The Craven County Pirate Club is
honoring the memory of East Carolina legend Roger Thrift with a golf
tournament to raise money to endow a scholarship in Thrift's name. The
event event will be held on June 19 at Carolina Pines Golf and Country
Club in New Bern.
Thrift quarterbacked the Pirates in
1949 and 1950 before embarking on a career in coaching and athletic
administration. He was inducted into the ECU Sports Hall of Fame in
1977. Thrift's No. 36 is one of four retired ECU football jerseys.
"He was a hall of fame kind of guy,"
said his son-in-law, Chuck Gilgo, who played for Thrift at New Bern High
School. Gilgo's wife Kristi, Thrift's daughter, began teaching at New
Bern in 1985, the same year Thrift retired as athletic director.
Thrift died at age 80 in early 2007 and
the Craven County Pirate Club has decided that it's time to celebrate
his exemplary life.
"Mark Hessert from the Pirate Club
approached us about a golf tournament," said Tom Southern of the Craven
chapter. "Nothing had been done on his behalf. A lot of people in New
Bern thought a lot of Roger Thrift.
"He was absolutely a gentleman. It
wasn't like talking to a lot of jocks or coaches. He was very low key."
Southern came up with the idea of
combining the golf tournament and honoring Thrift but declines credit.
"The important thing is that we're
getting something done on his behalf," Southern said.
Thrift's records have fallen by the
wayside as ECU's offenses have continually evolved but he was definitely
a superstar in his era.
Thrift was drafted out of what was then
East Carolina College by the Cleveland Browns but weighed his options,
which included another year of eligibility with the Pirates, and decided
to go into coaching at Murfreesboro High.
"He could analyze things and he knew
the Browns had Otto Graham at quarterback," Gilgo said. "He would have
wanted to play if he went to the pros. He had been in the Navy when he
was 18 so he was already older and more mature. He had two good years at
East Carolina and he was ready to move into his career as a coach."
So that's what Thrift did. He spent a
year at Murfreesboro and then moved to Williamston for five years where
he mentored baseball hall of famer Gaylord Perry. He married his wife,
Fran, in 1954.
After a year in Sanford, Thrift became
an assistant football coach at Davidson and was there for five years.
He became football coach at New Bern in
1965. He stepped down as football coach in 1976 but remained at the
school as athletic director. He continued coaching golf. During his
career he also coached tennis, baseball and basketball.
"He could coach it all because he could
do it all," Gilgo said.
Thrift's 12 varsity letters as an
athlete at Chapel Hill High School are a testimony to his versatility.
Thrift said on occasion that he felt
guilty about being compensated for coaching because he loved it so much.
Gilgo knew about Thrift from the time
he began crossing a four-lane road near old New Bern High to attend
games with a family friend. Gilgo's dad, Bill, had played against
Thrift's Williamston teams for the Washington Pam Pack. Bill went on to
play at The Citadel and encountered Thrift again during his stint at
Bill Gilgo was on Bob Paroli's staff at
Jacksonville when Thrift was coaching the Bears at New Bern.
"One of the first things I wanted to
know when my dad took a job in New Bern was who was I going to be
playing for," Chuck Gilgo said. "My dad said I couldn't ask for a better
coach. When I got closer to the time I played, he exceeded my
Thrift's programs weren't beset by some
of the issues outside competition that too often take the luster off of
"He never had problems in his
programs," Gilgo said. "It seemed like he was squeaky clean as an
administrator and a coach. He picked good coaches, too."
Bob Shields, a retired FBI agent, spoke
at Thrift's funeral. Shields' son, Rob, had played at New Bern and
earned a scholarship to Virginia. Thrift even managed to successfully
deal with the challenging circumstances of integration during his tenure
at New Bern.
"(Shields) pointed out at the funeral
that Roger Thrift was the right man at the right place at the right time
during integration," Gilgo said. "He had the experience and the
personality to handle that transition."
Gilgo said Thrift never had anything
bad to say about anyone.
"He believed in that old saying that if
you couldn't say anything good, you shouldn't say anything," Gilgo said.
"As his son-in-law, we've had some quiet moments but he would change the
subject and just move on."
Thrift was active in his church,
Trinity United Methodist in New Bern, and abided by the judgment of
longtime friends in their areas of expertise.
Thrift's son, Michael, has a sound
production company in Wilmington. He preferred playing the drums to
playing sports but his dad encouraged him to do well in whatever
endeavor he pursued.
Thrift also is enshrined in the New
Bern hall of fame and the North Carolina Athletic Directors' hall of
fame. He was president of the North Carolina Coaches Association in
1976-77 and also served on the board of directors of the North Carolina
Athletic Directors Association.
"People thought the world of him,"
"When he died, I got cards from all
over the United States," said Fran Thrift. "Everybody loved him."
The Roger Thrift golf tournament is
scheduled for a 1 p.m. shotgun start on Friday, June 19, with a
superball format. Entry fee is $50 per player or $200 per team. Butch
Ricks, president of the Craven County Pirate Club, can provide
additional information. His phone number is (252) 633-5268. Carolina
Pines Golf and Country Club is located at 465 Carolina Pines Boulevard
in New Bern. The phone number for the golf club is (252) 444-1000.