Sunday, October 25, 2015

Another Barbecue Festival

For some reason that I can't rightly explain, I still enjoy The Barbecue Festival after all these years.

All 32 of them. Consecutively.

I haven't missed a single festival. Part of that is because for about 25 of those years, I had to be there covering certain events — like the Hawg Run or the Tour de Pig — as a sports writer for The Dispatch. For many of those years, if you recall, the Hawg Run was held on the actual morning of the festival.

I even ran in one once, checking it off as a bucket list item.

But working during the festival was OK. It was a remarkable one-day event then, and it still is now. So even after I retired from the paper in 2006, I still make it a point to come to the festival.

As usual, my wife and I try to get there early — maybe around 7 a.m. or so. That's so we can avoid being swept up by the huge crowds that arrive later in the day that can literally carry you along in their wake. Basically, the early reconnaissance gives us a chance to scope things out, and if anything interests us, we can go back later for further inspection.

It's a plan, anyway.

I did see something I thought I'd never see.

I saw Lee Jessup get booed. Not Halloween booed, either. Sports booed, like what happens when you drop the winning touchdown pass in the final seconds of a championship game in a capacity-filled stadium. This occurred when Jessup — perhaps one of the best, most popular, most entertaining, quick-witted, off-the-cuff emcees anywhere — announced to the early-morning gathering at the Main Stage that this was his last year hosting the festival's opening ceremonies.


I'm not sure his decision is carved in pork. I think he was a little taken aback by the crowd's reaction and maybe there's a chance he'll reconsider. I mean, what's 45 minutes out of one day of the year? On the other hand, Lee and I are the same age and our accumulated sexagenarian experiences tend to add up over time. I know where he's coming from.

We'll see.

I'll be back, though. Sure, I may have slowed down some over 32 years. I cover a high school football game every Friday night, and the game the night before the festival can make enjoying Saturday's pig gala a real challenge. Which probably explains why I was napping in front of a college football game on my TV at 2 p.m.

But that's OK, too. My consecutive streak is still intact.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Whew, that went well

Sometimes, a minor miracle can pop up when you least expect it.

That's usually about the time you need one the most.

Ours happened Saturday night during the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the J. Smith Young YMCA.

I say "ours" because I am one of 10 board of directors for the nonprofit organization, which was created in 2002 by indefatigable chairman Jim Lippard.

We usually begin plans for our annual induction ceremony sometime late in July of each year in order to give us adequate time to produce the actual gala, always held on the third Saturday of October.

This year, because both Lippard and his wife, Ann, were dealing with health issues, we didn't get started until late August. So there it is: we basically cut off a month of our preparation time. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you have to pick six or seven inductees, contact them, mail out biographical information forms, hope we get them back in time, write up biographies for the brochure, generate some sponsorship and anything else that creates the necessary background noise for a function like this, time is of the essence.

This year, our inductees were former Carolina Panthers fullback and Ledford star Brad Hoover; former Ledford and East Davidson wrestling coach Bobby House; current Central Davidson wrestling coach Jay Lineberry, former Thomasville and University of North Carolina linebacker Kerry Mock; Paralympian swimmer Jan Wilson (her right leg was amputated when she was 20), and posthumous inductee George Mauney.

On top of that, we were trying something new this year: recognizing the Unsung Hero, basically somebody who works devotedly behind the scenes in a community's athletic endeavor. Our inaugural recipient was iconic Thomasville booster Warren King.

Saturday night arrived, and the first thing I learned was that Wilson, who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, was unable to attend because of hip surgery. Uh-oh. Disaster was lurking.

Then the ceremonies began. Hoover told us how much he appreciated being recognized by his own community; House and Lineberry — both of whom were inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame earlier this year — expressed similar sentiments; Mock became personal, humbly thanking his family for his success.

Then it was Wilson's turn. The emergency plan would have been for emcee Lee Jessup to read her biography from the brochure, express regrets that she couldn't be here, and move on.

But Lippard had a better idea: he got out his iPhone and gave Wilson a call. In Colorado. After more than a few interminable rings, she answered. Whew. We had a connection. Jessup read her biography, and then Wilson responded — eloquently — for a few minutes as Lippard held the phone to the podium mic for all to hear.

It was an astonishingly moving moment.

And the moment continued.

When the board decided to induct Mauney, we originally thought there were no surviving family members in the area to accept his award. Fortunately, we were wrong. Betty Mauney Perryman, Mauney's grand niece, stepped up to the podium and offered several fond memories of her great uncle.

