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The lines deeply etched in his face by 89 years on earth, spent mostly under the North Carolina sun, and soft tenor of his voice belie the fire still in Henry Trevathan’s belly.
But his eyes betray his outward appearance as a kind, elderly gentleman. Trevathan is for sure a kind man, as courteous as the day is long and “elderly” wouldn’t be an unfair description for a man close to his ninth decade. There is no doubt that Trevathan, first and foremost, is a gentleman, but when his eyes flash with white-hot intensity as he speaks — particularly about football and specifically about his Fike High football teams in the 1960s — Trevathan seems every bit the fiery, young coach he was when he arrived in Wilson in 1964.
“If he’s into something right now, he’d be the same as he was then — wide open,” assured Gus Andrews, the former North Carolina State University standout who served as an assistant coach on all three of Trevathan’s state championship teams at Fike.
Fifty years after his Fike teams won the first of their three straight North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A titles in 1967, becoming the first school to do so, Trevathan delves into the subject with relish and passion as he sat on the bench along the sideline in Fike’s Buddy Bedgood Stadium — once his absolute domain — earlier this week. Details were not overlooked and people, so many people, that have played a role in Henry Trevathan’s life were not just mentioned, but biographical information was shared about each. From discussing the benefit of a 4-4 defense to outlining the reasons for the resoluteness of eastern North Carolina residents to drawing comparisons to the Chinese farmers in Pearl Buck’s novel, “The Good Earth,” Trevathan’s capacity for storytelling doesn’t square with the expectations one might have if he was simply considered a football coach.
But then, expectations are something that Trevathan, whether his own or that of others, has always used as a means to an end.
He didn’t know he was going to be a coach until he was almost 25 years old. A native of Tarboro, Trevathan grew up in Fountain during the Great Depression, known to nearly everyone as “Blackie.” It was there as a barefoot lad that he learned to love, not sports so much as playing games.
“Nine boys my age, which was quite unusual for a small town, but we hung out together and we played together and we just played a lot, I remember, of ‘get up’ football,” he said. “Just get up teams. That’s pivotal. You grow up in it.”
After graduating high school at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg and spending two years at the University of North Carolina, Trevathan left Chapel Hill to go to Florida with a buddy, “like young people do,” where he worked on the beach near Daytona.
“What we were doing is finding ourselves,” he said.
What he found was his life’s calling.
“It dawned on me, what I had been doing all my life growing up in Fountain,” he said. “Of course, in eastern North Carolina you work but the times we weren’t working, we were playing.”
The decision wasn’t popular with his parents, who wanted him to become a doctor, but it proved to be the right one for Trevathan. He returned to eastern North Carolina to study physical education at East Carolina College, where he went out for the football team. He had played at VES in high school but this would be his chance to play at the collegiate level.
“Why?” he said. “To learn football. If you’re going to coach, it helps to have played.”
Trevathan made the Pirates team of head coach Bill Dole.
“Why he kept me I’ll never know,” Trevathan said. “That’s my chief claim to fame as a player. I never played at East Carolina. I was drafted into the Army before the next football season.”
After two years in the Army, most of it spent at counterintelligence school in Baltimore and missing the conflict in Korea, Trevathan came back to eastern North Carolina. He started coaching at tiny Windsor High in 1957 and, 60 years later, is still coaching in some capacity. Trevathan will be on the sideline Saturday as a special assistant for NCAA Division III Bridgewater College’s game at Hampden-Sydney in Farmville, Virginia.
A coach coaches and that’s what Trevathan has done since he directed a Greenville Midget League football team as a student at East Carolina College (now University). He coached the junior high team in Rocky Mount and was an assistant on Chris Carpenter’s staff at Rocky Mount Senior High when the Blackbirds won back-to-back state titles in 1962 and 1963. After Fike, Trevathan was an assistant coach at East Carolina for 11 years, followed by stints at Lenoir-Rhyne and Elon before settling into a 10-year run as the special teams coach at N.C. State. He’s been helping Bridgewater teams for more than 20 years.
Trevathan was a coach in several sports, especially a 1-A Windsor High, and a physical education instructor. But those were just job descriptions for a man who was, among other things, alternately a motivator, innovator, disciplinarian, philosopher, historian, psychologist, publicist, salesman and manager.
When he got to Fike, within short order Trevathan had convinced Wilson City Schools Superintendent George Willard and Fike principal Willard Woodard that there needed to be two football teams at Charles L. Coon Junior High — and got them. He pushed for the hirings of Andrews and his former N.C. State teammates Dave Everett and, later, Gary Whitman — and got it. In perhaps his biggest sales job of all, Trevathan first convinced Woodard, Willard and the school board that Fike needed a football stadium on campus. Since the school opened in October 1957, the Cyclones had played all their home games at Fleming Stadium. Trevathan then shared his vision with local businessmen Buddy Bedgood and Charles Anthony, who picked up the ball, so to speak, and ran with it. Cyclone Country Stadium, now named Buddy Bedgood Stadium, opened Oct. 27, 1967, before Trevathan had won so much as a conference championship.
Trevathan got things done, in large part, because he was able to build coalitions of people eager to help.
“He had total commitment to the school and the community and to the kids,” Andrews said. “That energy was exuberant and it manifested itself around the community. You would have thought he had already won championships by the way he talked and acted.”
