Monday, August 28, 2017

The Birth of the Spartans

One year after the era of co-education was ushered in with the enrollment of male undergraduates in 1964, Frank Pleasants was hired to coordinate competitive athletics for male students at UNCG. Campus administrators saw a robust athletic program as a significant way of encouraging male enrollment.

UNCG men's basketball head coach Jim Swiggett
In 1966, Jim Swiggett, a highly successful coach at a nearby high school, was hired as UNCG’s first men’s basketball coach. His inaugural squad was developed from the existing student body, with open tryouts for players across campus. In October 1967, after the first two days of team practice, Swiggett reported 14 men participating in workouts. He stated, “We have some boys who have played some basketball, and some who haven’t,” adding he had “15 uniforms, and if these boys who are out want to play, we’ll carry them.”

Also in October 1967 after discussions with athletes and other students, UNCG athletic teams officially adopted the “Spartans” as their mascot. Pleasants noted they “were looking for a name which had a masculine ring, and one also which had associated with it a tradition of courage.” Additionally, they avoided duplicating names of other teams in the region, specifically veering away from “animal names,” like the Wolfpack, Catamounts, or Tigers, for that reason. Strong consideration was given to the “Generals” and the “Brigadiers” in an effort to honor Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene. But Pleasants noted that Greensboro’s professional hockey team at the time was named the Generals, and argued that the Brigadiers “sounded a little too jazzy.”

Brian Emerson
With a roster and mascot in place, the first Spartans squad prepared for their opening game on November 20, 1967 against the College of Charleston. Days before the game, Swiggett noted, “The spirit on the team is excellent, and we’re really looking forward to beginning intercollegiate play. But actually, I don’t really know what to expect. We want to win, but we want to look good whether we win or lose.”

While the match with Charleston was a close one, ultimately a lack of height coupled with a lack of experience resulted in a one-point loss for the Spartans (80-79). The team lost its first seven games, with five defeats by a margin four or fewer points. The Spartans earned their first win against N.C. Wesleyan at home in Coleman Gymnasium by a score of 87-65. They finished their inaugural season with a 2-11 record, and secured their spot in the history books as the first in a long tradition of UNCG Spartans.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Darlinettes and Rhythmettes: Big Band Sounds at the WC

In 1942, big band music from the likes of Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman were all the rage, but local big bands were hard to find. Most of the musicians in these groups were male, and they were being drafted into military service during World War II. But a group of students at the Woman's College stepped in to fill the void, forming the Darlinettes and their four-member vocal group, The Rhythmettes, in 1942.

Practicing in the Brown Music Building
Many of the Darlinettes' and Rhythmettes' performances took place at Woman's College. They played many of the formal dances and "soldier dances" held on campus during and immediately after WWII. But the group was not confined to the WC campus. They played shows at the USO Club on North Elm Street, and they entertained troops stationed at the Army Air Corps' Overseas Replacement Depot in Greensboro. In 1946, they traveled to Asheville to provide entertainment at the 1st annual conference of the 191st District of Rotary International. Cleveland Thayer, General Chairman of the Distrct, wrote to offer his personal thanks to the Darlinettes for "the fine work of your orchestra."

The founding leader of the Darlinettes and Rhythmettes was Cherry Folger, who also played trumpet. Folger was reportedly the first trumpet major in the history of WC, and was quite the musician and leader. At the age of 14, she was fronting an all-male musical group in her hometown of White Plains, NY. According to a newspaper article from 1943, she "often hits high 'E' above high 'C' on the instrument, and has been known to touch high 'G.'" She formed the Darlinettes soon after arriving at WC in 1942 (she transferred after spending her first two years of college at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester).


When Folger graduated in 1944, Doris Funderburk took over the baton for the Darlinettes. Under Funderburk's leadership, the Darlinettes continued their busy performing schedule. But they also found time to record an album, titled "Autumn Serenade." The 78 rpm records were made May 26, 1946, at the Vic Smith Recording Service in Greensboro. They featured 10 songs, including an original piece written and orchestrated by Funderburk called "You Don't Get it From Books."

The group continued performing, with membership swapping out with each graduation, through the early 1950s. Many of the Darlinettes took up non-musical careers after graduation, but a few continued in a musical path. Frances Stevens Snipe of Clemson, SC, sang with Greensboro band leader Burt Massengale's group for a number of years. Mary Sampson Irvin played trombone with the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. And Doris Funderburk Morgan served as the organist at the old Charlotte Coliseum for many years, playing music to enliven crowds at the Charlotte Checkers ice hockey games.

