Gentry: I'd like to center on your early career as a sportswriter. Where we left off last time, you had just gotten back into sports after being in the newsroom for a while. And the war had ended and the men had come back. So it was quite a different thing, wasn't it, when you started covering sports full-time with the men being there?
Garber: Oh, it was an entirely different situation because all of a sudden, instead of being one of several women working in sports jobs and different other assignments, I was the only woman in the whole area doing sports. And it was just a completely different situation. Then I was working under the leadership of Carlton Byrd who had come back after flying a fighter plane in the war, so I had to make a lot of changes in what I did.
Gentry: Now, how big was the Sentinel sports staff at that time?
Garber: The Sentinel sports staff was Carlton Byrd and me. And that was it.
Gentry: For how long?
Garber: Until the two papers were consolidated.
Gentry: Until the seventies then?
Garber: Into the seventies, yes. And we divided the work by Carlton doing what he wanted to do and then I did everything else.
Gentry: That's quite a load for two people.
Garber: It was a lot of work for two people but it was a great opportunity for me because it gave me a chance to cover a wide variety of topics, it gave me a chance to get a lot of experience that I wouldn't have gotten if I'd started in under the set-up that we have now where everything is very structured and definite assignments are given out and everybody has little pigeon-holes into which they fit. I had a chance to really try my wings and do pretty much what I wanted to do.
Gentry: What did you cover most in those years?
Garber: Most of it was high school sports. The Sentinel which was an evening paper circulated just within Winston-Salem and Forsyth County and so we covered just the high schools within Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. And as I remember, there were about twelve or fifteen high schools. And I covered them very, very closely.
I used to visit every school at least once a week and go to either football or basketball practice, as the case might be, and I'd usually start out early in the afternoon and go by the school. I knew most of the coaches' teaching schedules and if they had a vacant period, I'd try to go by and hit them during their vacant period and then we could go in the teachers' lounge and talk. It gave me a chance to get to know the coaches better and to pick up on all the different things they were doing. If I couldn't get to see the different ones,
I would get on the phone at night and call the coaches at home and we would talk about sports and what went on during the day and what they had done and what their plans were.
Gentry: It's a good thing gas wasn't rationed during that period.
Garber: No, that's it, it is a good thing because if gas had been rationed, I wouldn't have been able to do all that.
Gentry: Were you completely accepted as a woman on the high school level covering sports?
Garber: Well, the high school kids and the coaches were so delighted that somebody was coming around to cover them that I think I could have been a two-headed monkey and they wouldn't have cared. It didn't make any difference to them whether I was a boy or a girl, a male or a female, they would get their names in the paper and they would get in stories written about them. It just didn't make any difference to them. And most of them were young. So we sort of learned together and helped each other.
Gentry: Well, then, during that time Carlton Byrd covered most of the college sports.
Garber: Carlton covered most of the college sports. He would go directly to the college game on Saturday because he often went out of the state. He'd go to Clemson or Virginia and other places out of the state. And he had to leave early. So I would come in on Saturday morning about 6:30 and do my high school round-up from the games on Friday night.
And then some weeks I would cover a college game but other times I didn't cover a college game. A lot of it depended on whether there was a Saturday night high school game because what we had was we had so many high schools and so few places for the teams to play that we had a Thursday night game. The Children's Home which was an orphanage here played their games on Friday afternoon at their school grounds. And Atkins [a black high school] also played on Friday afternoon so I always caught one or the other of their games. And then I'd cover a game on Friday night. If there was a high school game on Saturday night, I would cover a game on Saturday night. And in those days, most of the high schools didn't have press boxes or anything like that and I had my choice of sitting in the stands, which was kind of bad because every time everybody stood up to cheer you couldn't see what was going on. So usually I worked on the sidelines and ran up and down the sidelines as the teams ran up and down the field.
Gentry: Taking notes all the time.
Garber: Taking notes. I carried a clipboard and I would keep a play-by-play and then keep the statistics.
Gentry: You did all this while running up and down the field.
Garber: All running up and down the sidelines. I can assure you I was in real good shape. I remember going down one time to cover a state play-off game at Pinehurst and that was real sandy. And that was the time it really did get to me because you were running in that heavy sand and you felt like you were putting your feet in cement. And Floogie Ariel who was the trainer for the Wake Forest football team was down there. And he came up to me afterwards and he said, "Lady, I have never seen anybody who could run as continuously as you can." But I did it so much I was really in good shape.
