Thursday, November 07, 2013 12:12 AM
Tough players but no championship until '77
By Paul Durham | Sports Editor
When long-suffering Five Points finally won its first championship 1977 after 29 seasons in the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department’s Midget Football League, it did not do so at the expense of its hard-earned reputation.
Bill Shreve, who took over the Vikings (as they were called beginning in 1971) in 1977, recalled star running back Mark Davis dubbing the squad, "The Junction Boys.”
The Vikings of 1977 did what no other Five Points team before it had done, but they carried on a long-standing neighborhood tradition.
"We were mean! We were mean!” assured Art Finch, the scrappy, undersized fullback of that team. "I don’t care how big you were, how tall; we were mean!
"I’d just as soon hit you than go around you.”
Shreve chuckles at the memory of his first practice, when each player would have his name written on a piece of white athletic tape on the front of the helmet.
"One of the players had on his tape on his helmet, ‘Mr. Jones,’” Shreve recalled of 13-year-old lineman Charles Jones. "And he was!”
It came with the territory. While none of other three Midget League teams — Recreation Park, Maplewood or Park Avenue — were made up exclusively of players from higher-income neighborhoods, Five Points has always been Wilson’s blue-collar neighborhood. The other three teams had coaches — Pinkie Jefferson, Lee Gliarmis and Walter Blake — to stay for 20 years or more at the helm. Gliarmis took over Five Points the second year of the Midget Football program in 1950 after a pair of Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College students, Tom Hester and Harold Bain, coached the inaugural season. But when Gliarmis moved over to Maplewood, the team nearest his home and business, in 1956, Five Points had a hard time having a coach stay for a while. Ansel Bradberry ran the team for a few years up until Shreve took over in 1977.
Certainly Five Points had quality players over the years — like H.P. Rogers, J. Arthur Evans, Larry Pittman, Carlton Barnes, Frankie Pridgen, Jerry Owens, Frankie Hinnant, Stan Johnson and Gary Starling — but never a championship. However, Five Points always had a reputation.
"I don’t think anybody would question the fact that they were always the toughest kids, any period of time,” assured Charlie Bedgood, who played for Park Avenue in the 1960s and coached the Packers in the late ‘60s and early ‘80s.
David Woodard, who played for Rec Park and then Park Avenue in the early ‘60s, just laughed when asked which team had the toughest players.
"Five Points had, without a doubt, the toughest players,” he said. "You didn’t want to start a fight with anybody from Five Points!”
Keith Barnes, who played for Five Points in the late ‘50s, wasn’t so quick to suggest that the players themselves were always that hard-nosed, but agreed the neighborhood’s reputation was probably well deserved.
"There were some tough ones out there,” he said. "They grew up tough. They had to be tough. Of course, you had some of them who didn’t even play football because they thought it was sissy.”
That reputation didn’t translate into championships, at least not until Shreve showed up as a 24-year-old and got immediate assistant coaching help from Selby Davis, whose son Mark played halfback and whose other son, Jeff, pitched in as an assistant. Shreve led Five Points to four championships in his seven seasons, establishing a mini-dynasty. But it wasn’t easy.
"You had to teach them how to put their uniforms on,” he recalled with a chuckle. "You had a group of kids who had really good parental guidance and some of the kids you just wondered.”
Shreve tells of one day at practice on Jaycee Field just outside Fleming Stadium when a car with a couple of "adolescents shouting obscenities” made a slow pass down Stadium Street. Undaunted, Shreve ignored the intrusion and continued with practice, but when the car turned around and made a second drive-by, that was more than one of Shreve’s players could stand.
The young Viking broke ranks, ran over and picked up a large rock and fired it at the car, successfully obtaining the target. The player then turned and fled, in full practice gear, as the irate teenagers poured out of the vehicle to give chase.
"He disappeared behind the houses on Denby Street and I didn’t see him again that afternoon,” Shreve said.
The player later came by Shreve’s apartment on Tarboro Street to apologize and explain that the older kids had been giving him a hard time.
While those Vikings might have resembled the Mean Machine of "The Longest Yard” fame, they took the game seriously.
"We never had a kid miss a practice,” Shreve said.
"We won’t late neither!” chimed in Finch.
The Five Points Midget teams, tough as they were, didn’t hoist a championship trophy for the first 29 years but, by the time, the league played its final season with neighborhood teams, the Vikings had won five titles. Fittingly, the Vikings went out as champions as the final Five Points team in 1986, coached by former Five Points star Jerry Owens, along with Bill Johnson and Art Hinton, earned the tiny brass plaque at the bottom of the Midget Football League championship trophy.
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