In September 2002, several members of the Darlinettes were reunited at an event organized by Burt Bruton, the nephew of the late Sue Bruton, an original member and saxophonist in the Darlinettes. The following May, the UNCG School of Music declared May 2 to be Darlinette Day. They hosted an event featuring Darlinettes members and established a Darlinettes Artist in Residence Endowment Fund, aimed at bringing female jazz artists to the school.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Demise of the McIver Building and its Mural

The McIver Building is slated to be demolished in the spring and summer of 2018, making way for the new Nursing and Instruction Building. Designed by J. N. Pease and Company of Charlotte, North Carolina, when the McIver Building officially opened in October 1960, it was one of the few modern buildings on campus. It was also one of the first to be air-conditioned.  Named for Charles Duncan McIver, the founder and first president of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, it replaced the previous McIver Memorial Building, which stood in the same location until it was razed in 1958.
The “new McIver Building” was planned as a classroom space, but it was primarily meant to house the Art Department. In 1967, a wing was added to expand the department and to create the Weatherspoon Gallery. A kiln was constructed behind the building in 1966.

McIver Building
Opinions differ on the architectural merit of the structure, especially because of its juxtaposition to the historic Foust Building, but at the time of its construction, it was a cutting-edge design with an innovative art installation on its facade. Yet, from the time that the new structure was completed, it was controversial. While some welcomed the modern design, many felt that the new, contemporary edifice was reminiscent of a “penitentiary,” and missed the more conventional architecture of the old McIver Memorial Building. This opinion was echoed by Professor Randall Jarrell, who referred to the structure as “The Thunderbird Motel.”

McIver Building Dedication, October, 1960

The art installation on the western facade was also controversial. Architect J. N. Pease commissioned Joseph Cox (1915-1997), a professor at the North Carolina State University School of Design in Raleigh, to create a large “mural,” which would be featured above the western entrance of the building. Cox was a native of Indianapolis, Illinois, earning his B.F.A. from the John Herron Art School and his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He began working on large projects in his early twenties, including a commission sponsored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) to paint murals for post offices in Indiana and Michigan. In 1954, Cox took a position at the School of Design, and he taught there for twenty years, also fulfilling commissions for his art throughout the state. His interest focused on the use of interesting and diverse material, and capturing the light and shadow seen in nature.

"Mural" Created by Joseph Cox

He was asked to create the art installation for the McIver Building only a few years after he came to North Carolina. Although he was faced with financial limitations and unusual space restrictions, Cox created the modern design from a series of gray enameled panels that projected about three inches from the wall. This 35 x 20 foot sculptural facade was designed as an abstract “art piece” and was created to cast a changing pattern of light and shadow as the sun moved west during the day. In the morning, the mural would be hidden in shadows, and it would be gradually illuminated by the sunlight. At night, lights hidden behind the columns would create a green-silver sheen on the facade.
Cox’s continued interest in light and shadow can be seen in his “Color Wall,” which was created in the early 1970s for the D. H Hill Library at NC State University. This kinetic sculpture was designed to display constantly changing vertical patterns of color when lighted by twenty-three spotlights.  Although the Color Wall remains a part of the Hill Library, other of the artist’s art installations no longer exist. It is likely that the mural on the facade of the McIver Building will suffer the same fate, and be disassembled as part of the demolition of the structure, which will take place next year.

Monday, August 7, 2017

"Woodsy Paths" and "Ferocious Creatures" at Camp Ahuntforfun

Camping and outdoor recreation have been a staple of UNCG student life since the early 1900s. The student Athletic Association, soon after its founding in 1900, coordinated short hikes around campus. In 1922, a need for longer hikes and more outdoor recreational opportunities led faculty members and students to begin renting cabins around the Greensboro area for overnight excursions. Students who hiked at least 100 miles in shorter campus-based outings were allowed to attend these off-campus trips.

The log cabin at Camp Ahuntforfun
While this gave students the opportunity for outdoor recreation and education, issues arose which led students and faculty members to request the College purchase its own camp site. In the 1924 annual report for the Department of Physical Education, Department Head Mary Channing Coleman wrote that the Athletic Association would not be returning to their previous campsite as “the lodge has been broken into and the greater part of our meager equipment stolen.” Three years later in the 1927 annual report, Coleman argued a “college camp is urgently needed, not only as an item of our sports and recreation equipment, but as one factor in our teacher training.”

Fun times at Camp Ahutforfun
When the College did not purchase a camp, the Athletic Association began raising funds to purchase one itself. The group sold gym uniforms and swimsuits to fellow students in order to raise the $3,500 needed to purchase a camp site on Pleasant Garden Road, about five miles from campus. The two-acre site featured a log cabin with a large front porch and sleeping space, a well approximately 80-feet deep and a stream which the students hoped could later be developed into a swimming pool.

Students visiting Camp Ahutforfun
On Saturday, March 23, 1929, nine students and one faculty chaperone made the inaugural visit to the camp. Rain on the first day kept the campers near the cabin, where they entertained themselves with bridge, dancing, horseshoes and an Easter egg hunt. On Sunday, however, clear skies allowed the students to take what the Carolinian described as “a long hike through the woodsy paths and pastures, carefully avoiding those that were suspected of containing ferocious animals.”

The Athletic Association continued to grow their camp, adding a large outdoor fireplace, volleyball nets and other equipment. In 1932, after a campus wide contest, the camp was officially named “Camp Ahutforfun.” Students continued use of the camp site until 1943, when the Athletic Association purchased a larger tract of land near the Guilford Battleground site.