A Journey Well Traveled: Baxter Joins Select Group
Recalling the Boys of Robbins
Donnie Baxter shares some of his memories of growing up in Robbins. For the story, click here.
Back in the mid-1960s, John Frye and Donnie Baxter used to share a ride home from Appalachian State University to Moore County.
Little did they know that some 40 years later, the two would be sharing one of the highest honors that the North Carolina High School Athletic Associationcan bestow.
During a ceremony that took place at halftime of Saturday’s UNC football game, Baxter was presented as a member of the newest class of the NCHSAA Hall of Fame. Last year, Frye received the same honor.
“I am really excited for Donnie,” said Frye, a Carthage native who has coached tennis at Union Pines for more than 35 years. “He is one of that group of gentlemen that I know is deserving of this very special recognition.”
Baxter was born in Pinehurst, grew up in Robbins and attended Elise High School in Robbins and then graduated from Appalachian State University in 1968.
From there he launched into a coaching career that included stops at Ellerbe, Asheboro, Lexington and Eastern Randolph High Schools. He was on the coaching staff at Asheboro that won a title in the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association (WNCHSAA), and he was the head coach at Eastern Randolph when he led his team to the 1983 NCHSAA state 3-A football championship. His baseball team in ’81 was the state runner-up.
From 1985 to 1995, Baxter was principal at Southwestern Randolph, and since 1999 he has been in the Randolph County central office as athletic director for the county schools.
But before all the high school jobs, he got his start teaching and coaching job at Cameron Elementary/Middle School.
“I loved those kids at Cameron,” Baxter said earlier this week. “I coached every sport the school offered.”
And Cameron seemed to be a place that could be called a “cradle of coaches.” Baxter followed Carl Salmon, who moved over to Union Pines High School. Salmon had a longtime coaching career at Union Pines, including winning a state title in girls’ basketball.
Several years after Baxter left to go to Ellerbe, Bobby Purvis took over the coaching duties at Cameron. Purvis then went on to have a successful coaching career at Union Pines and is presently the athletic director at the school. Purvis is also from the northern end of the county and graduated from North Moore High School.
“I’ve always looked up to Donnie,” Purvis said. “He’s been a good role model, friend and a leader for a lot of us in this profession. I’ve tried to do it the way he did it. He has touched a lot of people in a very positive way. Him being selected to the Hall of Fame is an honor that is well deserved.”
But back to Baxter’s time at Cameron.
“You’ve got me on fire, raring to go now that you’ve mentioned Cameron,” Baxter said when asked about his time at the school. “I can remember the first football game I ever coached there. I went over and lined the field at Union Pines and that’s where we played.
“The next year we put a field in behind Cameron. I remember the janitor built some wooden goal posts, I lined the field and the school had its own football field. I’ll tell you again, I really loved those kids and I loved that school.”
He also got a taste of what would propel his career toward the hall of fame.
“I knew I wanted to coach,” he said. “After I got a taste of it (at Cameron) I knew I wanted to get into high school coaching.”
And he got into it in a big way.
The highlight of his career at Eastern Randolph was winning the 1983 state championship.
“That was an incredible ride,” he said. “I knew in my heart we had a chance to do something special.”
The year before the team went 5-5, and Baxter said many of the losses were by a touchdown or less. He also knew he a solid nucleus coming back, with 12 seniors returning.
“They (the seniors) provided great leadership,” Baxter said.
Baxter said that the team had only three players that weighed over 200 pounds.
“The main thing though, was that the players could run. We had great team speed and quickness.”
But what made the season extra special for Baxter was that his parents were there every step of the way. His late father, Windol, who died in 1999 and his mother, Jewell, who still lives in Robbins and will turn 92 next month, supported him where ever he went.
“During that 1983 season my parents were at every one of the games,” Baxter said. “Throughout my career they followed me and supported me.”
Now, Baxter and his wife, Vickie, get to play the support role for their son, Seth Baxter. Seth is currently the head football coach at Eastern Randolph.
Speaking of his wife, the roots he formed in Moore County run even deeper. He met his wife, the former Vickie Gaines, who grew up in the Cameron area, at the 5 O’Clock Club in Southern Pines. The club was located where the Broad Street Bar and Grill is now.
“Growing up in Robbins, if you wanted a social life you traveled to Southern Pines or Pinehurst,” Baxter said. “And that is where I met my wife, at the 5 O’Clock Club.”
A Good Friend
Jack Hussey has known Baxter a long time. Hussey was a coach at North Moore, and he is still active in sports, calling games as an official.
He was also a member of Baxter’s wedding.
“He is a sports fanatic, and he has devoted his life to youth in sports,” Hussey said. “He has worked hard through the years.”
Hussey also shared a story about the kindness and thoughtfulness of Baxter. Back in the ’70s, Hussey’s house burned down and he lost everything “but the clothes he had at the cleaners at the time.”
Shortly after the fire, Baxter invited Hussey over to his house for a get-together with some friends.
“There were a lot of my friends there, a lot of coaches,” Hussey said. “I won’t say it was a tupperware party, but those guys all had gifts to give me, to help replace the things I had lost. It was quite the surprise. Don spearheaded that party, and for that I will be forever grateful to him.”
Along for the Ride
“Donnie is a fascinating guy,” Frye said. “His mind works 24/7. He is multi-talented, and I’m not just talking about sports. He loves music, he loves to dance, he is active in his church, he is a great family man. He’s won at the highest level, and has traveled from Cameron to the top of the spectrum.”
Frye laughed when asked if he ever thought the two of them would eventually be in the Hall of Fame.
He recalls those rides back and forth to ASU and the times they shared.
“We weren’t thinking about that (Hall of Fame) at the time,” he said. “More often than not we were worried about getting home. Those snow-covered roads on the mountains could be pretty frightening. Talk about me being excited about him entering the Hall of Fame; you should have seen how excited I was when we would get back home to Moore County.”
And the journey that started so many years ago for both of them has reached the same destination — the recognition of their peers and a spot in the NCHSAA Hall of Fame.
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