Gentry: Did they have jogging shoes then?
Garber: No. What kind of shoes did I wear? They didn't have jogging shoes. I just wore regular oxfords more than anything else, just regular flat-heeled shoes. And one of the big problems you had late in the year when it got really, really cold, there was no way that I could keep my hands and feet warm. I found that by
wearing a sweatshirt right next to my body, then putting my regular shirt and jacket over it, I could keep my body fairly warm. And I wore a knitted cap which kept my ears warm. But there was no way that you could write and keep your hands warm because you had to wear light mittens or you couldn't write. And you couldn't wear fur-lined boots because you couldn't run in them. So my feet were always cold and my hands were always cold and I never figured out a way to solve that problem.
Gentry: Was that the era where you got your trademark of your knit cap that everybody talks about as your trademark?
Garber: I guess so.
Gentry: It was really a matter of keeping warm.
Garber: It was just a matter of keeping warm. I didn't worry much about how I looked or anything because another thing you've got to remember, in those days women didn't wear pants. I wore a skirt.
Gentry: You wore a skirt and did all that?
Garber: Right. Because women didn't wear pants in those days.
Gentry: I didn't think of that.
Garber: Right. And I remember one year—I think it rained every Friday night all fall long. And so I would come home after work on Friday and I had an old skirt and a pair of old beat-up shoes and some wool socks and a sweatshirt. And I would put those on because I knew I was going to get soaked again that night. Then when I'd come home that night after the game, I'd just take them off and hang them on the line and put them back on the next Friday. And at the end of the season, I'd just open up the trash can and throw all of them—the shirt, the skirt, the shoes, the socks, everything into the trash because they were absolutely unusable.
Gentry: When did you start wearing pants?
Garber: Actually you didn't start wearing pants until—I'd stopped running the sidelines by the time we started wearing pants.
Garber: I would give anything in the world to be able to dress as I do in Reeboks and slacks. It certainly would have been a whole lot more comfortable.
Gentry: Oh, yes. When I talked to your publisher and some of your colleagues about those early years, they said you had an extraordinary rapport with the high school students and really got down to their level more than anybody. And how did that develop? How did you get so close to the kids?
Garber: I don't know that I got down to their level or anything like that but I genuinely liked the kids. And I got to know them. As I say, I would go to practice and I would talk to them and they would talk to me. The kids were my friends just as the coaches were. And I realized that even though a kid might be 6'2" and weight 250 pounds and tower over me, he was still just a kid and he had all the doubts and all the concerns and all the questions in his mind that any kid growing up has. And I think that was one reason why I tried to be as gentle as possible with them because it was just so easy to hurt them and there was really no reason to hurt them. That didn't mean that you always had to say everybody had a great game. A player understood if he missed the extra point and lost the game, he knew that I had to write that John Jones missed the extra point. But you didn't have to belabor him about it. And you didn't have to say that Bill Smith played a poor game.
If Bill Smith was one out of twenty-five passes completed, you knew he had a bad game and you weren't holding him up to ridicule because he knew the statistics were accurate and that was what had happened. So it was okay.
Gentry: Well, you covered more than football, you covered all the high school sports, all different kinds of—
Garber: Basketball, baseball. At baseball games, I'd always sit on the bench with the team. There were two local teams playing. High school teams played seven innings. So I'd sit half of the game, the first three and a half innings on one bench and then at the middle of the game, I'd move over and sit on the other bench. And one time I went over to sit on the bench for one team and they said, "No, please don't sit here. Every time you sit here, we lose." So I went back and sat on the other bench. I don't think my sitting on the bench had anything to do with it.
Gentry: Did you have some help along the way when you first started covering all this variety of sports?
Garber: Oh, I had a great deal of help. The high school coaches were like brothers to me. There was one in particular named Tom Cash who coached at Gray High School, one of the schools in town. And he used to go with me down to the college football games. I'd give him my press credentials and he would go into the coaches' conferences which were in the dressing room where I couldn't go. And he was a big help because he being a football coach knew some real good questions to ask that I would never have thought of asking. And then when we were driving home, we'd talk about the game and he gave me a lot of insight that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.
