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View from the 'ville
Thursday, May 28, 2009

By Al Myatt

Hometown boosters honoring a legend

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 Davidson.

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 expectations."

Thrift's programs weren't beset by some of the issues outside competition that too often take the luster off of athletics today.

"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," Southern said.

"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.

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05/28/2009 02:09:19 AM


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