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Two storylines dominated the landscape of Cyclone Country heading into the 1968 football season, during which Fike High School would attempt to defend its state 4-A football championship.
One was Carlester Crumpler. Although only a rising junior, Crumpler had made a name for himself by scoring four touchdowns in the second half of the 1967 state championship game, a 28-14 victory over South Mecklenburg.
Folks sometimes forget that Crumpler, regarded to this day as one of the state’s greatest running backs of all time, scored one of those touchdowns through the air on a 7-yard pass from Lynn Daniell.
Therein lay the other storyline: who was going to replace Lynn Daniell?
Daniell had been Fike’s starting quarterback for the better part of three seasons. He was a gifted athlete, a natural leader and one of 13 seniors upon whose shoulders Coach Henry Trevathan had built his championship football program.
Oddly enough, Trevathan found the solution to his quarterback problem on the baseball diamond, more precisely the pitcher’s mound. That is where John Wooten had impressed him to no end the previous spring by helping Fike, under the direction of Coach Gilbert Ferrell, win its first state 4-A baseball championship.
With Fike down a game in the best-of-three championship series against High Point Central, Wooten took the mound in the second game. After witnessing the composure with which Wooten handled the do-or-die situation, Trevathan was convinced that the Cyclones would be just fine at quarterback in 1968.
“I will never forget making eye contact with Coach Trevathan when I came off the field,” Wooten recalled. “It happened a couple of times during that game. And I always felt like that game was largely responsible for my playing quarterback the next season.”
There were other reasons to feel confident, for despite the loss of several key players, the cupboard was far from bare. Co-captains Steve Windham and Zeke Church, Earl Killebrew, Albert Swain and Larry Barnes had all played frontline roles as juniors. Hart Wiggins and Len Lewis were primed for breakout senior years, as were classmates Sammy Amerson, Greg Boykin, Mac Lamm, Jerry Jones and Kenny Pridgen.
Going into the season the junior class was led by Crumpler and Dan Killebrew, who moved into the starting lineup during his first game as a sophomore and started every game thereafter for the rest of his career.
But they were not alone. The junior class featured a number of players who would contribute right away, and several more who would prove invaluable as the season progressed. This group included Phil Lamm, Stuart Walston, Clark Davis, Wayne Musselwhite, Aubrey Moore, Steve Coggins and George Wilkerson.
Juniors Ricky Barnes, Billy Taylor, Vernon Wall, Barry Elkins, Mike Foster, Robert Woodard, Chip Gibbons, William Wooten and Doug Skinner provided depth to the 34-player roster. Many would make key contributions this year, and some would play pivotal roles the following year.
Jimmy Elliott led a group of three sophomores who ultimately made the varsity roster, joined by Bandy Herman and Harry Lamm. Elliott started out the season on the jayvee team, but before it was all said and done, he was starting for the varsity.
The official roster for 1968 included assistant coaches Gus Andrews, Gary Whitman and Ted Perry. Johnny Sasser, head coach, and John Green, assistant, directed the jayvee program.
The managers were Mitchell Bailey, Al Letchworth and Ronnie Barnes, who unbeknownst to anyone at the time would become the most famous Cyclone of all as a trainer for the New York Giants. His mentor, Dr. Tyson Jennette, served as team physician.
John Hobgood is the official clock operator, and the public address announcer, as always, is James F. “Skip” Horton, “Voice of the Cyclones.”
We all know how the story ends, but how did Fike get there? How did Wilson, North Carolina, become the capital of high school football in this state and the champions of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s highest classification for the second year in a row?
It wasn’t easy and at times it wasn’t pretty. But it was something to see, and something most deserving of a long look back as The Wilson Times commemorates the 50-year anniversary of the 1968 Fike High School football team.
Russell Rawlings serves as director of external relations and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association. He is a former assistant sports editor and managing editor of The Wilson Daily Times, and the author of “Cyclone Country: The Time, The Town, The Team,” published by The Wilson Daily Times in 2000.