have mentioned. Go Blue Demons. CHS is just the school for me.
P.S. I have to nominate posthumously James Randall “Bo” Simmons, another classmate who left us way too early, who was one of Mutt Byrd’s protégées as a student athletic trainer, along with Mike Jenelle, my great friend Bobby Silvers (another 71er) and Bryan Rudolph. They also serve who sit and wait for someone to get hurt, as I used to kid Bo. Injuries ended his playing career when we were freshmen.
P.P.S. A whimsical nomination – Ernie Akers, Johnny Epperly, and Jimmy “Fat Daddy” Kitts, who carried the sideline markers for CHS home games for many years. They did all they could to get the Blue Demons first downs.
Evans “Buddy” King is a proud native of Christiansburg, CHS Class of 1971. He resides in Clarksburg, W.Va., where he has practiced law with the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, PLLC, since 1980. He can be reached at email@example.com.