Oct. 23, 2008
“Beyond the ACCtion” is a special feature of theACC.com which offers insight in to the Atlantic Coast Conference, away from the field of competition.
This edition of Beyond the ACCtion takes you behind the scenes with ACC staffers Brian Morrison and Steve Phillips and panel of ACC sports-writing veterans during their unique get-together earlier this week. I hope you enjoy this glimpse at their historical journey.
Website Coordinator for theACC.com
The late Marvin “Skeeter” Francis’ legacy as an Atlantic Coast Conference pioneer lives on. The memories remain colorful as ever, even though hundreds of them are preserved in black in white.
Skeeter spent 22 years as the ACC’s first full-time Service Bureau Director and assistant commissioner. In the 15 years prior to that, he worked as Wake Forest’s sports information director and served as the first Director of the ACC Basketball Tournament while helping design the blueprint that makes it one of the premier events in all of college athletics.
Add the time he worked as a sports journalist in his native Durham (N.C.), and Skeeter’s ties to the conference he loved and helped build spanned a full five decades.
Skeeter was also an avid collector of sports memorabilia and made frequent references to his “collection” during the many years we worked together. At some point, he said, he wanted me to view everything he had stored away at his home in Winston-Salem and add whatever I deemed appropriate to the ACC library.
That opportunity came a month or so ago, when Skeeter’s son, Marvin, Jr., called and asked me to drive over. For several awe-struck hours, we sorted through game programs from ACC Tournaments, NCAA Final Fours and college football bowl games – including some postseason affairs long forgotten (at least by me) and no longer in existence.
But most intriguing were the boxes of black-and-white photographs that chronicled each of the ACC’s original member schools, in some cases prior to the conference’s formation in 1953.
Many of the photos bore dates and identifications. In some cases, none were necessary. Clemson football coaching stalwart Frank Howard needed no ID. Neither did NC State basketball All-American David Thompson or his coach, Norm Sloan. North Carolina legends Charlie Justice and Len Rosenbluth needed only one glance, as did Duke’s Art Heyman and Bill Murray. A sky view of Groves Stadium in its first year of existence was recognizable, even minus Bridger Field House, Deacon Tower or the neighboring Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum. Maryland’s Cole Field House never changed.
But some faces and uniform numbers were beyond my scope of recollection, especially considering that Skeeter’s collection extended to at least the late 1940s and I first began working with the ACC in 1981.
I returned to the office with a sizeable ‘chunk’ of the collection, where further sorting and attempt at identification still produced some 200 “mystery” photos. Where could I turn for help?
Fortunately, I had an immediate answer. The ACC is blessed with a large pool of media types, virtual historians in their knowledge of the conference, some of whom have charted the league since its inception. Why not get as many of them as possible together in one room, allow them to pore over what we had, and see how many of the photographs we could thoroughly identify.
I planned an informal gathering for Wednesday night, and I placed calls far and wide to a list of sports-writing veterans. Everyone on my wish list could not attend. But I did manage to assemble a panel which, including myself, sported nine sets of eyes and close to 400 collective years working with or covering the ACC.
For nearly four hours, Greensboro newspaper mainstays Irwin Smallwood, Larry Keech, Wilt Browning and Gary McCann joined Leonard Laye (Charlotte Observer), Lenox Rawlings (Winston-Salem Journal), Al Featherston (Durham Herald-Sun), Steve Phillips (ACC Media Relations) and I went through the photographs one-by-one.
More often than not, someone among our group readily identified a mystery face, sometimes by visual recall, sometimes by memory of a uniform number. In some instances – as when former UNC basketball player Dave Chadwick was identified simply by the fact the letters “WICK” were visible on the back of his partially obscured jersey – even a hint of recognition was enough.
We began around 5 p.m. and finished around 8:45, pausing only to break briefly for a media meal. By the time we completed the project, photographs had been sorted by schools, sports and year and recorded by media relations intern AJ Henderson. Only three remained unidentified. Hopefully that too will change in due time. In a few short hours, our resources and preservation of history grew a little more complete.
It was just one more gift from Skeeter to the ACC, and one that came with a bit of help from his friends. That’s the way he would have wanted it done.
Brian Morrison with Steve Phillips