And then King was next. He's a septuagenarian with his own life challenges, and I wasn't sure what to expect. As a sexagenarian myself (hey, look it up), I should have known better. King walked to the podium, stood with his hands behind his back, and delivered — without notes — a brief, heartfelt thank you capped by a raucous "Go Bulldogs!" that nearly brought the house down. He was the public speaker I always wished I was.

Lippard himself was surprised by being presented with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (see here), which only made the evening nothing less than perfect.

I feel like we sneaked by with one on Saturday. I think you are allotted only so many miracles — minor, or otherwise — before the sell-by date expires.

I just hope, as a board, we don't decide to hold our first meeting in September next year.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

My friend Jim

For an award that is so prestigious, it's a curious thing that there have been a whopping 17,810 recipients since the first Order of the Long Leaf Pine was issued by Gov. Terry Sanford back in June 1963. (See here and click on roster.)

That was 52 years ago.

If you do the math, that comes out to 343 recipients per year — or almost one per day.

Jim Lippard displays his Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
 Yet somehow, the recognition seems as humbling, as special, as well-deserved as any that there is. Indeed, it is regarded as the most valued award a civilian can receive in North Carolina. Recipients include the likes of Michael Jordan, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Billy Graham, Dale Earnhardt, Dean Smith, Andy Griffith, and, locally, former Dispatch publisher and Barbecue Festival founder Joe Sink, civic leader Jack Briggs and artist Bob Timberlake, to name a few.

Now you can add the name of my friend, Jim Lippard, as the latest honoree. That happened Saturday night near the conclusion of the 14th annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Lippard was surprised — totally and fully — as he was presented with the framed certificate by Rev. Dr. Lee Jessup and John Horne, both of whom set Lippard up with a comedy skit.

It's great when a complete surprise meets your full anticipation. The whole idea for the award came through the combined efforts of Lip's three daughters: Jamie Bell, Lisa Davis and Julie Barker. And let's not forget the full support of their mother, Ann.

Good job, ladies.

I can't think of a more deserving fellow. I've known Jim for about as long as I've lived in North Carolina, and that dates back to 1976. I was covering Post 8 American Legion baseball for The Dispatch, and Jim seemed to be haunting as many ballfields as I was. He was an amateur photographer — for Post 8, I guess — and he happily clicked away ballgame after ballgame.

Before long, he found himself as the Post 8 athletic director, taking over when Russell Craver — a founding father of the team back in 1945 — could no longer perform those duties.

Lippard faced a crisis when Jim Leonard Post 8 suddenly found it impossible to financially sponsor the team. Incredibly, Lippard — a popular and respected tailor by trade — became a ram-rodding fundraiser for the team. In the next two decades he scared up hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep Post 8 on the field. Some of it was his own money.

In 2000, he was inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame.

Lippard became commissioner of Area III in 2008, and the next thing you know, the North Carolina state championship series was held at Holt-Moffitt Field last year.

As if that weren't enough, Lippard was tossing around another idea: why wasn't there a Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame? Well, Lippard took care of that, too, establishing a hall of fame 14 years ago. Since then, well over 100 recipients have been inducted into the local hall. In 2009, Jim was one of them. He is now in his second stint as chairman of the board of directors.

So, yeah, there are 17,810 Long Leaf Piners out there. But every now and then, one of them stands out pretty large.

Congratulations, my friend.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My reading list (cont'd)

A few years ago I registered for a library card, and nothing's been quite the same since.

I started reading books voraciously. Not that I hadn't before. But my reading list back in the day was mostly Civil War history, or World War II history, or sports, with very little room for great works of fiction.

Until one day I had to humbly admit to a friend that I'd never read "To Kill a Mockingbird," and here I was, an adult in his 60s. I felt the self-inflicted shame of having not been truly well-read.

But after I got my library card, I went on a rampage. Shortly after "Mockingbird" came "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone With the Wind," "The Great Gatsby," "Alice's Adventure in Wonderland" and a host of others that should have been on my summer lists back in high school.

I did read, back in my junior high years, William Schirer's monumental "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which took me all summer to get through. But, again, that was history.

Just to let you know, since Mockingbird and the others, my reading has continued unabated. Oddly enough, my reading of history has led me to explore new fiction — and vice versa.

A few months ago, I was on a Pearl Harbor kick. I read Robert Stinnet's "Pearl Harbor: A Day of Deceit," which tries to show (unconvincingly, I think) that President Roosevelt knew about the attack in advance in hopes to get an isolationist United States into the war to aid Great Britain in the struggle against Nazi Germany.

