05 September 2009


By Andy Weddington
Saturday, 05 September 2009

                                                                       JOEL RAY SCOGGINS
                                                                 25 January 1957 - 02 September 2009

Behavioral psychologists have long-agreed we develop into who we are going to be fairly early in life--long before graduating from high school. As such, though I have not seen nor had any contact, whatsoever, with Joel Scoggins in nearly thirty-five years, I feel comfortable penning this tribute--my memories of him are clear. Others, who knew and interacted with him throughout life, had the sobering task of eulogizing him today. I know there was tears. I hope there was laughter. Joel would have wanted it no other way.

Now, a few words for a friend...

There was a day, not so long ago, when I thought anyone that had reached age 50 was old--real old. Now 52 and hurtling toward 53, 50 is not old--at all. In fact, if you ask me, 52 is the new 25--I don't feel any different than I did 27 years ago. My wife disagrees completely. She says it has nothing whatsoever to do with how I feel or look; it's how I act. In her mind, my 52 is the new 14 or 15. Oh well babe, hang on, my birthday is near!

Me, Tony Harris, Robin (Rob) Poteat, and one other, whom I cannot readily recall, shared birthdays with Joel Scoggins. The five of us were classmates--Class of 1975--at Hugh M. Cummings Senior High School, Burlington, NC--home of the Cavaliers. Cummings was the city high school on the "right" side of the tracks. Our cross-town rival, Walter M. Williams Senior High School--home of the Bulldogs--was on the "other" side of the tracks. Of course, a Bulldog saw the "tracks relationship" the other way. They were always a delusional bunch. By the way, we beat them in football my senior year: CHS: 14 WHS 13 It was the first time a Cummings football team had ever beaten Williams. There's not a Cavalier who will forget that game, nor a Bulldog.

Me, Tony, Rob, Joel, and all our classmates knew our Bulldog counterparts--we had gone to 9th grade together when the city tried an integration/forced bussing social engineering experiment that failed miserably. After 9th grade, some went "right" and some went "other." And compete we did during three years of high school, "the" football game one example, but remained friends--about the only good thing that could be said about Sellars-Gunn; the "9th graders only" public education disaster in Bigger, Better, Burlington.

Joel Ray Scoggins--a native son of Burlington, surrounded by family, died Wednesday evening in his home town after losing a gallant battle with cancer. That is one way to look at it. The opposite perspective is that cancer lost--Joel is now free of the disease that attacked him and he is at peace. His life eternal. The cancer is dead. Knowing Joel, a real joker, he's probably still pointing at the cancer and mocking it, " I won, I won, I won." His way, of telling all he left behind, "Hey, lighten up. I am fine. Let's have a party and laugh."

There was a day when news of Joel's death would have taken considerable time to reach classmates dispersed across the country and a few exotic spots around the globe. But not anymore. Within minutes of family notifying friends of Joel's death, at least one classmate, who still calls Burlington home, launched notification on FaceBook--the powerhouse social networking tool that has reduced the size of our planet to about the size of an early green pea--with a blue spot or two of mold on it--to mimic the appearance of its giant "twin." That would be Mother Earth.

In fact, I live in Southern California and relayed the news of Joel's death to a mutual friend who lives less than two hours from Burlington--and all his family lives in Burlington. He had not heard about Joel's death until I informed him on FaceBook "Chat" early Thursday morning. You better know it's a small green pea we call home.

Classmates posting on "Walls" and "Chatting" kept the news of Joel's death moving. Mark Andrews, Lisa Martin Hall, Steve Huffman, Ellen Denny Terrell, and a cute varsity cheerleader, Stephanie Wilkerson McBrayer--folks I had no contact with, at all, since high school--initially waded in with comment. All were friends with Joel.

In short order, other classmates were offering condolences and still others posting their memories of Joel. More of that in a moment. But you should know Joel Scoggins moved with ease between the cliquish groups found at any school--greasers, geeks, rednecks, hell-raisers, athletes, partiers, and all the pretty girls. For Joel, there were no boundries. Everyone knew Joel, and Joel knew no enemies.

My first memory of Joel goes back at least forty years. Our church basketball team competed in the local YMCA Recreation league and the one season I played we ran into a powerhouse team named the "Buccaneers." That team may as well have been competing in the NBA. Joel was one among a handful of incredibly talented athletes on that Buccaneer squad. I will not forget them for as long as I live--they crushed every opponent. At news of Joel's death, the names of other Buccaneers immediately came flashing back. I wondered if Gerry Morton, Billy Cole, Rags Smith, and Chuck Black had heard the news their teammate is gone? I could not believe those names came to me so suddenly. They had not crossed my mind in forty years. Playing that team was a nightmare 40 years ago. The names of the players still cause a little discomfort. What a team.

