Curt Wadsley — golfer, fisherman, basketball coach and incessant whistler — passed away over the weekend after a full life of friends and family and fantasy football.
He was my buddy for more than 40 years, most of that time spent on basketball courts from Winston-Salem to Georgia.
Wadsley was the most competitive person I’ve ever known, whether it be on the golf course, on a small pond or a foosball table, which is how we actually met. We were both skipping seventh period at Reynolds and ended up at Choosie Mother’s Foosball Parlor, playing for quarters.
I took all of his money, though his memory of it was decidedly different.
We would go on camping trips to places that weren’t even on the map, disappearing for days without anyone knowing where we were.
We’d search out fishing holes that no one else knew of, sometimes fishing in cemeteries after dark, sometimes hiking up the banks of the Yadkin to fish the same currents the Yadkin Indians fished.
We traveled to people’s houses we barely knew to play Risk games for money, had a regular poker night that broke us on occasion, played miniature golf for a dime a hole and gambled on pro football games until a big black Cadillac pulled up in his driveway one day looking for our bookie, who was just some guy we’d met playing basketball over at Wake Forest.
We did all this before we were even 21 years old. Then came marriages, kids, careers and responsibilities that stripped us of our wild streak.
That’s when we started coaching basketball.
Wadsley was a terror at old Central Y, which was an off-shoot of the original downtown YMCA in Winston. We’d both grown up in the YBA leagues, a remarkable organization that broke color barriers long before anyone else.
We created a travel basketball team when they simply didn’t exist, taking the old Y buses and filling them with kids and driving all over the region to take on anyone who would play us.
Chris Paul and his older brother C.J. were on those bus rides as we’d play teams from as far away as Atlanta, stopping off in Gastonia or Spartanburg to play in tournaments, always taking the trophy with a rag-tag bunch of kids who’d never been out of town before, most of them having never seen the inside of a hotel or having never sat down at a sit-down restaurant.
We held car washes and hit up our lawyer friends for money to buy uniforms and to cover travel expenses.
Wadsley was my practice coach. He’d run drills and show short films with Red Auerbach, teaching our players the proper way to box out, the fundamentals of a 1-3-1 zone or the simple skill of shooting with one hand.
And then on game day, his job was to sit down and not get a technical, which he did on so many occasions the kids referred to him as Coach T. He was thrown out of a gym in Anderson, S.C., one day and had to sit on the bus as I coached two more games and then made him hold the trophy on the ride back home.
Wadsley was my assistant, though he hated that term. Before a game in one tournament, he got into a shouting match with a referee and was tossed before the game even started.
Everything was a competition. He put together some of the best softball teams in the county, helped organize weekly football games in Hanes Park and at the School of the Arts, where they came up with the nickname “Fighting Pickles.”
We played tennis and disc golf and darts, and we went skiing and tubing and destroyed sleds on Pilot View. On every Christmas Day, we walked onto Forsyth Country Club and played 18 holes, and nobody ever stopped us.
Wadsley did all of this with a smile on his face. He smiled all the time, unless he was losing at something. He was a terrible loser. When he was winning, he was insufferable, constantly whistling. He was a terrible whistler.
And he was the most stubborn human being I’ve ever known. He smoked, drank Dr Pepper like it was going out of style and ate Reese’s cups like they were one of the major food groups.
Later in life, after a series of strokes, he still smoked, drank Dr Pepper and ate Reese’s cups.
There were some bad days in the end. But I’ll only remember the good days before it, the 35 years we coached together, the poker nights and the fishing trips and the fantasy football trophy he designed by taking one of our old tournament trophies - “just a second-place trophy” he said - mounting a football to it and awarding it to the winner every year.
The one year I won it, he was so upset that he didn’t want to give me the trophy. So of course, once I took it home, I sent him a picture of it every day until the following season.
I’ll look back on those days for the rest of my life.
Curt Wadsley was my friend. I’m going to plant a memorial tree in my back yard in his honor. And I’m going to whistle as I dig.
Contact Ed Hardin at 336-373-7069, and follow @Ed_Hardin on Twitter.
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