Old Times photos get new purpose

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One of the perks of my job, I’ve always thought, is access to the sports photo archives here at The Wilson Times. Although they are far from comprehensive, there remains a good number of black-and-white prints from the late 1970s through the early ‘90s that are stored in somewhat orderly fashion in file cabinets upstairs here at 126 Nash St.

Those images, along with binders full of negatives of sports images from the ‘90s, until the Times converted to digital photography around the end of the last millennium. There are tons of old newspapers and photos from the news side that date back further than that, along with random manilla envelopes stuffed with negatives from heaven knows when. Maintaining orderly files appeared to be an inconsistent task over the years but, considering many of those photos, negatives, documents, etc., have survived two Moves. From the Times’ original building on Goldsboro St., out to Downing St. and back downtown to our current location, it’s amazing that many are here at all.

For me, the sports photo archive is a special treat because it covers the era that I most distinctly remember growing up — from about the time I took an interest in sports in third grade through my college years. So, for me, looking through those cabinets full of photos is a little like going down memory lane because I recognize a lot of faces. Then there are many that I don’t recognize and quite a few that I feel like I should recognize but I don’t.

Last week I rediscovered a photo that I had first come across a few years ago and, just for fun, snapped a quick photo of the photo with my phone and posted it on Facebook. It was of a group of tired, sunburnt, but happy, fishermen — Walter Rand, Russell Rawlings, Mike Smith, Dr. Tom Rand and Kenan Rand — proudly posing in Atlantic Beach with their day’s impressive haul of mostly mackeral from just off Bogue Inlet in May 1982. You know, the kind of photo that was much more prevalent back in the ‘70s and ‘80s when people needed community newspapers like the Times to tell others about their accomplishments. While we still welcome those kinds of photos and still get a few every year, most folks take to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to publish such images.

My post turned into an unexpected hit on Facebook as it unleashed a torrent of memories and stories from some of those who were in it. Stories of the legendary late Smith, who was the soccer coach at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College and Fike High and a Vietnam War veteran, were particularly cherished. The quick snapshot, taken by Rawlings with an automatic timer before he jumped back into the frame, was just that: A quick snapshot of a great time in the lives of the men in the photo. If, as another fisherman, Stacey Creech, suggested to me earlier this summer, life is just a collection of great memories, photos are the conductors for those remembrances.

Maybe it’s a sign of age but, to me, nostalgia never seems to go out of style. Judging from our “Remember When?” photo feature in the Times and the popularity of Facebook groups devoted to the wistful recollections of growing up in Wilson or just about anywhere, it seems that people love talking about the past. And why not? It seems to be part of the human condition that our brains favor positive memories over negative ones. I don’t know if I was any happier in 1983 as a junior in high school than I am now, but nearly all of my memories from that year are good ones.

I bring up all of this to announce a new feature in the Times sports section every Saturday: “Guess Who?” Although perhaps it should be named “Why Not?” Each week I will run a photo from our archives of someone — a player or coach — from the 1970s or ‘80s. There will not be a name on the photo but if anyone would like to guess, just add a comment to the online version of the photo.

It may be that we will know who is the person in the photo or, probably more often, we won’t know. It should be fun finding out who some of the folks are. The intent is celebrate our athletic past and maybe trigger some of those good memories. It’s definitely not meant to embarrass or ridicule anyone over how they may have looked 30 or 40 years ago, so please don’t take it as such. After all, if there’s a photo in the Times archive, that meant it either ran in the paper or was meant to run in the paper at one time.

And just to show that I can put my money where my mouth is, this week I will also run a photo of yours truly. Go ahead and laugh. I don’t care. Mullets were popular in the ‘80s. You can even post a link to it on Facebook.