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The Voice of the Black Community

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In step with their time
One-time rival alumni now share dance floor
 
Published Thursday, November 21, 2013 6:12 am
by Herbert L. White

Once bitter football rivals, West Charlotte and Second Ward high school alumni are the best of friends in a totally different arena.

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PHOTO/JON STRAYHORN
Dorothy Wise Douglas, a 1968 graduate of Second Ward High School, looks forward to the third annual Queen City Classic Extravaganza, which brings alumni of Second Ward and rival West Charlotte for a night of dancing and revelry. This year’s extravaganza is Nov. 29 at the National Guard Armory on West Boulevard.

For the third year, graduates of Charlotte’s two all-black high schools will take to the dance floor for the Queen City Classic Extravaganza Nov. 29 at the National Guard Armory at 4240 West Blvd. Proceeds from the dance – admission is $10 – will be split between the schools’ alumni associations. Equally important, the extravaganza is an opportunity to catch up and relive the pageantry of a marquee event among African Americans long before professional sports became reality here.

“We have some history, and Charlotte is known for tearing down its history,” said Dorothy Wise Douglas, Second Ward Class of 1968. “We wanted to reunite childhood friendships, school relationships and celebrate what the black community at that particular time felt was the Super Bowl of high school football.”

During an era of strident racial segregation, the Queen City Classic was not only an athletic competition, it was a social event with marching bands, pep rallies and the coronation of Miss Queen City Classic. Thousands of fans would dress in their finest clothes and walk up Seventh Street to the stadium, or the more affluent would drive freshly detailed automobiles to the game.

“We had the bragging rights for a whole year and it was fierce competition among the schools leading up to the game,” Douglas said. “But, in the end, we all lived in the same neighborhoods because we were basically restricted to where we could live and we knew the people who went to both schools or if we didn’t know them, we might see them in church on Sunday morning after the game.”

From 1947-68, West Charlotte and Second Ward battled before standing-room only crowds at 24,000-seat Memorial Stadium. Sometimes the rivalry spilled over to the buildup before or after games, but mostly, it was one community supporting their favorite school.

“Second Ward and West Charlotte was a rivalry,” said Willie Sharpe, who played halfback at West Charlotte and graduated in 1956. “It was the only two schools and it always about who was the best. …It was a game where if you lost, it took you a year to get over it.” 

Said Douglas: “You had alumni. You had neighborhoods. You had friends of the school. It was packed. If there was an ordinance for the number of people coming into the stadium, I think they would’ve had to close it down back then.”

Second Ward, located in the Brooklyn neighborhood in the shadow of today’s Center City, was built in 1926 as the first high school for blacks. It was closed in 1969 as urban renewal scattered what remained of black Brooklyn. West Charlotte, opened in 1938, was originally located on Beatties Ford Road on the site occupied by Northwest School of the Arts. In those days, the lines of support were clearly marked.

“It got so that you couldn’t go into certain areas of town,” Sharpe said. “If you went to Second Ward, you weren’t allowed to go past the Square to Third Ward or Fourth Ward and you weren’t allowed to come across the Square the other way (if you went to West Charlotte).”

The dance isn’t the only interaction between rivals. The West Charlotte-Second Ward Breakfast Club meets on Thursdays at the United House of Prayer for All People on West Sugar Creek Road to fellowship and recollect. The friction of youth has given way to the cohesiveness of maturity.

“That’s all we talk about – the good old days,” Sharpe said. “We do a lot of charity work and good things. The people you thought were your enemy are the same people you see ever day.”

Douglas, who was editor of Second Ward’s yearbook, The Tiger, is eager to renew those ties at the extravaganza, which she likens to homecoming and a class reunion.  The former rivals’ common bond is shared history.

“We’re a little too old to talk (trash) and move on the dance floor,” she said with a laugh. 

 

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