Gentry: He came just to help you, then.
Garber: He came just to help me. And he was a really, really big help to me and he would always answer my questions and explain anything I didn't understand. I remember one time that I got a very ugly anonymous letter about something I had written. Anonymous letters are very, very hard to take because you have no way to fight back to them. If someone writes and criticizes something you do and signs their name, then you can write them back and explain. But you have no way to deal with an anonymous letter.
I took it over to Tom and he read it. And finally he said, "Don't ever be worried about someone who values his own opinion so low that he won't even sign his name." And that was the biggest help to me because I got quite a number of anonymous letters after that. Whenever I got one, I'd just make an airplane of it and sail it into the trash and figure that if they had such a low opinion of their opinion, that there certainly wasn't any need for me to get upset by what they thought.
Gentry: So for years Tom Cash went with you to games.
Garber: He went several years and John Frederick went with me.
Gentry: Big help, getting into the dressing room.
Garber: A big help because I couldn't have done it otherwise. A lot of times Tom and Johnny would go with me to high school games if their teams weren't playing. One night we went down to Burlington to a game and it snowed. And I hate to drive in snow. Tom said, "Would you like me to drive home?" And I said, "Yes." So he drove my car home and put it in the garage. And honestly, I don't know how those two guys got home.
Gentry: They walked.
Garber: They must have walked because they left me here and said goodnight to me and I don't know how they got home.
Gentry: You were sometimes called to do things during the high school games that no male sportswriter would have done, weren't you? Like I heard once you sewed up a player's pants?
Garber: Oh, yes, I was. I went to a high school—this was Johnny Frederick's. I went to a high school basketball game one night and Johnny was sitting there and he had a pair of basketball pants. And I mean they were ripped from the top to the bottom. He said, "Mary, could you sew these up for me?" Well, in the first place, I don't know how to sew, but I felt it was perfectly safe for me to say, "Sure!" because where would you find a needle and thread in a basketball gym? So I told him, "Sure, if I just had a needle and thread, I'd be glad to do it." Johnny said, "Well, I've sent for one." And pretty soon two kids came back and they had gone to a house in the neighborhood and told the lady they were on scavenger hunt and they had to have a needle and thread and she'd given it to them.
High school gyms were not really well-lighted. The lighting was kind of dim. But I finally got the needle threaded and started sewing. And they were not very nice stitches. I was trying to get the hole mended, I didn't care what it looked like. And while I was sewing away, the girls' basketball game was going on and a pass got away from one of the players and hit me and knocked the needle and thread out of my hand and the pants on the floor. And I thought, "Well, I'm saved now." But those boys crawled under the stand and found the needle and thread and gave it back to me. Then Johnny sat on one side and the boys sat on the other side and knocked all the other errant passes away. And I finished the sewing and gave the pants to the boy.
I've never had such a horrible game in my life. I was so afraid every time that boy went up for a rebound, I could just see my stitches ripping and he being exposed in all his glory. But I'm proud to say that the stitches held and I hope his mother sewed them right when he took it home.
Gentry: That's amazing. Are there any other things you did for the teams?
Garber: Oh, yes, I used to make cookies for the children at Christmas. One Christmas I made crying towels for all the coaches. I just got plain cloth dish towels and stenciled them in the different colors of the schools and "Crying Towel for Coach" whatever the coach's name was. That made a big hit. In fact, I saw a coach just a few years ago and he said, "You know, I've still got that crying towel."
Gentry: Boy, that was probably in the forties or fifties.
Garber: That was back in the fifties, it wasn't in the forties. It was in the fifties, I guess.
Gentry: That's great. And that was just an idea you had.
Garber: Yes. But it was a strange relationship I had with the kids. I think they really liked to have me around and, as I say, I had fun with them. Several years ago this man came up to me and he said, "Do you remember losing your rain hat out at Rural Hall?" Well, I didn't remember. But he said, "You did. You went off and left your rain hat on the bench at the baseball practice field." And he said, "I took it home and I still have it." Now, we're talking about something that was twenty-five to thirty years ago. Can you imagine anybody picking up somebody's rain hat, a yucky old rain hat.
