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Step aboard the time machine as we travel back to 1967. The long, hot summer is drawing to a close and excitement is brewing as football season approaches in the sleepy little eastern North Carolina town of Wilson.
Fike High School is one of the smallest if not THE smallest schools in the state competing in the highest classification: 4-A. It hasn’t experienced a winning season in six years, nor has it defeated conference foes Raleigh Broughton or Durham or Goldsboro during that time.
But Henry Trevathan is optimistic as he begins his fourth season as head coach. He is joined by a couple of new assistants, Gus Andrews and Dave Everett, fresh off the football team at N.C. State. The Cyclones are short on numbers but long on seniors as they prepare for their first game against Winston-Salem Reynolds.
Sarvis Bass and Billy Clark are serving as co-captains, with additional senior leadership provided by quarterback Lynn Daniell, end and kicking specialist Harold Wilkerson, receivers Bobby Johnston and Ralph Cherry, and linemen David Lanier, Eric Moore, Nicky DelMastro, John Pike, Jerold Williams, Steve Barnes and the most improved player on the team, John Bolger.
Heading up the junior class will be returning lettermen Earl Killebrew, Zeke Church and Steve Windham, who are joined by classmates John Wooten, Tracy Barnes, Sammy Amerson, Larry Barnes, Albert Swain, Randy Lewis, Len Lewis, Hart Wiggins, Kenny Pridgen and Jerry Jones.
A couple of sophomores — Dan Killebrew and Carlester Crumpler — also figure to contribute before season’s end. (Did they ever!)
Little could anyone imagine what was about to happen. It was 50 years ago, but it seems like yesterday when the Cyclones caught fire and brought the entire town along for a championship ride unlike anything Wilson had ever seen.
Over the next three years, Fike High School would claim three consecutive North Carolina High School Athletic Association state football championships — something that had never been done at the 4-A level. The Cyclones would emerge from the shadows of mediocrity into a spotlight that beamed brightly across the state and beyond as “Wilson Fike” became a household name in high school football circles.
And it all began somewhat inauspiciously on a Friday night in Fleming Stadium on the first day of September in 1967. The Cyclones were outnumbered and outmanned as they took the field against Reynolds, but careful observers could tell right away that this was not the same football program that had endured six straight losing seasons.
It was evident that the hard work and dedication were paying off — on the field at least, if not the scoreboard. The Cyclones started believing in themselves, and they had every reason to do so as they stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the state.
Pretty soon, the wins began to flow with regularity. The crowds got larger and louder. The marching band hastened its step. The cheerleaders led pep rallies on the courthouse steps. The new stadium opened and tickets became a treasured commodity. Fans lined Harrison Drive just to watch practice and stood three deep around the football field on game nights.
Road games turned into social events as caravans of station wagons and sedans streamed out of Wilson on Friday nights like a scene straight out of “Hoosiers.” Charter buses filled the parking lots at Fike and the Recreation Center, and memories that have lasted a lifetime unfolded whenever and wherever the Cyclones took the field.
Beginning this week and continuing over the next three years, The Wilson Times will commemorate the championship era as it unfolded 50 years ago. Weekly recaps and special features will take readers back to “a time, a town and a team” where legends were made and dreams really did true.
So make yourself comfortable as the time machine charts its course
Coach Trevathan and his coaching staff have completed their game plan.
The Cyclones are primed and ready for action.
Buddy Bedgood made sure the stadium got built.
Dr. Tyson Jennette brought his medical kit.
Gilbert Ferrell made sure the field was ready.
Skip Horton checked out the public address system.
Lee Gliarmis even brought some hot dogs.
Let’s enjoy the ride.