RAMblings 5.08.09 - The Memory of Mr. Morton

by Lee Pace


The ACC has known its share of fierce rivalries over the years—from Norm Sloan vs. Lefty Driesell and Bill Dooley vs. Lou Holtz in the 1970s; from James Worthy vs. Ralph Sampson in the 1980s and the Carolina version of light blue vs. the Duke shade of royal blue at any time, day or night.

            Hugh Morton thought the competition was fine, but he also believed there should be an off-season respite from the rigors of trying to smash your most hated opponent’s nose. Thus in 1959 he created a springtime gathering of coaches, administrators, writers and broadcasters connected with the ACC.

            He called it “The Linville Outing,” and for half a century each May several dozen guests would descend on Morton’s piece of nirvana in Avery County for three days of golf, tennis, fishing, eating, drinking and miscellaneous mischief and musings. It was a relaxed and convivial atmosphere, with Morton at his guests’ beck and call to insure their comfort and snap the occasional photograph—he particularly enjoyed posing ACC coaches with his cherished Grandfather Mountain resident, Mildred the Bear.

            “One of the things Mr. Morton loved about the ACC was the spirit of collegiality, the family aspect of the conference,” says Harris Prevost, vice president of Grandfather Mountain and Morton’s right-hand man for many years until Morton’s passing in June 2006. “He thought it was important for the coaches to socialize and get to know one another in a relaxed setting. He also thought it was good for the coaches and the sports writers to have a chance to socialize. But he had one rule—no interviews. It was R&R, no work.

            “The last thing he said to me before he died was, ‘Keep the ACC outing going.’”

            On Sunday some 75 individuals connected to the ACC through its Greensboro headquarters, member institutions, media outlets and corporate partners gathered in Linville for the 50th rendition of the outing. The event’s flavor has changed over the years given that for the last 15 years, few of the ACC’s football and men’s basketball coaches have attended, but nonetheless it remains a pleasant diversion as the academic calendar winds down and the summer solstice approaches. 

            The demands on coaches’ time in modern big-time athletics have changed. Spring recruiting is more intense and connecting with their school’s boosters through spring meetings provide conflicts as well. Thirty years ago, it was a big deal for a coach to have carte blanche at an exclusive club like Grandfather Golf & Country Club or Linville Golf Club; today they make so much money they can afford memberships anywhere they please. And the coach-media relationship has evolved into much more of an adversarial one than the back-slapping buddy system of yesteryear.

            Former ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan, retired and living in Charlottesville, was one of the attendees on the 50th anniversary. He called Morton “one of the sweetest men on the planet” and saluted the spirit of the annual event.

            “The Linville outing has been a key part of the history of the ACC,” Corrigan said. “It’s been a wonderful party in a very special place. It’s a shame the coaches don’t come like they once did. But things change. You move on and you cherish the memories you had here years ago.”

            Morton wore many hats over seven decades of service to his state and his fellow man—businessman as the creator and developer of the Grandfather Mountain scenic attraction in Linville; photographer as he shot millions of images with his Nikon F camera of wildlife, politicians, landscapes and athletic events; and conservationist and naturalist through his efforts to cultivate a wildlife habitat at Grandfather and his victory over the Federal Government’s designs to build the Blue Ridge Parkway over his beloved mountain.

            Tar Heel fans know Morton best for all the wonderful images he snapped from Kenan Stadium, Woollen Gym, Carmichael Auditorium and the Smith Center. He was a fixture courtside for Tar Heel basketball games, easily identified by his light blue V-neck sweater, and around the Justice Era football team in the 1940s. One of my favorite Morton images was of a despondent Charlie Justice balled into a fetal position on the sidelines at Yankee Stadium in 1949. Justice was injured and couldn’t play as the Irish walloped the Tar Heels, 42-6.

            “Hugh Morton made me stand out in the hot sun for two hours taking pictures that first year I got to Chapel Hill,” Justice once said. “I said, ‘I hope to never see this man again.’ Of course I did, many, many times over the years. He was a wonderful friend of Carolina athletics.”

Morton played a key role in the evolution of another young talent from North Carolina. He paid an unknown actor from Mt. Airy $25 to entertain at a N.C. Press Photographers Association banquet in 1950, and Andy Griffith’s performance of “What it Was, Was Football” led to a best-selling record and launched a noted television career. One year later, Griffith was playing on Broadway in No time For Sergeants, and his career was off and running.

            Attendees at the Sunday night banquet at Grandfather Golf & Country Club were treated to a show of many of Morton’s favorite images—from Dean Smith to Jim Tatum to Michael Jordan. But there were many more great athletes and schools beyond Carolina represented: Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati competing in the old Dixie Classic; Wake Forest coach Bones McKinney working the refs from courtside; N.C. State great David Thompson soaring for the alley-oop dunk he made famous in the early 1970s; candid shots of the great personalities from ACC football long past, among them Wake Forest coach Peahead Walker and Clemson’s Frank Howard; and an engaging photo of a couple of young quarterbacks from Wilmington—Sonny Jurgensen and Roman Gabriel.

            Morton’s beloved “Linville Outing” has now run a nice round number at 50, and with the coaches’ time conflicts and the dwindling staffs of newspapers and broadcast outlets, there are doubts about the event’s future. But its rich past will live forever in the memories of its participants and the vibrant images from Hugh Morton’s camera.