Gentry: Did he save it for you?
Garber: No, he wanted to keep it.
Gentry: As a souvenir.
Garber: As a souvenir.
Gentry: Ah, you were really adored then.
Garber: I don't know. I thought it was a little weird myself. But this guy was forty years old.
Gentry: Well, do you think it had to do with your attitude toward the kids that as you said, you didn't hurt them, you went out of your way to be nice to them and help—to listen to them?
Garber: Yes, I think that they felt I was a friend of theirs. Of course I was a way that they were going to get their names in the paper which was a pretty nice thing for them. And I think they felt that I wasn't going to take unfair advantage of them.
Another thing, we were talking about how the kids would turn to you sometimes for rather interesting situations. I was covering a basketball game one night and there was this little kind of a fat boy who was the official scorer for one of the teams. Usually at the half all the kids would go down and get cokes and popcorn and bring them back and eat to sustain them for the second half. But this time, Jimmy didn't leave. So I knew Jimmy had something on his mind. So finally he said, "Mary, can I ask you a question?" And I said, "Sure." And he said, "How do you ask a girl for a date?"
Now, I knew how you sat home and waited for a boy to call you but I didn't know how you went about asking a girl. And so I said, "Well, Jimmy, all you do is pick out the girl that you'd like to have a date with and call her up and ask her if she'd like to go to a movie with you or whatever you want to do on a particular night." And he asked, "Well, suppose she says no, what do you do?" I said, "Well, I can't imagine any girl saying no to you but if she should be so stupid as to say no to you, then I'd dump her and go get a girl that had better judgment." That seemed to satisfy him. He never said anything more about it and I never heard anything more about it. But about ten years later I was shopping in a department store and there was Jimmy and he was buying doll clothes. So I think that Jimmy very definitely found somebody to say yes.
Gentry: Right. When I went through your papers, I found some moving letters from high school players. You had obviously influenced their lives. One was an insurance agent who remembered you from thirty years before and said that he would never forget you. And another one was from a mother who said you had encouraged her son to go to Davidson College and you produced an M.D.
Garber: Right. I don't know how familiar you are with teenagers, but teenagers hesitate to talk to their parents about things sometimes and then talk to an outsider. This particular young man who later became a doctor stopped me one time over at Hanes High School. He was getting ready to go to college. And he asked, "Do you think you could think that I could be a doctor?" I said, "John, you can be a doctor if you want to enough." We sat there and talked. He said he was going to Davidson and major in pre-med and that he wanted to be a doctor. And he is. He's a doctor now, and he lives just a couple of blocks from me. His mother wrote me after he graduated from medical school and told me that the little talk I had with him had influenced him.
Now this man that wrote me the other day, I'm sorry, I don't remember him.
Gentry: There were so many, all those years.
Garber: You can't remember them all. I get so many letters. I got a letter a couple of years ago from a man who runs a paper mill up in western North Carolina. He said that I had helped him at a time when he had doubts about himself and felt that he couldn't do anything. That story I had written about how well he had played in a game had helped him have confidence in himself.
Gentry: That makes you feel very good.
Garber: That helps you a whole lot. Another man stopped me one day and said that he wanted to thank me for giving him a chance to go to college. You know, I didn't know where in the world I'd ever helped him to go to college. But he said that the stories I had written about him had helped him to get a basketball scholarship and he had graduated from college. I don't know whether it's so much that the kids have any particular warm feeling for me but I represent a very wonderful time in their lives. High school sports give kids a chance to get some recognition, it gives them a chance to feel good about themselves, to be part of a group, to get respect among their peers. And it's a marvelous, marvelous time in their lives. They connect me with that and that's why they like me so much.
Gentry: Do you think your being a woman had anything to do with that? Or was it just a personality?
Garber: I don't think being a woman had anything to do with it. I think a boy could have done the same thing. It's just a question of letting people know that you're interested and that you care about them and that you're there to give them any help you can give them.
Gentry: Obviously, it meant a lot to them.
Let's talk a little bit about the black schools, particularly in the forties and fifties when segregation was at its height. Was anyone covering these black high school games?
