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From walking on the moon to Woodstock, the summer of 1969 provided more than its share of historic events, many of which have been the subject of 50th anniversary retrospectives in recent weeks.
Closer to home, historic implications of a different sort dominated the dog days of summer 50 years ago, namely Fike High School’s quest to become the first school in North Carolina to claim three consecutive state 4-A football championships.
In fact, since the North Carolina High School Athletic Association implemented enrollment-based classifications in 1929, no school in the highest classification had ever won three straight titles in football. Furthermore, Fike was among the smallest 4-A schools in the state.
This mattered not one iota to head coach Henry Trevathan and his Cyclones as they embarked upon a season that would hopefully yield hardware identical to that which Fike had taken home the previous two years.
No matter how it turned out, this year would be different. In 1967 the Cyclones surprised everyone by winning the title on the heels of six consecutive losing seasons. In 1968 Fike faced an uphill battle after losing half of the previous year’s team to graduation.
By 1969, however, Wilson was the capital of North Carolina’s high school football universe and the Cyclones were marked men wherever they took the field. They were also loaded, as Lower Richland (S.C.) found out in a pre-season scrimmage that was scheduled purely out of necessity.
“Things had changed significantly by then,” Trevathan said. “When I got to Wilson (in 1964), everybody wanted to play me. Now that we were two-time defending state champions, and everybody knew we had a chance to be good again, nobody wanted to play us.”
Winston-Salem Reynolds, which had defeated the ultimate state champions to open the previous two seasons, canceled its long-running series with Fike in the spring.
“We called everyone we could think of trying to get a game,” Trevathan added, “but the word was out. No one wanted anything to do with the Fike Cyclones in 1969.”
Underscoring the evolution of the powerhouse football program was the fact that 80 players were present for the opening day of practice, and nearly half of them would make the varsity roster. There were 21 seniors on the team at the beginning of the season, but only nine of them had lettered the previous year.
All nine returning lettermen, however, were outstanding football players.
Seniors Carlester Crumpler and Dan Killebrew led the way. The all-star running back and guard, respectively, were ranked among the top 100 players in the state by the Greensboro Daily News and Crumpler’s name was at the top of the list.
They were also the only two players who had been members of the previous two championship teams. Killebrew became a starter three plays into the first offensive series of his sophomore season while Crumpler had waited until game 5 to start, racing 62 yards for a touchdown on his first carry against Rocky Mount. Combined, they had already etched their names into the annals of North Carolina high school football history, and they were far from done.
Nor were they alone. Phil Lamm and Stuart Walston, coming off breakout junior seasons that included starring roles in the huge playoff win over Durham, were elected co-captains.
Going into the regular-season opener against Wilmington Hoggard, the starting lineup featured seniors Walston, Phil Lamm, Ricky Barnes and Wayne Musselwhite and junior Jimmy Elliott starting both ways. With Crumpler, yet another two-way starter, out for the first game, sophomore Billy Rogers and senior Mike Foster shared his outside linebacking duties opposite senior Chip Gibbons.
Senior George Wilkerson was all set to start at quarterback and would do so every game, contributing monumental plays in the championship run. In back-up roles at quarterback were his brother — and future All-American — Dennis Wilkerson, a sophomore, and junior Greg Fulghum.
Junior Robert Clark, who started, and senior Steve Coggins joined Walston at inside linebacker. Musselwhite and Elliott were the starting defensive ends with senior Vernon Wall and junior Mark Wenger starting at defensive tackle, where they were backed by Harry Lamm. The starting defensive backfield consisted of Phil Lamm, Rickey Barnes and senior Billy Taylor.
The defense would also count on seniors Ronnie Dilda and Mickey Bridgers and juniors Doug Boone, John Anthony, Philip Windham and Glen Raby.
On offense, Clark, Foster, juniors Bandy Herman and Ed McAnulty and sophomore Allen Bass backed up Crumpler at fullback, with Bass scoring three memorable touchdowns in his first high school game.
“I will never forget that night,” Bass recalled. “Phil Lamm came up to me after the game and congratulated me for scoring three touchdowns. I didn’t think Phil Lamm even knew who I was.”
Backing Phil Lamm at halfback were junior Willie Williams — probably the best second-stringer in the state — with Barnes starting at wingback. In reserve in the backfield were juniors Ed Copeland and Tommy Davis.
Up front Musselwhite started at center with Killebrew and Walston at guard. Senior Clark Davis started at tight end with Elliott and senior Aubrey Moore starting at tackle, where they were backed by Harry Lamm. Reserve linemen also included seniors Barry Elkins and Jimmy Amerson and junior Robert Kirkland.
Senior Robert Woodard earned the starting nod at split end while Gibbons saw extensive duty at split end and tight end. Junior Billy Farris, the future judge, and senior William Wooten provided depth at the end position.
Clark Davis was also the starting punter while Foster and foreign exchange student Risto Suomalainen of Finland handled placekicking duties.
This would be Henry Trevathan’s sixth and final season as the head football coach at Fike High School. Gus Andrews was back for his third and also final season as an assistant coach, but he would return to Fike as head coach in the 1980s.
Second-year assistant Gary Whitman and newcomer Buddy Cayton completed the varsity staff, with Johnny Sasser and Bobby Gilmore directing the jayvees.
Willard Brewer (Blue) and Ralph Kennedy (Red) continued in their important roles as coaches of the separate junior high teams at Charles L. Coon.
Support staff included the legendary team doctor, Dr. Tyson Jennette, and seniors Al Letchworth, Mitchell Bailey and Ronnie Barnes who served as managers and trainers. Although Ronnie Barnes never made it onto the depth chart, he became the most accomplished Cyclone of all in football circles as a trainer for the New York Football Giants, where he serves to this day as senior vice president of medical services.
September has arrived and high school football season is here. The names have changed and the schools are not the same, but the field is still a hundred yards long. Kids today, like their predecessors of yesteryear, have worked hard for their opportunity to compete in this noble venture.
Support them, pull for them, and follow along in the pages of The Wilson Times as the sports department commemorates this important season as well as one that occurred 50 years ago, when the Cyclones of Fike High School ruled the world.
Russell Rawlings serves as director of external affairs and communications for the North Carolina Bar Association. He is the author of “Cyclone Country: The Time, The Town, The Team,” published in 2000 by The Wilson Daily Times.