By David Farrow and Charles W. Waring III

David

Charles, I would love to tell you that my memories of back to school were idyllic, part of the panoply of memories that color the halcyon days of youth. Thinking back on my almost 18 years of matriculation from the perspective of 35 years later, though, with the exception of one the Simons boys almost putting my eye out while acting out a scene from the Three Stooges, I don’t really remember a heck of a lot … except for early football at Christ School. That I remember as if it were yesterday.

Although I played football at school for eight years on one level or another, I never started on the varsity level. When I actually got put in the game one time my junior year, I managed to incur two penalties in four downs. To my credit, I concentrated on playing defense and was put in as a nose guard. The offside penalties were for moving. On defense, one is allowed to move, on offense not so much.

Nonetheless, for three years I would go up to the mountains of North Carolina to Christ School to train for the varsity team. One had to play a sport at C.S. and I was big, so avoiding football was not an option.

People think that Western North Carolina is an air-conditioned version of 29401, but it really isn’t in the training season. For teenaged boys who have lived in shorts and flip-flops for three months, suiting up with pads, running laps, doing calisthenics and competing to make the cut may as well have been working in the bottom of a creosote barge (another summer job).

At 6:15 a.m. that first morning the mood in the dining hall was quiet — a mixture of anticipation and anxiety. Intermittent boasts of male prowess echoing through the vaulted ceiling combined with the tinkling of silverware. Some idiots actually ate breakfast.

By 8 a.m. the lot of us were on the practice field in team shirts and gym shorts. At that moment, a Charleston boy is thankful for the dry cool air, that fresh pine scent and the majesty of the mountains. The moment was fleeting.

By 10 a.m., we were soaked in sweat, throwing up anything consumed in the last 10 hours and feeling pain in muscles we didn’t know we had. The fun was just beginning.

By noon, after a morning of hard laps, sprints, sit ups et al, as well as a deserved shower, we were again in the dining room. The hard reality of our lifestyle choices — three months of Charleston beach parties, closing down Big John’s and the Rathskeller and a pack of Camels a day — became revealed as we stared down at grapes and shredded carrots floating in lime Jell-O salad.

At 2 p.m., we stood in the hot afternoon sun shivering in our sweat-soaked jerseys boiling over with effort and testosterone. By 3:15, encumbered by pads, the end of practice seemed as immediate as Christmas vacation.

At 6 p.m., again in dining hall (Special tonight:  Institutional Creamed Chip Beef on toast! Eat it or die.), the near dead listened to the braying of the quick.

At 10 p.m., visions of sugarplums and Ann Margaret cavorting with Raquel Welch danced in post-adolescent heads.

At 6:15 a.m., day two, we were sorry our fathers leered at our mothers. Pain became a wolverine on crystal meth.

And so on. It never got better — not really. I never got better at it. Yet, I did it for three years. At that age, I enjoyed the bond of male camaraderie. White-knuckling my way to middle-middle age, I am thankful that I am still here to remember it.

Charles

David, I draw the same conclusion but my path differs. Of course, it would be far too easy to focus only on the pain and discomfort of football practice. I played from a flag football experience at Hazel Parker Playground in 1970 until a couple of high school coaches rubbed me the wrong way and I decided that I would not play after my sophomore year. I went from defensive end to being the voice of the mighty Cyclones of Porter-Gaud and had a blast being the announcer and taking the opportunity to welcome the visiting ladies from Ashley Hall. However, before the 1981 season ended, I experienced being a part of the greatest fraternity a young guy could ever hope to have. I am still friends with dozens of them and would do anything in the world for any of those fellows.

Overall, I was always one of the larger guys but fairly slow. It was a struggle for me to play football well, but I had enough size and strength to hold my own and make a sufficient number of tackles. The experience started in the weight room and it was rewarding to see improvement and have the older guys encourage us. I was training with the varsity but planning to play on junior varsity. It turned out that the varsity team had some real talent. I cannot forget the combination of Ken “Tex” Gilliam and Jonathan Ross, playing as the quarterback and receiver; they put touchdowns on the board consistently, particularly because they towered in height above any defense.

The summer football camp followed weight training and early practices. After riding up the road in a yellow un-air-conditioned bus, we spent about a week in August in the town of Clinton, South Carolina, where we were nestled on the campus of Presbyterian College. It must have been the second day when I had what you might call my “moment of truth.” The heat and humidity were especially horrific and we were pounding on the sled going up a hill. I became dizzy; my breathing seemed out of sorts; and I fell. I was a combination of frightened, exhausted and furious and looked up to see the faces of my older friends. They were the Aiken twins (Art and Bud), Prioleau Alexander, Al “Gator” Phillips, John “Dr. Pain” Walters and others who said something like, “You can do it! We are in it together!” I remember that I quit feeling alone, learned to ignore nasty comments from a few coaches and gained a certainty that I was a part of every sweating step my friends were taking. I was not going to walk off the field in disgust but stay in the game.

It could have gone another direction, but my teammates gave me that much-needed encouragement. The next day I tackled someone far larger and faster and Randy Clark gave me a big “atta-boy.” The late Coach Clark was always one of the good guys. Perhaps, I had a wee bit of talent but barely enough to keep me on the field now and then, but that allowed for getting to spend time with some very funny guys. I recall being around the pranksters around the poker table after practice. We played for small stakes, but we established that it was our moment to hang out together. The coaches usually left us alone during that down time and we laughed our way beyond all the bruises and never-ending heat and humidity.

The football players were also regulars at Big John’s Tavern. We had a special table in the back room; this became what we called “Beaker Corner,” where you showed up with your own pitcher and drank directly from it. We had more than our fair share. More importantly, we continued to bond — big time. We laughed and told jokes and reflected on the coaches and shared experiences. This column is not going to rehash the harsh reality about the bad characters, one of whom eventually landed in jail; Google can be your travel agent for that sad trip.

In the face of challenges great and small, we stuck together like soldiers in the field and I developed lifelong friendships as a result. Porter-Gaud’s junior varsity team even beat Bishop England 9-6, secured only by Andy Donaldson’s magnificent 45-yard field goal with less than a minute left on the clock. A good number of the varsity guys ran on the field when the game ended and shook our hands and beat on our shoulder pads. I think I recall a few tears of joy. At the time we had not defeated our rival school in many years, but we finally had our moment.

Two teammates have since gone to the great touchdown in the sky; specifically, I remember dear friends Hugh Aiken and Grant Patton. I was blessed hugely by football and subsequent friendships, and I owe much to those teammates who cared enough when it mattered. Go, mighty Cyclones, go!

If you have a legend for us to uncover or a historical quirky point you wish for us to address, please send same to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Also, please email David Farrow at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Discover the real “southern charm”; join him at duskamagicalhistorytour.com for a look at Charleston 25 years ago with updates and new interviews with Harlan Greene and Jane Thornhill as well as new stories. Visit his Facebook page “Dusk:  Charleston in the 20th century.” This is a chance for you to tell tourists exactly what you think and a chance for tourists to do the same. Check it out: it’s really fun.

 

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:

Burbage's

Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)