by Sara Heilman (NHS class of 2018)
Pittsboro, NC – Northwood High School inducted five members and one team into its Athletics Hall of Fame on Friday October 19 before the start of the homecoming game against Orange High School. Those inducted into the 2018 class include: Johnny Baldwin, Kimberly McIntosh Brower, Archie Cross, Ernest Dark, Errol Roper, and the 1971 Charger Football Team.
Johnny Baldwin was Northwood High School’s first All-American athlete for baseball, while also lettering in football and basketball. After attending Northwood between 1972 and 1976, Baldwin played baseball at Campbell University alongside legendary Cal Koonce when he was drafted by the New York Yankees organization as a pitcher. After rapidly moving up the AAA ranks, Baldwin suffered a career-ending injury. Not to be deterred by this setback, Baldwin continued to promote his passion for baseball as a volunteer coach. He coached for Little League, the Cal Ripken League, and eventually his own travel team, which ranked #1 in the state and #15 nationally.
Kimberly McIntosh Brower was a 3-season athlete at Northwood High School. He played four years of varsity basketball and varsity softball. She also played three years of varsity tennis, where she served seat number two before her graduation in 1985. During her junior year, Brower was named All-Conference for basketball, complimented by a senior year honor of this same recognition in tennis. However, Brower’s successes at Northwood were not limited to athletics. Brower served as junior year homecoming queen, a member of IACA, FBLA, and FHA. Brower continued to contribute to the community after graduation. She coached Chatham County recreational sports for eight years and taught Sunday School at Mount Sinai AME church.
Archie Cross, a defensive lineman for the Northwood’s Chargers, graduated in 1973 as Northwood’s first student-athlete to be selected to the NCCA East-West All Star Game. A member of the renowned 10-2 football team during his senior year, Cross ended his final year at Northwood with honors, being named All-Conference, Conference Lineman of the Year, and second team All-State selection. Cross recalls how “…Athletics brought me out of my shyness and helped me with my social life. This was a period when our schools integrated and [sports] helped me adjust to a diverse society at school. Athletics also instilled discipline and being a team player. I am very proud to be a Northwood Charger and I have enjoyed watching the rich football tradition continue.” It is apparent that Cross’s contributions to Charger football were as prominent on the field as off.
Ernest H. Dark, Sr. is a former star athlete and later teacher, coach, and driver’s education instructor in Chatham County. Graduating from Horton High School, Dark earned a B.S. from NC A&T University in mathematics at the age of 19. Teaching mathematics at Northwood from 1970-1984, Dark served as assistant varsity football coach, varsity baseball coach, and athletic director. During his tenure, Dark was most proud of the ’71 Charger football team for not only their undefeated season but for “…bridging the racial divide…” as Chatham’s high schools merged. He is equally proud of the ’71 championship baseball season.
Later in his career, Michele Foster embodied Dark’s career as a fictitious character, Everett Dawson, in her book Black Teachers on Teaching, which depicted the journey of a black teacher. After retiring from teaching, Dark served as Upward Bound’s Curriculum Coordinator at UNC Chapel Hill where he was honored with the Richard Caswell Award in June of 1998 for his dedicated years of service to the students of North Carolina.
Errol Roper is a track and cross-country legend in Chatham County where he served as both teacher and coach at Jordan Matthews and Northwood high schools for 29 years. Roper coached five individual State Champions during his tenure. He was selected Conference Coach of the Year on four occasions for track and once for cross country. Perhaps Roper’s initiative to install the first paved track in Chatham County or his building of the original cross country trail at Northwood was the motivation for his track team’s Conference Championship in ‘84 and ‘85, or his cross country team’s Conference Championship in ‘81. In any regard, Roper reflects upon his years of Chatham County service recalling how “…many of my former students that I remember fondly were also my former athletes…where I had a chance to see them work their hardest…[often] succeeding to an even greater extent than they even expected.”
1971 Charger Football Team: In 1970, Horton and Pittsboro High Schools combined to create Northwood, completing the integration of Chatham County schools. As one would expect, there was hostility and apprehension. Two groups with extremely different backgrounds and experiences, both with preconceived notions about the other, were forced to coexist. And yet, somehow, in the second year ever of Northwood’s existence, the varsity football team went undefeated. As my final project in Northwood’s journalism program during my senior year here, I got to research this golden team. And on a crisp Friday fall evening, Northwood High School inducted this team into its Athletics Hall of Fame.
By 1971, the team was on a roll, shutting out five opponents on the way to an undefeated record in the Central Tar Heel Conference and a spot in the conference championship game. Their opponent would be the No. 1-ranked team in the state, winners of 19 straight games: Jordan-Matthews. The game, played November 5, 1971, would come to be known as the “Chatham Bowl.” The Northwood Chargers beat their rival school, JM, 20-12 in the conference championship. And, in this moment, the Northwood football team became the face of successful school integration in the area. It was a major turning point in the school’s history.
That team owed most of their success to one thing: the fact that they respected each other as individuals. The fact that rather than making assumptions, rather than operating on stereotypes, they, as quarterback Johnny Richardson told me, got to know each other. The 1971 team remains vivid in Northwood’s identity. This group of athletes was and is a family, and their impact is what allowed Northwood to become the successfully integrated, community-driven school it is today.
Congratulations to the newest members inducted into the Northwood High School Athletics Hall of Fame!
Photos by Gene Galin from the Northwood Homecoming Game against Orange High School can be viewed here.