Looking for Relief from March Madness

1953 Basketball Champs

Written by Tom Parrish (WFU ’67)
President, Wake Forest College Birthplace Society

The ACC basketball tournament is a reminder of the fever that strikes this time of year, especially if you’re a basketball fanatic like me. However, the subsequent NCAA playoffs have never quite had the same effect. I remember fondly the years when the only ACC team to play post tournament games was the tournament champion.

To help with fever symptoms, I recently turned to a member of the team that played for Wake Forest in its last year in the Southern Conference and its first year in the newly formed ACC. He was kind enough to share some of his recollections about student/athlete life. There have been articles and book excerpts about some of his basketball experiences, so these recollections reflect more on his student life.

Al DePorter graduated from Wake Forest in 1954. A few of his fellow basketball teammates were Lefty Davis, Maurice George, Dickie Hemric, Billy Lyles, and Jack Williams. Along with Billy, Al played guard his last two years. Their replacements the next year were Jack Murdoch and Ernie Wiggins.

Probably the most storied basketball episode that involved Al was an incident at Woolen Gym in Chapel Hill. After fouling a Carolina guard, he suffered a chipped tooth when the guard intentionally hit him with the ball. Needless to say, both benches cleared. The return game in Gore Gym at the Wake Forest campus featured the football team in shoulder pads as the early warm-up unit on the floor.

Subsequently, the footballers sat directly behind the Carolina bench during the game. Later, Frank McGuire (Carolina’s head coach) commented that it was the worst night he ever had as a coach. During the game, McGuire even approached Murray Greason (Wake’s head coach) about the possibility of having some verbally abusive fans escorted out. The response was that Wake was trying to fill the gym seats, so we certainly wouldn’t ask fans to leave.

As a ball player returning from road games, even as late as 7 am the next morning, Al remembers both Greason and Bones McKinney urging him to go to class that day, regardless of preparation. Class attendance was considered an essential part of the athlete’s commitment.

Professor Bond (math) had numerous athletes in his classes, including Al. One of his assignments involved solving a problem, with a month’s time limit. On the deadline, after the papers had been collected, he asked each student if any help had been received, which had been allowed for this assignment. If help had been received, the assignment counted as a regular homework grade. However, if not, the assignment would be counted as a test grade. As each name on the roll was called, almost all of the students indicated that they had received help. When one of the football players indicated that he did not receive help, Professor Bond asked him to demonstrate the problem’s solution on the blackboard. The player threw up his hands and immediately confessed, “I got help! I got help!”

Since Al was a history minor, Professor Stroupe was the teacher for a course in which both Billy Lyles and he were students. They usually sat next to each other in class. When Dr. Stroupe asked Billy to stand and answer a question, Al whispered the response after Billy hesitated. Billy then provided the answer, and sat down. Ever an observant instructor, Dr. Stroupe calmly said, “Thank you, Mr. DePorter.”

Al and Billy were also roommates in the Colonial Club, the dorm for athletes. The chairs in the dorm were hard and most uncomfortable for studying purposes. So the twosome decided to “borrow” two of the softer chairs from the book store area. Unfortunately, the next day the college had planned to re-upholster these same chairs. An alert went out in the next issue of the Old Gold & Black that there were “chair pilferers” on campus, citing the missing chairs in the book store. Hopping into action, the twosome secretly replaced the “borrowed” comfortable chairs. No follow-up was ever reported, but the mystery has now been revealed, some 60 years later.

The Colonial Club was often the scene of extracurricular activity. On one occasion, the parking lot became a driving range. It seems the athletes were trying to see who could drive a golf ball across the road and over the swimming pool behind the elementary school. Unfortunately, the athletes participating were not members of the golf team, so wayward golf balls became potential lethal weapons.

The athletes supported each other, as noted earlier in the Gore Gym experience about the basketball re-match with Carolina. However, Peahead Walker was always looking for any inspiration that would help with the football team. One nice spring day, some of the basketball team members were on the sidelines watching spring football practice. Peahead called the football team together as Arnold Palmer and other golfers were headed down Stadium Drive to the Paschal Golf Course, waving to the football team as they walked by. Unbeknownst to the golfers, Peahead commented, “Those guys are just going to hit some golf balls, while you are out here knocking heads with each other, and they get the same scholarship that you do.”

It seems campus life was very similar on either the “old” campus or the “new” campus. Al remembers a panty raid that had been planned, but the administration had been warned of it ahead of time. When the male students arrived at the female dorm, there were football players at each door, acting as guards. End of panty raid.

The most tragic episode involved the shooting of one student by another during a poker game. The shooter was criminally convicted. Later, when he applied for re-admission to Wake, he was not allowed to matriculate. However, he continued to attend sports events and support the athletic programs. It’s very hard to get that “deacon” spirit out of you.

For those unfamiliar with Al, let me briefly update you with his post-student life. He coached at Youngsville High School for two years, winning the state championship the second year after losing in the state semifinals the first year. Thereafter, he coached at Wake under both Murray and Bones. He also was the coach for Wake’s tennis team, having the school’s only men’s ACC singles champion.

Subsequent to leaving Wake, Al has both coached in high school and refereed in high school and college games. His most recent athletic accomplishments include winning gold medals in the national Senior Olympics in basketball (on Twig Wiggins’ team) and in men’s doubles tennis.

It’s always a privilege for me to talk with those who experienced life on the “old” campus. When you’re visiting the museum, I hope that you too will re-experience some of those days.

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