In addition to Joel's athleticism he was a big kid; considerably taller and bigger than his peers. An advantage he enjoyed through grade, junior, and high school. So, a couple of years later, it was nice that we were teammates on the junior high school (9th grade) football team--to see him run over and crush others instead of me.

As far as I know, there was not a sport Joel Scoggins did not excel at--he was a natural. He'd have probably tried figure skating had Burlington had an ice rink. I am sure our classmates are now howling conjuring up an image of Joel Scoggins lacing up ice skates. But Joel would not have been content to just try skating. Oh, no, he would have added some pizzazz for a laugh--maybe a nice pink pair or some other attention-getter--for no other purpose than the laugh.

Moving on to high school, for whatever reason, Joel and I drifted apart. Always remained friends but not "hang out" buddies or anything like that. In fact, if memory is serving me correctly, Joel gave up sports--I do not remember him playing in high school. It was a shame, the teams could have benefited from his talent and contributions. But Joel had other things to do.

After high school, I completely lost touch with Joel Scoggins. In fact, I lost touch with all my classmates. Not an unfamiliar story--lives get busy and one day you look up and ask, "Where the hell did 35 years go?" Before the Internet and these fabulous social networks it was damn near impossible to track anyone down once they left their hometown--unless parents or some other family happened to remain. What an incredible advantage (maybe a disadvantage if trying to get lost) today's young people have. It is going to be fascinating to see the long-term impact on society--globally, not just nationally--of an interconnected populace where no one can hide.

Only through reading Joel's obituary late Thursday night did I learn he had gone to college, leaves behind two sisters, three brothers, twelve nephews and nieces, and was preceded in death by a brother. Both parents are alive--I can only imagine their pain having lost a second child. It's just unnatural. Simple as that.

Joel Scoggins was not only a great athlete he was an outgoing soul. I recall a gregarious personality, bright, and quick-witted. He was a bit of a prankster and smiled a lot. Joel liked a good joke.

To back up that last sentence, I'll turn to a friend, and former teammate, of mine from Burlington days who lived a few blocks down and over a block or so from our family. Steve Huffman, a professional newspaper man, was good friends with Joel in our youth and the day after Joel's death Steve started posting some of his memories. Priceless stories and vintage Joel Scoggins. So, here you go...in the words of Steve Huffman, not only a talented writer but a gifted athlete who carried a football with grace and smooth moves like few I ever played with or saw.

Steve recalls...

"One of my favorite memories of Joel is when he learned that my father and his mother grew up together in Gibsonville. Joel was over at our house and he walked up to my father, looked down at the floor like he was real shy, then whispered, "Dad.""

"Another time, we were sitting at the kitchen table and Frank Norris (who went to high school with me and Joel) walked in. He was wearing shorts, with his boxer shorts hanging out from underneath. It was odd looking. Joel started laughing so hard, he got down on the floor and slapped the floor. My father laughed about that for the rest of his life."

And there were others but not enough room here to include everything so we'll leave it with just a teasing taste of the mind, wit, and charm of Joel Scoggins.

And for the record, today's kids don't have anything on Cummings' trend-setter, Frank Norris. In fact, if the truth were known, all the ridiculous styles of clothing since the early to mid-70's probably can be traced back to Frank Norris. I hope you're drawing royalty checks, Frank? And I bet Joel Scoggins has laughed and slapped the floor all through the years as kids thought they had found something new and were "cool" with their ridiculous-looking "fashion statements." Some things will probably never change.

On a serious note, Joel will be missed. His family and friends of course will miss him dearly. As will others whose lives he touched who may not learn of his death for days, weeks, months or even years to come. But thank goodness Joel Scoggins once walked, talked, and laughed amongst us. He enriched many a life. Like us all, he was blessed with many superb qualities and talents and certainly had his share of "flaws," but Joel Scoggins made a difference--for the good. No more can be asked of any human being. Despite a great big world and billions of people, Joel Scoggins was proof-positive one man can make a difference. No question, Joel Scoggins made a difference--a big difference.

Of all who will read this Commentary, no one would have more appreciation for the humor sprinkled throughout, than Joel Scoggins. He enjoyed a good laugh. I hope you are listening, Joel. Today's Commentary is a tribute to you. Rest easy. We, still slugging it out on this small green and blue pea, have the watch. For those of us who knew you, just thinking of you will keep us laughing. Until we meet again...keep them laughing in Alamance Memorial Park and elsewhere. Take care old friend. Semper Fidelis, Andy

Post Script

How ironic yet fitting this is my 52nd Commentary since introducing "A Colonel of Truth." Joel, as you are already aware, was 52 when he died. Some things in life, and death, are just meant to be.

Note: Steve Huffman, "Gofer" (self-declared title), contributed to this Commentary. Thank you, Steve.

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