I read another book — I forget the title and the author — about the early years of the war and it made mention of an office clerk who typed dispatches at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. His name was James Jones, and he went on to write "From Here to Eternity," which I promptly checked out of the library. Great read.

Meanwhile, I was also checking out the entire Tom Clancy library over several months, trying to read everything chronologically written from "The Hunt for Red October" to "Command Authority." The guy did his research and he could surely put a sentence together. Wow.

A week or so ago, on a lark, I picked up "Trigger Mortis," a brand-new James Bond thriller written by Anthony Horowitz with the permission of the estate of Ian Fleming, who created James Bond. In it, the book made mention of No Gun Ri, a Korean War atrocity that I'd never heard of. In fact, I thought it was simply a plot invention to move the story along.

Until I googled "No Gun Ri" and I found this. Oh, my. So fiction had taught me some real history.

And I also got curious about Ian Fleming. I'd seen most of the James Bond movies, and so I had an idea that Bond was a cool, collected and rakish womanizer who could work his way out of any outlandish predicament.

But the other day I checked out "Moonraker," which was written by Fleming in 1955. What I discovered was Fleming was quite the wordsmith. Witness:

"To their left the carpet of green turf, bright with small wildflowers, sloped gradually down to the long pebble beaches of Walmer and Deal which curved off towards Sandwich and the Bay. Beyond the cliffs of Ramsgate, showing white through the distant haze that hid the North Foreland, guarded the grey scar of Manston aerodrome above which American Thunderjets wrote their white scribbles in the sky."

Jeez, that paints a picture. And Fleming could tell a story, too. The cinematic version of Moonraker (a moonraker is a sail at the highest part of a clipper ship's mast), while fun, is pretty ludicrous. Fleming's Bond, however, feels real and vulnerable.

It's a little bit funny how much I've taken for granted in literature — until I actually check out a book and read it. There seems to be surprises for me on almost every page.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hurricane party

All the signs were there:

The super moon at high tide. The incessant rain. The growing Cat 4 hurricane hovering a few hundred miles offshore.

What could it possibly mean?

Road trip! Of course.

Specifically, a road trip to Oak Island for the weekend.

The key word to keep in mind here might be island. Or hurricane. Or both. The two usually don't mix well together.

Southport's restaurant row was a little damp.
Yep. Eight fully mature adults, constantly monitoring the approach of that watery intruder Joachim, had long ago made plans for this extended weekend. We'd already paid good money for our stay in the beach house, so, following in classic American economic thinking, the deal was irrevocable. Hurricane be damned. We were going to the beach, not fleeing from it. Nobody backed out.

Meanwhile, words like "catastrophic", "historic" and "unprecedented" kept cropping up on The Weather Channel. Weather maps with dozens of color-coded arrows projecting path models filled the television screen. One or two of those arrows were aimed at Oak Island.

Meanwhile, the friends gathered. The camaraderie, if not exactly the party, began. Conversation flourished. We talked. We gossiped. We needled. We laughed. We played cards, or Pac Man (there was a free game machine on the premises) or checked our Facebook accounts. One or two of us actually took our work with us and got something accomplished.

As it turned out, the only effect the impending storm had on us was limiting the restaurants we wanted to go to. The Provision Company and Fishy Fishy in Southport were wading in high-tide water, while the Provision Company at Holden Beach had, ironically, no water at all (a water main was being repaired). So we altered plans on the fly.

The only moment of consternation for me might have been Thursday night, when the wind picked up and the multi-level beach house began to sway on its pilings. That was interesting. That was the only time I seriously wondered if Route 211 could accommodate the entire population of Oak Island and Southport in an evacuation plan.

The best meal of the weekend was the one prepared by ourselves. Traditionally, the friends fix a low country boil, featuring fresh shrimp, red potatoes, onions, kielbasa sausage, and half-ears of corn, finished off with a homemade key lime pie for dessert. It was absolutely delicious.

Saturday was departure day. Kim and I left mid-morning so we could fulfill other obligations at home. The storm was never really a factor on Oak Island: no real ponding to speak of, and we never lost our utilities.

I guess the weekend never really qualified as a hurricane party. It was never meant to. Instead, it was a celebration of friendship. So thank you Raeann and Chris, Beverley and Tobin, and Kristi and Dave. It was great fun.

And now that we're home, here on Sunday morning, it seems to be rainier and windier now than in the previous four or five days.

Maybe we ought to go somewhere safe — like Oak Island.

By the way, this was Kim's and my 35th anniversary weekend. So, happy anniversary, Kim.