Trevathan had won championships at Rocky Mount and he expected more would be on the way in Wilson. After all, he knew the amount of work that went into winning a state title and he knew the boys in Wilson were not much different than the ones in Rocky Mount or all of eastern North Carolina, where the tobacco fields served to forge their young constitutions into iron wills.
“There’s no tougher culture, area, element anywhere in America than the steel mills, the coal mines and the tobacco fields,” he explained. “This is where my story begins — in eastern North Carolina. We are a tough people. The tobacco fields are as tough as the coal mines or the steel mills. You cut timber all fall with an ax and a saw and you put it in the tobacco barns and you do it with your bare hands.”
While Trevathan’s practices at Fike were legendary, it wasn’t just hard work that made him and the Cyclones winners. Any great coach knows to surround himself with great people and Trevathan did just that.
“When I came to Wilson, I was scared to death,” he said. “I was there all by myself. You don’t want to be on an island all by yourself!”
He remedied that by hiring former UNC star Joe Robinson as his first assistant. The duo was joined by Bo Weir, a holdover from the staff of Paul Marklin, whom Trevathan replaced. Because Weir knew Wilson, he was indispensable to making Trevathan’s first season as smooth as possible.
“He knew everything about Wilson, showed us the ropes and led the way,” Trevathan said. “The beginning is more important than anything else. It’s what you come from. You can’t do anything else if you don’t have the foundation. Bo Weir was the biggest part of the foundation that first year.”
But Weir moved on after the 1964 season, taking a job as a principal at Winstead School. That left just Robinson and Trevathan in 1965 and Robinson left after that season.
Wally Dunham, whose aspiring career at UNC as a running back was cut short by an injury he sustained in practice when he was tackled by Robinson, joined Trevathan’s again two-man staff in 1966. Dunham, a student at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College who had helped out at Coon Junior High the previous two years, was another pivotal figure in the state championship run despite leaving Wilson after the 1966 season.
Dunham and Trevathan concocted the unbalanced line offense that put Wilson on even ground with the teams in the Eastern 4-A Conference that had bigger players and more of them. They also changed the defensive format from a 6-2 to a 4-4, unknown to most high school teams at the time.
“We’re the first team in the state of North Carolina to play a 4-4 defense, so when you play us, you’ve got a week of practice that you haven’t had before!” Trevathan said, still proud of that innovation five decades later. “Everything is formulating. Everything is centrifuging into who we are and what we are.”
FINAL PIECES IN PLACE
The final pieces to that championship puzzle were Andrews and Dave Everett, former teammates on N.C. State’s Atlantic Coast Conference teams under head coach Earle Edwards and defensive coordinator Al Michaels.
The two men, not much older than the Fike players they were coaching, were game-changers for Trevathan.
“It was there and they had it all,” Trevathan said. “To get everything out of Dave Everett that was there and he had it all, so I gambled and let them be all they were in order to get everything out of them I could.
“I didn’t have to give it to Gus and I didn’t have to give it to Dave. They would take it. They were aggressive, had played, knew the game and, to their credit, they came here and saw a 4-4 defense and (unbalanced line) and ran with it. To this day I don’t know why and how they did that — but they did.”
Andrews, whom Trevathan had offered a job in 1966, was the one the young Fike coach really wanted so much that he held the position for a year while Andrews coached the N.C. State freshman team. He recruited Everett to join him on Trevathan’s staff in 1967 and, the following year, another former Wolfpack teammate, Gary Whitman, came to Wilson.
“Working with Henry was a unique situation and what made it so unique was that if a coaching working with him had an idea they wanted to try, it was done,” said Andrews, who returned to Fike as head coach from 1981-1984. “You weren’t the head coach but you felt like you had all the freedom in the world.”
Trevathan understood the importance of having good coaches around him, in part, from his time as a one-man show at Windsor High, where he coached six sports.
“How long would I have lasted doing that?,” he asked, before mentioning the late Harvey Brooks, the longtime coach at Princeton High. “He coached 1-A football for 39 years! He’s my biggest hero.”
While Trevathan was quick to point out the contributions of every assistant coach, administrator, athletic trainer and the loyalty and passion of the Wilson fans as reasons for Fike’s championships, he made sure to note that the players on his first three teams had just as much to do with that run of glory than the players on the title teams.
“They showed the way and we worked hard,” he said. “We worked harder than anybody. Why? We’re in eastern North Carolina. We’re in the tobacco fields. We’re in the coal mines. We’re in the steel mills. … They laid the foundation of discipline and hard work and they should never be forgotten.”
It all came to an end after the 1969 season when Trevathan left high school coaching for good, taking a job at East Carolina where his two star senior players, Carlester Crumpler and Dan Killebrew, were headed.
It was a natural progression for a coach who aspired to move up the career ladder and whose timing was impeccable.
“When he went to East Carolina and, if you know Henry and know how he lives and how he does everything, there wasn’t one thing that he left unturned at Fike High School,” Andrews said.
It was the end of an era but not the end of Trevathan’s connection to Wilson. He never lived here again but his legacy continues to loom over the football program at Fike as well as across the state. Trevathan, who was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2012, still considers Wilson his home.
“I’m lucky to be in Wilson,” he said.