WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

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Fike football stadium reaches 50th anniversary

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Five decades after it first opened, the Fike High football stadium remains as a monument to community spirit than anything else.

The first game was played in the concrete structure on Friday, Oct. 27, 1967, several weeks before the Cyclones would win the first of their three straight state 4-A championships. While there were plenty of finishing touches left to do in the stadium, the Cyclones christened their new home and celebrated homecoming with a 23-0 victory over Wilmington New Hanover.

Since then, Fike teams have changed names twice and the stadium has been alternately known as Cyclone Country, Titan Terror-tory and (Golden) Demon Den. But other than a few changes here and there, the stadium essentially remains the same as it was then. It was built almost exclusively through contributions from citizens and businesses in Wilson. While it’s unclear if the stadium was going to be built eventually as part of the athletic complex at the school, which opened its doors 10 years earlier, or if the urgency to get it done stemmed from Cyclones head coach Henry Trevathan or Fike principal Willard Woodard or Wilson Schools superintendent George Willard or the board of education, one thing is clear — Charles H. “Buddy” Bedgood, who never played high school football, was the quarterback of the effort to build the stadium, chairing the pop-up corporation Fike Athletic Fields, Inc. From soliciting donations from private citizens to urging local businesses to pitch in, Bedgood, for whom the stadium was named a few months after his death in 2000, was a tireless worker in getting it built.

“If you ever knew Buddy Bedgood, he would go right to one of the businesses in town and nobody could say ‘No’ to him,” said John Anthony, a member of Fike’s 1969 state championship team whose father, Charlie, was a good friend and business partner of Bedgood’s as well as an instrumental figure in building the stadium.

Bedgood was actively involved with Fike High athletics, specifically the football team, which hadn’t had a winning season in seven years prior to 1967. He was part of The Touchdown Club, a booster organization for the football team, and was the lead announcer on WVOT, one of two radio stations in town that broadcast Cyclone games.

While running two businesses — his office supply company and the Heart of Wilson hotel downtown — as well as be a father and a husband and an active Rotary Club member, Bedgood found time to do what he did best — get people involved in making their community better.

“I don’t think he had a vision. He just wanted our community to have the best,” said Bedgood’s son, Charlie, who was a sixth-grader when the facility opened in 1967. “Many times I would ask him, ‘Why are you doing this?’ And he would say, ‘Because it’s what you’re supposed to do. If you’re going to live and make a living in a town, you should support your town as hard as you can.’

“He wanted our community to be the best. He wanted a stadium as good as Durham had. As good as Broughton, as good as Enloe.”

Charlie Bedgood said that his father probably wouldn’t have wanted his name

“Don’t get me wrong, his name’s on it and he worked hard but there were so many other people involved,” said Charlie Bedgood, who related that his father kept the receipts from all the donations toward building the stadium.

“I’ve got receipts still in the warehouse where people gave $5 to the stadium,” he said. “You could never tell him ‘No’ and nobody told him ‘No!’ A full cabinet!”

CONSTRUCTING A DREAM

While the efforts of Bedgood and Anthony and others in the community, such as Touchdown Club president Charlie Daniels, were key to fundraising, some of the biggest contributions didn’t involve money at all.

“The feeling and the atmosphere at that time was that anybody who could do anything to help, they were willing to do it,” said Gilbert Ferrell, the baseball coach and athletic director at Fike at the time.

Atwood Skinner, a local architect, had his firm design the blueprints at no charge. In his 2000 book on Fike’s championship era, “Cyclone Country,” author Russell Rawlings wrote that Skinner also “called on his friend and colleague Mickey Little to oversee construction, bringing Little Construction Company into the picture in a big way.”

Watson Electrical provided the lighting equipment at cost. A story in The Wilson Daily Times on Oct. 25, 1967, stated that “Coca-Cola Co. gave a National Football League-approved scoreboard,” and that the press box was funded by the Daily Times and two local radio stations, WVOT and WGTM. The City of Wilson helped out by having some of its workers assist in the construction effort and donated bleachers from Fleming Stadium, the Cyclones’ home until then, to be used on the visitors side of the new stadium.

Nearly everything was from private donations.

“The only thing it cost the taxpayers was the city sending its workers,” Ferrell said.

Perhaps the biggest contribution came from Wilson County Technical Institute. The president of the community college, Sal DelMastro, was the father of one of the Cyclones starting offensive guards, Nicky DelMastro, whose season ended with a broken ankle in the first game. Nevertheless, the elder DelMastro directed Wilson Tech’s heavy equipment instructors to hold their classes on the corner of Harrison Drive and Tilghman Road. The earth-moving machines rumbling down the hill added excitement to Fike practices, which were then held on the parcel of land on the west side of the school where an addition to the main school building now stands.

“You’d go into practice and those machines were running and building that stadium down there,” said then assistant coach Gus Andrews.

The cost of the stadium was $100,000 but that didn’t factor into all the free labor and materials, some of it coming from the Fike students.

“I just remember that getting started sometime that summer and some of us players went out to help with raking and getting things ready,” said Lynn Daniell, Fike’s starting senior quarterback in 1967.

Lenox Rawlings, also a senior at Fike in 1967, recalled helping out as well.

“We worked to finish the thing,” he said. “It was a rush job to get it done when they did and because the team was so good they pushed it even harder. They got a lot of us guys out of class to go down and finish the bleachers and a lot of small things that you had to do.”

Rawlings, the sports editor of the Fike Hi-Zette student newspaper who went on to become a hall-of-fame sports writer at the Winston-Salem Journal, penned perhaps his most prescient piece, writing a column in which he urged the stadium be named for Bedgood.

