Thursday, November 07, 2013 12:12 AM
Men in stripes added Midget league's luster
By Paul Durham | Sports Editor
When Tom C. Miller, Roy Gatchell and Buck Jones officiated the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department’s very first Midget Football game on Oct. 3, 1949, they were initiating another tradition associated with the program.
Besides having dedicated coaches and enthusiastic players, the program was blessed to have quality referees, who called the games without pay, throughout its run that continues to this day.
Miller was the city’s parks and recreation director in 1949, while Jones was a recreation department employee and Gatchell was a local business leader. Over the years, many other recreation employees served as game officials but many others were certified high school or even collegiate officials.
Perhaps the most well known and certainly one of the most esteemed was Ernest Deans "Bo” Hackney, a community leader and World War II hero who became one of the top football officials in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which he served for three decades. Hackney was an influential voice in the Wilson Midget Football program and his mere presence brought enormous credibility to it.
But Hackney, who passed away in 2012, wasn’t just an esteemed advisor. He donned the striped shirt and worked many Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons in Fleming Stadium before heading off to a collegiate venue on Saturdays.
Mike Webster, a former recreation department supervisor, remembers Hackney would arrive in Fleming "exactly five minutes early” for each Midget game.
Hackney was a decorated fighter pilot in Italy in World War II and was president of Wilson Savings and Loan. He officiated Midget games with the same sense of decorum he did for ACC games and that meant making everyone toe the line.
"He was a great official. He knew the rule book front and back,” said longtime Midget head coach Lee Gliarmis.
Charlie Bedgood, a former Park Avenue player under long-time head coach Walter Blake, took over the Packers in 1978. Bedgood, whose father, Buddy, was a Midget Football referee with Hackney, has spent many Friday evenings himself calling high school games. But as a young Midget League coach, he got a quick lesson from Hackney, whom Bedgood refers to as "the best (collegiate) official, maybe, in the whole country.”
During a game, an opposing player, per Bedgood’s perspective, leveled one of his Park Avenue players with an illegal block on a big kick return. Bedgood recalls frantically looking for the yellow flag on the field.
"I’m on the sideline going, ‘Where’s the flag? Where’s the flag?’” Bedgood said. "And Bo comes by, nonchalantly, drops it and goes, ‘There’s the flag.’”
Feeling that he was going to get the call, Bedgood cheered Hackney’s decision at first.
"The guy beside me says, ‘I think it’s for you,’” Bedgood said, laughing at the memory. "So the play’s over with and he marks 15 off on me for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
That was enough to keep Bedgood quiet from then on.
During halftime while the officials were taking a break on the bench, Bedgood’s mother, the late Peggy Bedgood, paid a visit to Hackney.
Webster, who was there to watch the interaction, gleefully recalled Peggy Bedgood requesting of Hackney: "I wonder if you’ll let me have that flag after this game. That’s the only thing I’ve ever seen that’ll shut Charlie up!”
Charlie Bedgood still laughs at the story.
"She didn’t mention it to me,” he said. "She loved me too much to tell me that but it probably was true!”
While Hackney may have had the Midget coaches in line, Webster said the experience of officiating games in Fleming was a great learning experience. That’s where he got his start as a referee in a career that has seen him call some of the biggest college games around, including the 2012 Rose Bowl and the 2004 Fiesta Bowl.
But Webster doesn’t hesitate when asked what how calling Midget Football in Wilson stacks up to big-time college games.
"It’s the toughest I ever worked!” Webster said of the Midget games. "I had Walter Blake, Charlie Bedgood, Russell Hesmer, Pinkie Jefferson, Bobby Dunn, Stuart Walston, Bill Shreve — all of them on me!”
In fact, Webster may have never become one of the state’s best high school and college referees had it not been for his Midget Football experience.
"I had never any desires to be a sports official,” he admitted. "I never thought it was a cool thing to do. I didn’t want to go out there and have a bunch of people yelling at me.”
But finding officials wasn’t always easy and Webster quickly learned how to do the job.
At Reid Street Community Center, recreation supervisor Kent Montgomery and former MLB pitcher Charles H. "Red” Barrett called nearly every game of that Midget league from the late 1960s through 1986.
Over the years, plenty of other men with high school and college officiating experience — such as Harry Helmer Sr., Harry Helmer Jr., Tim Cobb, Richard Frazier, Jim Pfohl, Jimmy Pridgen, Tim Bardin and even Charlie Bedgood — have pitched in for Midget games and helped make it the success it has been since 1949.
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