Observations and Punditry
Monday, September 11, 2006
By Woody Peele
Aiken now driving that big
Buick in the sky
East Carolina's 'original' SID, dead at 88, had his own one-of-a-kind
approach to life
All rights reserved.
Unless you’re a long-time follower of East
Carolina athletics, the name Earl Aiken won’t mean a lot to you.
Earl, 88, passed away Friday and his
funeral will be held this morning in Greenville.
He was the first sports information
director at ECU, coming to the school from Lenoir-Rhyne when Clarence
Stasavich was hired as head football coach by Dr. Leo Jenkins.
Earl was one of the first persons I met on
the then-ECC campus when I came to The Daily Reflector as sports
editor in January of 1964. Turned out, he was a neighbor of mine, living
just across the street from my first Greenville home.
But I later learned that I had heard of
him — in a way — before that.
While working on the Goldsboro
News-Argus, I won a pair of tickets to the East Carolina-Wake Forest
football in September, 1963. As a Wake Forest graduate, I was glad to
get the chance to see my Deacons, never realizing that, just a few
months later, I would establish a relationship with East Carolina that
far outdistanced my love for Wake.
At the game, which the Pirates won, 20-10,
I kept hearing the public announcer commenting on “Weawab.”
“Where’s Weawab?” he would question during
a break in the action. “Has anybody see Weawab?”
Turned out, that was kept on throughout
the 1963 home season. Not long after moving to Greenville, I learned the
story behind it.
Buick, that year, was holding a contest
among collegiate SID's to see which one could best promote the auto
maker during the football season. Earl, ever the promoter, came up with
the Weawab deal. He got the band to play the Buick theme at every game.
Weawab, it turned out, meant “Will Earl
Aiken Win A Buick?” the prize for the winning SID.
And it won the prize. Earl took possession
of the Buick just a short time after I moved, and he was one proud
When the Pirates moved to Harrington
Field, wooden bleachers stood on the first and third base sides of the
field with a gap behind home plate. The school built a wooden press box
on stilts behind the backstop for us media types and the SID people. (It
turned out to be the best press box we had over the years, until the
construction of Clark-LeClair Stadium.)
Earl would park his Buick immediately
behind the press box, where it was shielded from foul balls that sailed
over the backstop. But, sure enough, one day, a high popup just cleared
the box and plunked on the hood of the car.
You would have thought Earl was going to
During his career with the Pirates, Earl
earned the nickname “Shaky Aiken.” It came from a couple of things.
First, Earl loved to talk. He never met a stranger, and loved to gab
with anyone, usually telling tales about people he’d known in the sports
world. Earl’s son, Mike, told me that his dad passed away with his mouth
open, very typical of him in life.
The rest of the nickname came because Earl
was always nervous about something. I first learned this when ECC
traveled to Spartanburg, SC, to play Wofford on Oct. 10, 1964. The
Pirates were 3-0 on the year and riding a 12-game winning streak.
Wofford, too, was unbeaten.
That afternoon, before the game, Earl was
in high agony. “I know we’re going to lose,” he told us. “I just know
it. We’re going to lose,” he kept repeating over and over.
We thought that going to supper would cool
him down, but no such luck. Earl ordered a steak, but after taking just
one bite, pushed his chair back and told us he couldn’t eat. “I’m just
too upset about the game,” he said. “I’m going to the room.”
After we finished eating, we went to check
on Earl and found him with Dr. Bert Aycock, the team physician at the
“I’m having a heart attack,” Earl woefully
“You’re not having a heart attack,” Dr.
Aycock said. “You’re just having an anxiety attack.”
“Is that all?” Earl asked. “Am I OK?”
“You’re fine,” the doctor told him. “Just
“Alright,” Earl said. “I’m fine now. We’re
going to win tonight. I just know it. We’re going to win.”
One year, Earl and I and my wife, Linda,
were traveling to Charlotte for the Southern Conference basketball
tournament. It was beginning to snow as we traveled along the road near
Salisbury and Earl wanted to stop and call home.
We pulled into a restaurant parking lot up
on a hill from the road where there was a public phone booth. Earl made
his call and we started down the hill back to the road.
“Stop the car,” Earl nearly screamed. I
asked what was the matter.
“I talked over three minutes and I owe the
lady (the operator) some more money,” he said. “Back up, back up.”
So I had to back up the hill to the booth.
He got back on the phone and the operator laughed and told him not to
worry about it. (I think it was a dime he would have owed.)
That’s the kind of man Earl Aiken was, a
talker, a worrier, and a gentleman. East Carolina has lost a long-time
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