Garber: I don't think so. We had students in each high school who served as correspondents. We paid them to call in games. We did the same thing with the black schools. The only difference was that our staff members did cover white high school games. We did not do that with the black schools.
When I started covering high schools, I felt that all the schools should get coverage. I felt that black parents were just as interested in what their children were doing as white parents were. I felt black kids worked just as hard, and there wasn't any reason why their games should not be in the paper. I started covering Atkins, which was the black city high school. They played their games on Friday afternoons after school. And I would go there to write about the games, as I did with the white schools when they played Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
And it was a rather unusual way to cover them because the principal of Atkins didn't think it was right or seemly for me to sit in the stands so he arranged for me to watch the games from the music room. The music room overlooked the football field and he had three high stools that he would pull up by the window and if it was warm we would open the windows and if it was cold we would close the windows. And the principal, Mr. Carter, and John Watson Moore who was the superintendent and I would sit up there in the music room and watch the games.
I remember one time Atkins was playing for the state championship. The Atkins band was just out of this world, they were so good. When they had the half-time show, the visiting band took so long that there wasn't time for the Atkins team to do their show. The kids were so disappointed. So Mr. Moore, who was a very nice person, sent down word to the band director that if the band members would not mind, he was very disappointed that he hadn't seen the show and he would be most appreciative if they would be kind enough to stay after the game and do their show for him. And he said he felt sure that the people who were at the game would like to see it, too. There were expressions of appreciation on those kids' faces because they'd worked so hard. So when the game was over, we all stayed and the players sat down and watched the show and all the fans stayed and they put on their half-time show for them. I thought that was such a considerate thing for that man to do. He was a diabetic and I know it was very hard for him to stay the extra time because he had to eat at certain times.
Gentry: Well, before you came along covering these games, were black sports relegated to the Negro page or whatever you called it?
Garber: No, black sports were not relegated to the Negro page. We ran them in the sports section but, as I say, they were done by high school correspondents.
Gentry: Yes. Right. I saw a recent videotaped interview with a former pro-basketball player, Happy Hairston?
Gentry: And when they asked him about his fondest memories of Winston-Salem high school sports, he mentioned you immediately, before anything else. So you must have made a real impact on those kids.
Garber: Well, you know, I don't think at the time I realized how important it was to those kids that I came out there and saw their games. That was a very nice thing that Happy said and the fact that I accepted him and he accepted me and we just saw each other, me as a writer and he as an athlete—I don't think either one of us ever thought about black or white or male or female or anything else.
Gentry: But you were the only white person there, weren't you?
Garber: Outside of Mr. Moore.
Garber: I know I never considered it. I remember one time I was over at one of their basketball games. In the gym there must have been 2500 people and I was the only white person there. And I didn't feel uncomfortable. I didn't even realize it at first. I just enjoyed being with those people. They accepted me and we were just good friends.
Gentry: I'm sure that wouldn't have been true with a lot of people. Obviously, the sport was never covered before, before you started covering it.
Garber: No. And one of the things is that even to this day adult men who are in their forties and fifties and who played on Atkins and Carver teams at that time will tell me, "You never realized how much it meant to us to have you come, that we would stand there on the sidelines and watch the gate for you to come in." And you know, it scares you to think that it would be that important to them.
Gentry: When I talked to Coach Bighouse Gaines of Winston-Salem State U., the black college in Winston-Salem, he said you appeared on his campus about 1948 or '49 to cover games and you were the only white reporter that cared at all. He said that he felt that you had absolutely no racial barriers, that you were really color blind. And it meant so much to them that you were there.
Garber: Right. Well, really, I remember when I used to go over to Winston-Salem State and Bighouse was coaching football and basketball then. And they used to have their practices on a—well, it was just a vacant lot—I wouldn't dignify it by calling it a field—and it had great big old rocks in it. And the poor kids would run plays and they'd have to go around those rocks. And I just don't see how they ever did it. And they played in a horrible little gym where the ceiling was so low that if you put much arc on the ball, it would hit the ceiling. And you just really didn't understand why their facilities were so much poorer than the other schools. Of course they have very nice facilities now. But I don't think I ever thought about people being black or white. People are people. And I think anybody who has prejudices for race or religion or anything else, they're the losers because they miss knowing so many wonderful people.
