Please tell us a little bit about your early days.
Well, I grew up in an anthracite mining community where everybody worked awfully hard at mining coal and it was a dangerous job really. To start with a lot of people got killed there because of that. Of course, I grew up during the Depression, which in my case gave me inspiration to do something out of my life, because I did not want to ever work in the mines. Regardless of what happened, I would never stay there. So I had to pursue something that would enlighten my career. So at an early stage I was playing baseball and football with people much older than me. I was playing semi-professional baseball when I was in high school … so I learned to adapt myself to sports and it paid off, because if I stayed there I don’t know what would have happened, so I am very fortunate in a way.
Now tell me how you got from Pittston, Pennsylvania to Athens, Georgia.
That is an easy question to answer because when I was in high school, I played on an undefeated football team. I only weighed about 160 pounds. I wanted to pursue football at the college level. I was turned down by four different colleges before I got an invitation to visit Georgia. It so happened after four failures, this gentleman, his name was War Eagle Ketron, who was a former alumnus of Georgia, and a football player from Georgia, came to my house one Sunday morning and asked me … he said, “Son, would you like to go and visit the University of Georgia?” I had never heard of Georgia, you know. I always knew Georgia Tech, but I never realized there was a Georgia affiliation. I said “Sure, I would go any place then.” So he said, “Well, I am going to send you with three other athletes and I have a coach that is going to escort you.” I said fine. He said,“I am going to send you during your Christmas vacation.”
So the day came that we were leaving. Our first stop was Penn State. I spent 24 hours at Penn State, and I have yet to meet a coach. I had no contact at all, because I was with three other fellows who were over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds, and here I am at 160 pounds trying to get a scholarship … so I was completely ignored, which I took for granted that maybe I was not a viable candidate for a scholarship. So our next stop, we went to Georgia. When we got to Georgia, we received a very good reception, and they took us all to dinner at Poss’s Barbecue. I remember that. They were very cordial and, of course, very excited about having all these fine athletes there with me. So they asked if we would work out. I said “Sure, I would be glad to work out.” So they gave us equipment to dress out and work on the football field … and of course I punted for them, I threw passes and they timed me in the 40 yard dash to see what kind of speed I had. And prior to leaving Georgia, I received a commitment from Georgia. They said we would like for you to come and be one of the football players. I said I would be glad to when the time came after I finished high school. So after we left Georgia, we went to West Virginia. We stopped there, and, of course, the same thing happened there that other schools did. They couldn’t do enough to entice the three other fellows I was with, and I was there in the background more or less. Prior to us leaving, one of the coaches came to me very apologetic and says, “I don’t think we can give you a scholarship.” I say, well, fine. I feel like I already have a commitment to Georgia. So I left and when I got home, my backfield coach by the name of Paul Shebby said “Charley, I have a scholarship for you at LaSalle Military Academy if you would like to take it “… which was in Long Island, New York. I says, “Yes, I would like to go, because I think a little bit more experience and if maybe I gained a little more weight, I would be a more viable athlete than I am right now.” So I went to prep school, and while there I gained ten pounds, because they had a dinner menu that they gave you all you can eat buffet style food and I ate real good…. and I gained ten pounds in the period of time I was there. I played on a very good football team, and I made the All Metropolitan Team in New York. Any time you do anything good in New York in athletics you get a lot of good exposure, and that I got. As soon as that happened, Notre Dame came to my house. They didn’t send one coach, they sent two coaches, and tried to induce me to go to Notre Dame. I says “I already committed myself to Georgia.” And while I was waiting to go to Georgia, I had a job with Mr. Ketron, the alumnus from Georgia, who played at Georgia. He was the manager of a Coca Cola plant, and he says, “Son, as long as you go to Georgia, you will always have a job here with the Coca Cola Company.” So when I graduated on Friday, that Monday morning, I am driving a Coca Cola truck and I have a route, and I am making more money than my dad. (laughter) My dad back then during the Depression was on WPA, making $90 a month supporting five children, and I was making between $25 and $30 a week. I am making more money than my father, plus I was playing semi-pro baseball and I was making $5 every Sunday playing with the team. They paid me to play. I says, “good!” So of course...