Real Student Athletes
My visit to Dr. Thompson Mann this morning reminded me that I hadn't written the second part of an article I wrote sometime back on Dick Bunting. Even though Dr. Mann didn't give me the news I wanted ( blood sugar is even higher than last week even though I have not consciously consumed any sugar), I think it is time for me to write about a Tar Heel who broke the world's record for the 100 meter backstroke in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
Dr. Mann was an accomplished swimmer while at UNC and Bill Axelle, a former distinguished member of the Virginia General Assembly, tells a story about him that is priceless. BA had a friend who was a member of the Wake Forest swimming team and he was determined to beat TM in the ACC championships. During the heat, when he went head to head with TM, BA's friend said he never felt better about his stroke and was sure he had finally conquered his nemesis, TM.
As the friend of BA reached the finish line, he emerged from the pool and looked back to see how far back TM was. To his chagrin, TM had already emerged from the pool and was leaning over to help him out of the pool. Anyone who knows TM knows that he was not trying to disrespect his opponent, he was and is a gracious person and was not trying to "rub in" the fact that he had been victorious.
But TM's 15 seconds of fame occurred in 1964 when he swam the first leg of the U.S. Medley Relay Team. His time was 59.6. The world's record at that time was 1.9 minutes.
TM received a gold medal for his accomplishment as a member of the relay team but was not afforded an opportunity to win an individual gold because there was no competition in the 100 yard backstroke in 1964. Wouldn't you know it. They reinstated the 100 meter backstroke as an individual event in 1968.
TM doesn't talk much about his exploits, at least not to me. Each Olympics, the local TV stations give him a lot of attention but he looks like it embarrasses him. I remember once, at halftime of an ACC basketball game, they asked who was the former ACC swimmer who was the first person in the world to swim the 100 meter backstroke in less than 1 minute. It just so happened that I had an appointment with him the following day and I asked him if he heard the question asked the previous night. He said that he heard the answer but that he was out of the room when the question had been asked and had not heard it. I felt honored that I could remember the question verbatum even though I don't know a lot about swimming. He said he had gotten several telephone calls that morning but none of them could remember the numbers involved in the question. Incidentally, I have a confession to make. I can't swim and I'm sure someone is going to wonder how I graduated from UNC. It's simple. In someone's ultimate wisdom, they exempted veterans from having to meet the swimming requirement. It's one of the biggest disappointments of my life that I could never learn how to swim. I tried desperately to learn when I was in the service but the damage done by a childhood incident was too much to overcome. My hat's off to all of you who can swim and I often wonder if I would ever have received a diploma if I had not been granted the exemption. I also wonder how many other schools have this requirement and how many UNC students have been denied their diploma for failure to meet this requirement. It was adopted during World War 11 and, for some reason, has never been eliminated.
TM, who is originally from Great Bridge, Va., attended UNC as an undergraduate and the Medical College of Virginia Medical School. He is married and has twin sons who are of college age.
Though TM's time is well off the current world's record ( In Atlanta, all 8 finalists were under 56 seconds ) he looks back on 1964 with pride. After training the entire summer before the Olympics, he genuinely felt he would break the world's record in Tokyo. He had done it twice before but neither had been recognized as an official world's record. TM was very confident going into the Olympics and he says, " I just knew it was going to happen."
At the age of 58, TM doesn't swim much anymore and he says he doesn't keep up with what's happening in the world of competitive swimming. But in 1964, TM was the King of the Road. He accomplished something countless other individuals had tried and failed. And folks, he did this while training to be a physician. That's what I call a real student athlete.
The University of North Carolina has been good to me. For a rattle brained adolescent from Raleigh who played his way through high school and graduated in the lower 10% of his class, I had no right to expect such treatment. But, I was one of these individuals who benefited from 4 years in the service and I am extremely grateful that the State of N.C. saw fit to allow veterans admission to UNC regardless of their academic background, and I wasn't about to let this second chance slip through my fingers. Hopefully, I made the University proud when I made the Dean's list several semesters, qualified for the honors program and came within 1 course of making Phi Beta Kappa. It's hard to overcome a F and be admitted to Phi Beta Kappa but my F was deserved and turned out to be a positive force in my life.
UNC has been good to me in ways other than the education I received. UNC has trained two medical doctors who have tended to my medical needs for the past several years. Both of medical doctors were outstanding athletes and I am extremely proud of the fact that their days in Chapel Hill were spent partially on things other than sports, even though I know it must have been difficult for them.
My ophthalmologist until several months ago was Dick Bunting who was Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice's backup during the glory days of UNC football.. When I was in high school, I worked at night as copy boy at the Raleigh News and Observer. I loved that job because it enabled me to be near the college sports scene and experience some things denied other youths my age. I will never forget the photograph I saw there of Dick Bunting on the ground having clearly crossed the goal line in Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame with what looked like every ND player on the field on top of him. DB was grinning from ear to ear knowing that he had just scored against the mighty Irish. Youngsters have no way of knowing how big Notre Dame football used to be. They were thought to be the number 1 team in the nation every year even if the polls didn't agree, and to beat Notre Dame was the obsession of every team they played because it insured national publicity. The game against Notre Dame in 1949 was the only game "Choo Choo" missed in his 4 years at Carolina and Carl Snavely later admitted he was reluctant to play CJ that day because he wanted him ready to play against Duke the following Saturday, a game won by UNC 21-20.
I first met DB when he was a resident at the University of Virginia and I was the Asst Director of Personnel. We used to bump into each other in the halls and when we did, the conversation was always about UNC football. After a UNC-UVA game in the early 60's, I had a gathering at my house after the game and both CJ and DB were in attendance. I remember vividly several things from that day.
CJ and DB talked about how good they felt at halftime of the ND-UNC game. They had made Leon Hart, ND's all-American end a non-factor in the game and felt they were in good shape even though the score was tied at 6-6. Leon Hart got the last laugh as he took the field for the second half a new man and he terrorized the Heels. The final score was 42-6 in favor of the Irish.
The second thing I remember is asking CJ if he could remember the hardest he had ever been hit in a football game.. Without hesitation, he responded by naming a player who had tackled him in in a game played at Pearl Harbor while "Choo Choo" was in service. CJ said he thought he was dead. I don't remember the name of the player CJ named.
CJ asked us if we had gotten a copy of his biography which had just hit the book stores, written by Bob Quincy the former SID at UNC. We were embarrassed to say we had not gotten a copy of the book, but CJ excused himself for a moment, went to his car and returned to the party with a case of the books. He individually autographed a copy for each person in attendance and I still have my copy located where I can occasionally flip through it and remember that night in Charlottesville.
The third thing I remember is a close friend of mine who was a Duke graduate saying to CJ that he (CJ) was the best football player he had seen in his life. I was relieved when my friend did that because I knew how pained he was over what CJ had done to Duke in his career and was worried that alcohol might cause him to say something that was not totally complimentary. I had warned my friend that if he said anything disrespectful to or about CJ that night that he had to leave. Keep in mind that UNC beat Duke 4 straight years while CJ was at Carolina and that was when Duke football was good. They had played in the Rose Bowl as late as 1942. In 1949, the attendance at the Duke-Carolina game at Duke drew 49,500. Can you imagine that many people in a stadium hat has a capacity of 35,000?
Well, I've rambled a bit so I will bring this to a close. I mentioned earlier that DB WAS my eye doctor, and some of you may have wondered why I used the past tense. DB retired several months ago from his practice in Williamsburg and I haven't been able to find another ex-UNC football player doctor to replace him.
Next time, I will write about Thompson Mann, my primary care physician.