I remember one time I was in the hospital and you know sometimes when you're in the hospital you don't get the best service in the world. And I was not getting the best service. And then some flowers came
and they were from Cleo Wallace who at the time was football coach at Winston-Salem State. One of the floor nurses was in my room at the time and she said, "Who sent you those flowers?" And I said, "Coach Wallace from Winston-Salem State." Well, her eyes practically bugged out of her head. And she asked, "Do you know Coach Wallace?" And I said, "Yes, I do, he's a very close personal friend." The word went all up and down the hall that that lady in 402 knows Coach Wallace and Coach Wallace is a friend of hers. And I want you to know—I don't believe if George Bush went to the hospital, he would get any more service than I got. All I had to say was, "I would certainly like to have a cup of coffee," and boy, they'd go make it and bring it to me.
Gentry: Because he was a prominent coach?
Garber: No, because he was black and most of them were black.
Gentry: Oh, they were black, too, okay.
Garber: It gave me a status that I would never have had without it. And I told Cleo about that and he said, "Well, I'm glad I did one good thing for you, anyhow."
Gentry: You came from a prominent family and you know, prominent families generally have black help. So your parents, did they feel the same way about blacks as you, just sort of color blind?
Garber: No, I think my parents because they were brought up a generation ahead of me were different, but I think my mother had the attitude that you treat all people decently and fairly and that you are kind and considerate of all people. And I think a lot of that rubbed off on me. This is just something I have always felt. I don't remember ever feeling any other way. I always have accepted people for what they are because it's my philosophy that everyone in the world can do something better than I can do it, and everyone in the world can teach me something I don't know. That's true of any people, anywhere, at any time.
Gentry: It's a great attitude. Now, how did the black coaches treat you. They were very friendly towards you, weren't they?
Garber: Most of them were. There was one who was a basketball coach at Atkins. And he and I had a little problem. He was never rude, he was never unkind, but he just sort of kept me at arm's length. And I tried everything but I couldn't get through to him. So I went to Bighouse and I talked to him about it. And it was interesting because the young man who was the coach—I'd known his father who had coached in another high school in the western part of the state and we'd been good friends so I couldn't understand why I couldn't get through to this guy. So I told Bighouse about it and asked him what I should do. And he explained to me that the young man was very shy and that he just couldn't get used to working with a white lady. And he said, "If you will just continue to do as you're doing and be patient, he'll come around." And it was about a week later that I went over to the school and went by his classroom and we started talking. We covered the basketball that we needed to cover. Then we just started talking about things in general, nothing very spectacular. And all of a sudden, I looked at my watch and it was quarter to six. There was not a soul in the school but he and I. And he looked at his watch at the same time, he said—
Gentry: You had been talking for hours?
Garber: Right. We had been talking for about two hours. And he said, "Gosh, we'd better get out of here." So we left and ever after that, he was one of my best friends, he went out of his way to help me, he was just one of the nicest coaches I've ever known. And he went on and coached in college and we were always very, very good friends.
Gentry: You probably covered him again then.
Garber: It was just a question that he was just a little ill at ease with me and once he realized that I wasn't any different than anybody else, he and I became good friends.
Gentry: Now, Bighouse was never ill at ease with you, was he?
Garber: Bighouse and I were talking the other day trying to remember the first time we met each other. And we couldn't remember. But I think we just sort of hit it off from the very beginning.
Gentry: This guy, what is he, six-seven or something like that?
Garber: He is an enormous man.
Gentry: Three hundred pounds. And little Mary— [Mary is about five feet tall and ninety-five pounds]
Garber: Right. We have just always sort of leveled with each other and been friends. I've known his kids from the time they were little. I remember one time I was over there covering a basketball game and they had a JV game. The varsity game was supposed to start at—I think it was at 7:30 or something like that. And it was getting late. And I said, "Bighouse, you're never going to get your varsity game started on time." And he said, "Oh, yes, we are." I said, "You can't possibly do it." And he said, "Oh, yes, we are. Clarence"—and that's his son—"is running the clock." So then I watched, he gave Clarence the signal and I watched Clarence. The clock ran during time outs, it ran during free throws and the second half lasted about five minutes. And those kids were out of there before they realized what had happened—I know they thought it was an awful short half but the game got started on time.
