McCleney Memorial a Flashback
Visiting the memorial that Howard Cannon established in the Foxfire Resort clubhouse hallway for his late friend Dick McCleney brought back a lot of memories for this old Chadbourn High School athlete wannabe.
In fact, it was so nostalgic that I even hauled out my 1955 silver-backed Chadbourn yearbook.
Warning: This column is not going to be about golf, because back in those mid-1950s days I didn’t even know what golf was. OK, that’s not totally true. I do recall using a choked-up tobacco stick and trying to knock an old taped-up baseball into a hole in the ground while pretending to be Sam Snead. But I didn’t even see my first golf course until 1956.
Dick McCleney wasn’t actually much older than the athletes he coached at Chadbourn. Fresh out of Wake Forest, where he pitched for the Demon Deacons, McCleney returned home to coach the Panthers in the 1953-54 school year.
He and Hershey Hipps, who was the head football coach, came together to the tiny 1-A school that struggled to find enough players for any sport. Hipps coached the football team, with McCleney acting as his assistant. McCleney coached both the girls’ and boys’ basketball teams and the baseball team.
My favorite sport was baseball, but they played baseball in the spring, and that’s a pretty busy time for a guy living on a family farm with a father who was disabled.
My first experience with football came as a freshman, when I was introduced to the sport by head coach Joe McLeod, who apparently had a disdain for 14-year-old kids weighing about 120 pounds.
My first assignment in pads was to make an open field tackle on a senior fullback. This guy was big enough that we called him “Mule,” and he was returning to school after a brief stint in a reform institution.
My ill-advised attempt at a tackle left him flying down the field for a simulated punt return and me crumpled on the grass like a used and discarded Kleenex.
That was my last day as a freshman player, and I didn’t venture out on the field again until I was a junior, weighing about 160 pounds and with coach Hipps instead of coach McLeod calling the plays.
Hipps and McCleney inherited a team that had been decimated by graduation after one of its more successful years, proving that coach McLeod obviously knew when to change jobs.
We had a few decent athletes on the team, including Frank Thompson and Buck Jolly, two players who enjoyed nice careers at Wake Forest. But our numbers were thin, and we went 4-4-1 in a nine-game season.
A couple of games into the season, I beat out a senior for one of the end positions and played both offense and defense. As a senior I played both ways and our team went 1-8, getting shut out five times. Our last game was a 60-12 loss to Elizabethtown.
McCleney stands out in my mind because of his stately demeanor even though he was only in his early 20s. He was a class act with a great sense of humor, although it could be wry at times.
We had one kid on the team who really thought he was hot stuff. So, one day McCleney brought out a bucket of water and called the hotshot over.
“Stick your hand in here,” he directed. The hotshot did. “Pull your hand out,” McCleney said. The kid did. “See that hole your hand left?” McCleney asked. The kid nodded no. “That’s just how much you’ll be missed when you’re gone.”
Then there was the halfback who got caught smoking. “What kind of cigarette was that?” McCleney asked.
“Camel,” the halfback said.
“Wrong,” McCleney said. “It was a Lucky Strike. Now run a sprint for each letter. And don’t forget the MFT.”
If you’re old enough to remember Lucky Strike MFT (for mighty fine tobacco), I’m sorry.
I played a (very) little third base for McCleney, too. And he made that possible by loaning me his glove after someone had stolen mine during pre-practice running one day.
So, yeah, I have some great memories of coach McCleney, and the Foxfire memorial brought a lot of them back.
Contact Howard Ward by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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