“It was the first and last editorial that I wrote that someone did what I suggested!” Rawlings said with a chuckle. “But it was a number of years before it happened.”

The Daily Times article in 1967 stated that “about 307,564 pounds of prefabricated concrete” was used in the structure that stretched 197 feet between the 18-yard lines and would seat 2,006 on the home side.

Every one of those seats was in high demand for the next several years.

OPENING NIGHT

The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect for the Cyclones’ first game on the Fike campus. They had won six in a row after an opening loss and were poised to secure a North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-A playoff spot after going 3-7 the previous year — Henry Trevathan’s third as head coach.

Fike’s ascension to the top of the Eastern 4-A Conference included wins over two top-ranked teams — Raleigh Broughton and Durham — and created an urgency to complete the stadium so the seniors could play a game there.

“I don’t know if we had just had an average season if there would have been a big push to get it done that season,” Daniell said.

When the big day rolled around, there was still plenty of work to be done but there was going to be a football game played at Fike for the first time.

“As far as playing the game was concerned and the playing field, it was ready,” Ferrell said. “We had a press box and stands. I guess the polished dressing rooms never got done properly. It was just a matter of any kind of safety precaution as far as playing the games. ... It was built sturdy and properly and, as I recall, I don’t think it was a safety factor.”

Adding to the mystique of the evening were two familiar figures to Wilson fans on the visitors sideline — New Hanover athletic director Leon Brogden and football head coach Jap Davis. Brogden was the head coach at Charles L. Coon High who led the Cyclones to two state titles in the 1940s. Charlie Anthony was a player on one of Brogden’s championship teams, along with several other Fike supporters. Brogden was the coach at Coon when it played its first game at Fleming Stadium nearly three decades earlier. Davis, the eldest brother of in one of Wilson’s great sports families, was a star on Brogden’s Coon teams in the 1930s before playing at Duke University.

But Brogden and Davis ultimately were just side notes as a new generation of Wilson football players staked their claim to greatness with a 23-0 victory.

Fike went on to win three state titles, all three coming after their stadium opened, including the 1968 NCHSAA championship game played in Cyclone Country. Ferrell said that Forbes Trucking Company helped bring in bleachers on loan from Rocky Mount and they were set up all around the field for the Cyclones’ title clash with Gastonia Ashley, “so it was like a bowl,” described Charlie Bedgood.

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

Fike would go on to play two more home games in 1967, both coming in the NCHSAA playoffs. The last was a win over Durham in the 4-A Eastern championship played in a downpour, which revealed one major design flaw that would prove difficult, if not impossible, to correct — water leaking into the dressing rooms beneath the stands.

John Anthony, who graduated from Fike in 1971, said that issue kept even the Cyclone teams on which he played from using the locker rooms in the stadium.

“We would go in there at halftime but we never took showers in there or dressed in there,” Anthony said.

“They still have the same problem now,” Ferrell said. “That’s never gotten any better, unfortunately.”

John Gay, who was Fike’s athletic director from 1998 to 2009, said one major renovation at the stadium tried to address that problem.

“The leaking in the locker rooms,” Gay said. “We tried several times. There’s so much water that comes into that stadium, there’s no way to block it out. We hired a company to come in that did stuff like that and it lasted about a year.”

Jimmy Tillman, Fike’s principal at the time, said the attempt was part of the press box renovation, done by the school’s athletic booster club.

“We went underneath again and tried to seal all the cracks and everything. but like Coach Ferrell said, it was just something we couldn’t do,” Tillman said.

The press box, which once housed seven different radio broadcasts for one game, was enlarged at least twice.

The stadium lights failed on at least two occasions — during a game in 1996 and again when the Demons hosted Hunt in 2009 when only one side of the field was lit due to a faulty breaker. New lights were installed in 2011 after Hurricane Irene damaged a set of lights in the stadium, causing the Golden Demons to play their first five games on the road.

The dirt track was paved in 1978 when Fike made room for two more county schools, Hunt and Beddingfield, and again in 2014 when a state-of-the-art surface was applied.

A separate concession building was added but for the most part, the stadium hasn’t changed a lot since the beginning.

Daniell, a Raleigh resident who came to the Fike Athletic Hall of Fame banquet Saturday, said his reaction upon pulling into the parking lot was: “It still looks the same!”

Along the way, the Fike football stadium has served as the site for numerous other events and games, including the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Midget League All-Star Game for many years as well as the home of its Little Demons youth tackle football team. When Fike was just one of two high schools in Wilson (Charles H. Darden High being the other), the stadium also was the home of the Baby Titans junior varsity team and the site of the annual clash of Coon Junior High’s two teams — the Red Raiders and Blue Chargers.

Anthony, then a ninth grader, played in the first Blue-Red Game in 1967.

“It was the first time we’d ever played under the lights because all the other games were in the afternoon,” he said. “It was like we were in the big time.”

The football stadium that Buddy Bedgood helped build certainly was big time for Wilson in 1967 and remains so today. Few high schools have concrete stadiums and, while Fike’s shows its age from time to time, the structure has held up remarkably well. Bedgood lived long enough to not only see his son, Charlie (a 1974 Fike graduate) score a touchdown there but also his two grandsons Charlie and Connor score TDs in the stadium.

If he were alive today to see it turn 50, Charlie Bedgood said, “He would swell with pride and he’d have a little tear trickle out of his eye and he’d be proud they did it the right way.”

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