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Observations and Punditry

Woody's Ramblings
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 owner.

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 cry.

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 time.

“I’m having a heart attack,” Earl woefully told us.

“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 relax.”

“Alright,” Earl said. “I’m fine now. We’re going to win tonight. I just know it. We’re going to win.”

And we did, 21-0.

One further Earl story.

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 fan.

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02/23/2007 02:44:32 PM

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