Saving History

June 7, 2009

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For years, as NC State has upgraded and renovated its athletics facilities, much of the historical data and memorabilia stowed in Reynolds Coliseum, Case Athletics Center and the Weisiger-Brown Building has been shifted around and moved to different locations. Frank Weedon, NC State’s senior associate athletics director emeritus and de facto department historian, has been the caretaker of it all, pretty much since he came to work here in 1960.

He has done an excellent job of making sure it has been preserved.

In recent years, Frank has scaled back his daily work duties, as he and his wife Janice both dealt with serious health challenges. Many of you know that Janice Weedon passed away in January after a long battle with breast cancer.

Frank has recovered from a fall he took last May and is doing better – he’s still a fixture at many NC State athletic events, banquets and other functions. But athletics director Lee Fowler and senior associate athletic director David Horning asked me to begin the process of cataloguing and better organizing everything that Frank has stored over the years in the basement and in some of the concourse closets of Reynolds Coliseum, which is neither heated nor air-conditioned.

I haven’t lived most of this history the way Frank did, but I have written about much of it over the years as a newspaper reporter, author and managing editor of GoPack.com. I have spent many hours in the basement of Reynolds, researching stories that I have written for GoPack.com, the Wolfpacker the NC State Alumni Magazine and two books on NC State basketball. The files down there are an unbelievable historic resource.

But saving what is in Reynolds is a massive undertaking.

Most of it is stored in what is affectionately known as “The Cage,” so called because it in an enclosed and locked chain-link fence area in the basement just beside the indoor rifle range. There are dozens of filing cabinets filled with thousands of legal files that contain information about every athlete who has ever competed for North Carolina College for Agricultural and Mechanical Arts, NC State College and NC State University. There are books full of pictures and slides.

Much of it is covered in a thick layer of dust that requires a swine-flu mask whenever anyone spends more than a few minutes down there.

There are also hundreds and hundreds of reels of 16mm film of basketball games dating back decades. Among the reels I found on Tuesday was a small role of film that featured Frankfort, Ind., High School, coached by Everett Case, playing in the 1937 Indiana High School playoffs. I can’t wait to see what it looks like.

Case, of course, was the first coach, in high school or college, to ever film games or practices. Many of those reels still exist. I just found a roll that includes three games from 1946, Case’s first year at NC State.

Sadly, some of the film has deteriorated beyond repair, as it has been moved from place to place and stored in an area without climate control. I came across a reel of film from NC State’s first Final Four appearance, in 1950, that had disintegrated in its tin can. The vinegary smell of rotting film is hard to describe and even harder to stomach. So it is imperative that we save what we can.

The school had a major scare a few years ago when one of the ROTC classrooms at Reynolds caught on fire, causing extensive smoke and water damage to the grand old building, which opened in 1949. All of that history could have been destroyed in a heartbeat and is still quite vulnerable.

Since then, I’ve wanted save and reorganize all the material, put it in a temperature-controlled space and make sure we have duplicate and digital versions of everything, in case some catastrophic event destroys the originals.

This summer, with the help of Wolfpack football player Donald Bowens and athletics marketing intern Blake Scher, we’ll be uncovering, cleaning and, mostly importantly, saving all that we can. They’ve already gotten an education about the many hidden secrets of Reynolds Coliseum.

I hope one day to have many of those secrets included it in an NC State athletics museum.

We have talked with the folks at the Special Collections Division of the NC State Library about helping us preserve the most important stuff we find – after we save our own copies. The library already houses much of the historic files and film from years gone by. We are looking to convert the film from 16mm to a high-definition digital format that we can eventually use on GoPack.com or in video displays, if we can find the appropriate funding to make those costly conversions.

With the 100th season of NC State basketball coming up this year, it’s important to remember and save the history that has been untouched for quite a while.

Fans can follow what I am loosely calling “The Reynolds Project,” in this blog space on GoPack.com and get daily tweets by subscribing to PackTimPeeler on the NC State athletics Twitter page.

I’ll let you know about some of the interesting stuff we come across. Like these nuggets:

To me, this stuff is priceless.

There’s plenty more that we will uncover, including many pictures that we hope to scan into digital format. I’ll tweet about those on the Twitter page. Feel free to sign up and follow along.