The athlete they spoke about was Junior Edge, the oldest son of B. Melton and Mary Isabelle Edge. And Junior really was some kind of athlete, the old-fashioned three-sport star with an old-fashioned love for whatever sport was in season.
His favorite was basketball, his best might have been baseball and he received a scholarship from the University of North Carolina to play football. He was an all-state selection in all three sports and a high school football All-American, one of only 66 chosen in the entire nation.
Edge may have been the greatest all-around athlete ever in Cumberland County.
Times were different back then. Massey Hill was a bustling little mill town, where people worked hard and took their high school sports very seriously. They were proud of their Pirates, and they had a right to be.
The late Young Howard coached all three Varsity sports at Massey Hill High, and his teams usually won. He inspired boys to be athletes, not “drug store cowboys,” those young men who chose to sip milk shakes and cold Pepsi Colas while sitting with pretty girls at Massey Hill Drug Store.
There was never any question in Edge’s mind what he would become. For as long as he could remember, Junior wanted to be a ball player, not a cowboy.
And a ball player he was, a four-year, three-sport starter who did all the things the rest of us dreamed about – running and passing for touchdowns, scoring game-winning baskets, hitting home runs and pitching no-hitters.
Massey Hill won back-to-back state baseball championships in 1958 and ’59, Edge’s junior and senior seasons. His combined pitching record those two years was 21-0.
As a junior, he threw a no-hitter as the Pirates concluded an undefeated season by shutting out Myers Park to sweep two straight from the Charlotte school in a best-of-three title series.
Edge won two games in the state finals his senior year, when Massey Hill faced another Charlotte team, West Mecklenburg, for the championship. He pitched a shutout both times as the Pirates sandwiched a pair of 2-0 wins around a loss.
He pitched two complete games, throwing 14 innings in a span of less than 60 hours. And he paid the price.
“My arm hurt me so bad after that second game that I couldn’t even lift it,” Edge says. “I threw my arm out that day, and it was never the same again.”
Strangely enough, Howard was not the coach when the Pirates won their two state baseball titles. He had left coaching to be an assistant principal. Tommy Lewis took over the baseball and basketball duties, with Paul Rogers heading the football program.
Playing shortstop when he wasn’t on the mound, Edge was also on a strong American Legion team that finished second to Shelby in the state finals two straight years. He was part of a dynamite pitching rotation that included Doug Maxwell, Rob Carter and the late Calvin Koonce, who pitched 10 years in the Major Leagues.
Edge had a chance to sign a professional baseball contract while he was in high school, but chose instead to attend Carolina and play football.
“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had signed that baseball contract,” he says. “But football gave me a chance to get a college education, and I’ll always have that. My parents would have found a way to send me to college, but they had five younger children, and it would have been tough on them. Having my college paid for was big.”
Edge once outscored a basketball opponent by himself. As a junior, he threw in 41 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as Massey Hill trounced Tar Heel, 72-35.
Achievements that would have been once in a lifetime for most high school athletes were once-a-week experiences for Edge. It would have been easy to get the big head, but he wouldn’t let that happen.
“My daddy never bragged about what I did,” he recalls, “and I went to the extreme not to brag, either. I went out of my way to try to stay humble. I was very conscious of trying not to talk about things I did in sports.”
He received football scholarship offers from Duke and East Carolina in addition to UNC, but the Tar Heels were always his team.
Edge played both ways at Carolina, quarterback on offense and free safety on defense, as that was before two-platooning began in college football. He intercepted seven passes in 1961 and is tied for 15th on the Heels’ all-time pick list with eight.
As a senior, he led the Atlantic Coast Conference in total offense with 1,413 yards in 1963, then helped Carolina defeat Air Force, 35-0, in the Gator Bowl to finish with a 9-2 record.
He went on to play two years in the Canadian Football League and five seasons in the Continental Football League, earning all-league quarterback honors with the Norfolk Neptunes.
“Sports have been a big part of my life,” Edge says. “They enabled me to meet a lot of people and to get an education. I am very grateful for the chance to play and for the opportunities I have had.
“Playing ball – any kind of ball – sure was fun.” n
Thad Mumau is a Fayetteville-based writer.