by Charles P. Bentley ’58
Reading the winter 2004 Debate Update brought back many humorous memories of my experiences as a member of the 1956-1957 debate team. Colleagues I remember from that year included Steve Blackwell, Joe Grubbs, and David Hughes.
During the spring of 1957, we traveled by train from Greensboro to Washington, DC where we participated in the Cherry Blossom Tournament. (This overnight train ride was a new experience for most of us, and we slept very little.) We returned to Winston-Salem on a Saturday and only had time to quickly re-pack for a trip to the big speech tournament at the University of Georgia in Athens. Mr. Shirley had made plans for us to go back to Greensboro and catch a day coach to Atlanta. No one was ever sure how we were going to get from Atlanta to Athens! At any rate, I had a 1952 Ford, and Mr. Shirley asked me to take the team to Greensboro. Someone must have overslept, because by the time we got to Kernersville, it was obvious we were going to miss the train! Joe Grubbs’ uncle owned the Ford dealership in Kernersville, and he volunteered to load us all into a new fast Ford and outrun the train to Salisbury. As the speedometer hit 95 and 100 mph, Professor Shirley closed his eyes-either in prayer or panic! We reached the train station in Spencer/Salisbury in time to board the train for Atlanta. Riding a Day Coach which stopped at every little town between Salisbury and Atlanta was also a new experience for us. Needless to say, we didn’t make very good time.
Somewhere in South Carolina Professor Shirley got a map and began to figure out how we were going to get to Athens in time for the Sunday evening activities. Noting that the train stopped in Gainesville, Ga., which was only about 40 miles west of Athens, some of the creative members of the team convinced Professor Shirley that we should just get off the train in Gainesville and catch a bus to Athens. So, when the train finally reached Gainesville, we retrieved our luggage and disembarked. In 1957, Sunday evening in Gainesville did not appear to be a very busy place! In fact, the only visible transportation seemed to be an old limo driven by a huge black gentleman.
Prof Shirley and four members of the debate team piled in to the limo, and headed for the bus station. Our driver had overheard us talking about catching a bus to Athens, and he informed us that the next bus to Athens would be at 8:00 am Monday morning. Someone asked the driver how much he would charge to take us to Athens. His announced fee of ten dollars (total) seemed a little high to Prof Shirley, but he didn’t want to sit in a bus station all night, so he agreed to the limo fee. About an hour later, we arrived at the Univ. of Georgia! What a trip!!
I hope travel arrangements are more carefully planned for today’s debate team at Wake Forest. Prof Frank Shirley was indeed a wonderful coach and a great person, but planning logistics for debate team trips was not a high priority with him.
And now, the rest of the story about that trip—It occurred during our spring break, and the extended speech festival lasted the entire week. Steve Blackwell and I wanted to return to Winston-Salem once the debate portion of the festival was completed so we could visit our girl friends. We, therefore, convinced Prof. Shirley to give us our return train fare, and we thumbed back to Winston-Salem! I’ll not drag out this epistle by describing that most interesting trip, except to tell you how it ended… We finally reached Lexington, NC around 9:00pm, and we were not having any luck catching a ride on to Winston-Salem. While we were enthusiastically thumbing every vehicle that passed us on Highway 52, two or three Wake Forest vans loaded with the baseball team passed us by. The baseball team was returning from a spring trip to Florida. . Of course, they didn’t know we were Wake Forest students, and they probably didn’t have room for us anyway but it did make us a little bitter at the time! We finally caught a ride with a young man who was only going to Welcome, about twelve miles from our destination. After hearing our sad story, he agreed to take us on to the campus for a fee of $5.00.
Well, it was a different era, and hitch-hiking did not appear to be very dangerous. And the rest of the story is that we got to spend a long weekend with our girl friends whom we married in June of 1957. After 47 years, Steve is still married to Lynn Laughrn (WF-’58), and Lois (WF- ’60) still puts up with me even though I still feel guilty about not picking up hitch hikers.