Gentry: Now, who was David Lash?
Garber: David Lash was the football coach at Carver. That was the county school for blacks. And David and I, we were talking the other day trying to remember when we first saw each other. And he said the first remembrance he had of me was I was covering one of their football games and he said that Carver had really whomped up on one of the other teams. I came down to the bench and asked him about the game and what he had to say about it. And he said that he started—and this is his word—mouthing off about how good the Carver team was and how they had really stomped the other team and the other team wasn't any good. He was really carrying on. He said I stopped him and said, "Coach, do you really want to say that?" And as he said, it brought him up short and he realized how stupid that sounded for him to be bragging so much. So he amended his statements and toned them down a little.
That was something I tried to do because most of these guys who were coaching high school sports were young, they were just starting out, and sometimes they got carried away and said things they didn't really mean. I tried to give them a chance to say, "Hey, think about that, do you really want to say that?"
Gentry: Well, that's good.
Garber: Then if they went ahead and said, "Yes, I do want to say that," then that was their problem.
Gentry: You had a real positive attitude toward them.
Garber: Right. And I always tried, too—Bighouse always kids me about this—if a kid made a mistake in grammar, I tried to correct it, because there's no reason to make a kid look ignorant and stupid in the way he talks. Some of them just don't know any better and maybe they'll learn by seeing it put in the paper correctly.
Gentry: Yes, he told me you'd always correct the black English when you heard it.
Garber: Right. Why embarrass a kid and make him look bad? That doesn't accomplish anything. And I'm certainly not going to say, "That's not the way you're supposed to talk, you're supposed to say it this way." But I figure if they tell me what they want to say and then I correct the English and put it in good form, maybe they'll learn from it.
Gentry: Sure. Sure.
Garber: I remember one coach—and this was Tom Cash—I asked him one time for a statement after a game. And he said, "I can't think of anything, but make up something for me and be sure I show good sportsmanship and use good grammar."
Gentry: That's great. Did you?
Garber: No, I didn't make it up. He told me what I wanted to know. He was just being funny.
Gentry: Now, you and David Lash have a tennis tournament named after you.
Garber: Right. There's a group of black men who had the Winston-Salem Sportsmen Club. They used to get together and meet at the black YMCA and pick football games and do anything that a sports club does. During the early years of high school sports, all the white schools had athletic banquets and the schools would pay for them or the parents would bring food. But the black schools had no way to do that, there wasn't any way that they could have football banquets or basketball banquets or any of the things that the white schools did. So the Sportsmen's Club decided that they would have a banquet each year for the black athletes. You had to be a varsity athlete, stay out for sports all during the year, and the kicker was you had to make a "C" average in your studies. They had it over at the YMCA and they usually had some prominent black athlete come. They had Jim Brown one year, they've had really outstanding people—so it was something the kids really wanted to do.
And one year David said to me, "The boys want you to come to the banquet." Well, if you're a high school writer, you go to so many banquets that the last thing you want to do is go to a banquet. And this particular banquet was on April the 19th which is my birthday. So I said, "David, thanks very much but that's my birthday and I'd like to be home with my family that day." And a couple of days later he came back and said, "The boys are very disappointed. They want you to come to this very much and I know it's your birthday but please come, they will be so disappointed." I couldn't figure out why in the world the boys would be disappointed because I couldn't imagine why they would care one way or the other whether I was there. Jim Brown was going to speak and that was important. But I didn't want to offend David and I didn't want to do anything that was wrong so I said, "Okay, I'll come." When I got there, they gave me an award for sportswriter of the year. And they were so delighted that they had put something over on me, that I didn't have any idea about it. They just got the biggest kick out of that.
The tennis tournament was started by the Twin City Kiwanis Club, a black organization. The Sportsmen also established a Winston-Salem-Forsyth County high school sports hall of fame on the grounds that college players get in halls of fame and professional players do but there's no place that recognizes kids who are outstanding just in high school. And so this has been set up by the Sportsmen's group and it's been going on now for—oh, I think about thirteen years. Carl Eller and Happy Hairston and I were among the first inductees.
Gentry: Oh, that's great. It's a good idea.
