Against All Odds

Wake Forest College vs. Virginia Military Institute, 1942.

“Win or lose, Wake brought out the best in people. Its athletes performed better than their best.”

That quote from Cameron Yow’s new book on Wake Forest University Athletics sums up the story pretty well. Wake Forest always brought something special. The “something” is difficult to put your finger on, but it’s what makes champions out of regular people.

Against All Odds: The Indomitable Spirit of Wake Forest is a volume packed with stories and statistics that attempt to define exactly what that “something” might be. The narrative stretches from 19th century baseball and football onward and covers some of our favorite Old Campus heroes–guys like Arnold Palmer and Harry Dowda.

Of course, everyone knows Arnold Palmer, the most famous student ever to walk the Old Campus. Palmer came to Wake Forest College from Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 1947–riding the coattails of Buddy Worsham, a high school teammate who’d received a scholarship offer from WFC Golf Coach Johnny Johnston.

Worsham reportedly told Johnston over the phone, “I’ve got this friend up here. He’s my best buddy and we kinda wanted to go to school together. He’s a pretty good golfer, and I’ll come to Wake Forest if you’ll give him a scholarship, too.”

That’s how Arnold Palmer ended up on the Old Campus.

Arnold Palmer, WFC Golf Coach Johnny Johnston, and Buddy Worsham.

Just three years later, Worsham was killed in a car accident on Highway 98. Devastated, Palmer left Wake Forest to accompany his best friend’s body back to Latrobe. He withdrew from college and spent three years in the U.S. Coast Guard before returning to Wake Forest in 1954 to win the first-ever ACC Golf Championship, eventually becoming the greatest golfer of his generation.

While on campus, Palmer also became friends with football player Harry Dowda, a World War II veteran who’d been a paratrooper with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Dowda made two parachute jumps into the Battle of the Bulge before coming home a war hero and enrolling at Wake Forest on a football scholarship.

The older, more experienced Dowda wasn’t above giving Palmer some good-natured ribbing. Passing each other one afternoon on the college grounds, Dowda tried to get Palmer to join the squad by saying:

“Arnold, come play football with us. There’s no future in golf.”

Dowda went on to play for the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

Good evidence of the lasting relationship between Palmer and Dowda–found among the stacks of memorabilia collected by the Dowda family–is this letter written by Arnold Palmer to members of the Wake Forest University Sports Hall of Fame about his late friend.All of which is to say that Wake Forest’s teams and athletes deserve to be remembered. Author Cameron Yow (WFU 1968) achieves that task with this comprehensive volume.

Through extensive research, Yow illustrates decades of accomplishments, countless challenges and triumphs, and never skimps on the details that surround our favorite people, places, and memories.

Against All Odds: The Indomitable Spirit of Wake Forest is now on sale at the Wake Forest Historical Museum, located at 414 N. Main Street in Wake Forest.

All proceeds go to support the museum.


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