A future major leaguer was head coach of the first of area’s 44 state football champions
By Richard Walker
With high schools from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties claiming 19 football state titles in the past 18 years, local fans have come to expect postseason success.
It wasn’t always that way.
In fact, in the first 20 years N.C. high school teams competed for state titles that began in 1913, only one local team brought home a title – old Gastonia High’s 1925 team.
That historic first title also may have concluded the most dominant championship run in an area that has produced 44 state champions overall, including six in the last seven seasons by Shelby High alone.
It’s because Gastonia’s 1925 football team went 11-0 overall and outscored its opponents 286-6.
The only points yielded by the Green Wave came in a season-opening 48-6 victory over Barium Springs.
Coached by an eventual major leaguer and World Series champion, Gastonia also was two years removed from the most lopsided loss ever suffered by a local team.
Charlotte’s old Central routed the Green Wave 108-0 in a 1923 state playoff game.
But with many of those same players working and improving, C.R. “Pat” Crawford coached Gastonia into a championship team.
Led by halfbacks John Frederick (12 touchdowns) and Phil Jackson (10 touchdowns), quarterback Ed Rutter (five touchdown passes) and captain Rudy Carson, a two-way lineman, the Green Wave had only three games that were even competitive.
In the team’s first road game at Monroe, Gastonia won 7-0 as Frederick scored the game’s lone touchdown.
In the third playoff game, Jackson scored the only touchdown in a 6-0 win over Winston-Salem in a game played in Salisbury.
And in the Dec. 5 state championship game at the University of North Carolina football stadium in Chapel Hill, Frederick scored the only touchdown and Gastonia’s defense recorded a safety in an 8-0 win over Sanford.
(Ironically, Gastonia’s Ashbrook High School would win its first state title 49 years later with a 13-12 victory at Sanford Central.)
Carson, the team’s last surviving member, would eventually play football at Davidson College, work at a Gastonia textile mill and eventually owned Carson’s Sporting Goods in Gastonia. He sold his store in the late 1960s to Frances Essic, who renamed the business Essic Sport Shop, which remains in operation off Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia.
Carson died at 86 on Dec. 20, 1994 in Gastonia.
Crawford, a Davidson football and baseball standout, had just completed his second season year of minor league baseball before beginning practice drills with his 1925 Gastonia team.
An infielder, Crawford played for Charlotte’s South Atlantic League team in 1924 and Greenville, S.C.’s South Atlantic League from 1925 to 1927 before resigning as Gastonia’s football, basketball and baseball coach to pursue baseball on a fulltime basis.
Crawford, who coached Gastonia’s baseball team to a 1926 state runner-up finish, played for Class AA Toledo before his contract was bought by legendary manager John McGraw of the New York Giants (now the San Francisco Giants).
Crawford would spend two years with the Giants, two years with the Cincinnati Reds and two years with the St. Louis Cardinals’ top minor league team in Columbus, Ohio, before he was promoted to the Cardinals’ major league roster.
There, he joined the infamous “Gashouse Gang” that featured Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean and he would play two seasons, ending his career on the Cardinals’ 1934 World Series champions.
After he retired from baseball, Crawford moved to Kinston in Eastern N.C., where he became a beloved recreation director and member of the Lenoir County Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2017, Crawford was posthumously inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame.
Crawford died at 91 on Jan. 25, 1994 while living in Morehead City.
A list of N.C. high school football champions from Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties:
1925 — Gastonia (Open classification)
1934 — Cherryville (WNCHSAA Western)
1946 — Highland (NCHSAC)
1947 — Shelby (WNCHSAA Western)
1956 — Kings Mountain (WNCHSAA Western)
1956 — Cleveland (NCHSAC 6-man)
1957 — Cleveland (NCHSAC 6-man)
1963 — Mount Holly (2A Piedmont)
1967 — Mount Holly (2A Western)
1968 — Shelby (WNCHSAA)
1970 — Shelby (WNCHSAA)
1971 — South Point (co-WNCHSAA)
1972 — Shelby (WNCHSAA)
1974 — Ashbrook (4A)
1975 — Shelby (co-WNCHSAA)
1976 — Shelby (WNCHSAA)
1979 — South Point (3A)
1984 — Shelby (3A Western Division II)
1986 — Shelby (3A)
1987 — Shelby (3A)
1993 — Lincolnton (2A)
1994 — Burns (3A)
1994 — Crest (4A)
1996 — Crest (4A)
1998 — Shelby (2A)
2002 — Ashbrook (3AA)
2003 — South Point (3A)
2003 — Crest (3AA)
2004 — Crest (3AA)
2005 — Shelby (2AA)
2006 — Shelby (2AA)
2007 — Lincolnton (2A)
2009 — South Point (3AA)
2012 — East Lincoln (2A)
2013 — Shelby (2A)
2014 — Shelby (2A)
2014 — East Lincoln (2AA)
2014 — Crest (3A)
2015 — Shelby (2A)
2015 — Crest (3AA)
2016 — Shelby (2AA)
2016 — South Point (3A)
2018 — Shelby (2AA)
2019 — Shelby (2AA)