Garber: It is. It's a real good thing and it's nice every year they take in some players and these guys come back and it's just fine to see that almost every one of them have been successful. The group they took in last year, one of them was the director of students at a university, another one was a lawyer, another one was an
insurance agent, one of them professor at a college, another was director of nursing in a hospital—and every one of the group that came back, every one of them had been successful in business as well as being successful in athletics—which says something for athletics.
Gentry: Which may say something about honoring them at that age, also.
Garber: Right. And it's nice to all get back together and talk about old times and what it was like in those days.
Gentry: Sure. Sure. Well, with the racial climate in Winston-Salem, during the segregation era was it difficult for blacks pretty much across the board? Your situation was unusual that you really were friends with a lot of black people.
Garber: The situation then, of course, in strict segregation, blacks knew that there were certain places they could not go and there were certain things they could not do. The lines were drawn. But it's amazing how much went on between the two races. I remember there was a group of white kids and a group of black kids who used to go up to one of the schools in the area and play football against each other every Sunday afternoon. And there was never any problem with it, there was never anything that went wrong. These were kids from the white neighborhood which I would have said would be prejudiced against the blacks. And the blacks lived in the neighborhood nearby and they were probably prejudiced against the whites. But those kids played football up there every Sunday afternoon and there was never any trouble.
Gentry: So it's a one-to-one relationship.
Garber: Right. And when Billy Packer was at Wake Forest and Earl Monroe was at Winston-Salem State, the Wake Forest basketball players used to go over to Winston-Salem State every weekend and play basketball.
Gentry: That's great.
Garber: They had no officials. If a Winston-Salem State player charged into a Wake Forest player, they called foul on themselves, took the ball outside and went ahead and played. Bighouse said the first time he saw it, he nearly had a stroke because he was afraid there was going to be trouble. But never! They got along just fine by themselves.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Garber: Integration here was forced, as it was in almost every place, so there was some resentment both by the blacks and the whites and there were some problems. I remember one high school game when Atkins, which was a black school, and North Forsyth, which was an integrated school, played a football game over at Bowman Gray Stadium, a municipal stadium. The two teams got into a rather bad fight and the game was halted. I was covering it for the evening paper and Luix Overbea who was black—who is black, he hasn't changed—was covering it for the Journal.
We were sitting up in the press box—Bowman Gray did have a press box—and here was almost a riot on our hands. We sat there for a minute and looked at each other and finally Luix said, "I'm going to have to go down on the field and find out what happened and get a story for the morning paper." And I looked at him and I said, "Luix, you take care." And he looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Mary, you take care." Here was a black guy and a white lady both concerned about each other's safety.
So I waited for maybe two or three minutes and then I followed him down through the stands. The Atkins fans were on the same side as the press box so I walked through the black fans and never did any one of them say anything to me, do anything to harm me, move toward me or frighten me or hurt me in any way.
Page 43 Now, several of them came up and said, "Mary, what happened?" They were confused. I went down on the bench where the Atkins players were and those kids were terrified, some of them were crying. They couldn't understand how it had gotten out of hand so quickly.
So I talked with David Lash, the coach. Then I went over to the North players and they were the same way. These were just frightened kids. It's something that had started with you-push-me-and-I-push-you and then you-hit-me-and-I-hit-you and it just got out of hand. I had gathered all the notes I needed and started walking to my car. All of a sudden I looked around and David Lash was beside me. And he said, "Mary, I'm going to walk you to your car just in case." So he walked me to my car, saw me into my car and saw me drive away.
I came home the back way through the white section of town and I had no problem whatsoever. But Luix went through the ghetto area which you had to go through to get to the Bowman-Gray stadium and his car was riddled with rocks. We got together the next day and we both agreed we were scared to death. He was black and he was scared and I was white and I was scared. But that was really the only time that I remember anything really getting out of hand. And after that, they set up an interracial committee to see what could be done to straighten out situations like that. As far as I know, we never had anything like that again.
Gentry: So now there really isn't a problem, no obvious problem.
Garber: Not really, no. I mean, you're always going to have some prejudice.
Gentry: There are no such things as white schools and black schools now, they're all completely integrated.
Garber: Yes, they're all integrated. And of course, you're always going to have kids who make problems. I know one time we had high school basketball games over at the coliseum. And one night over there, there was a black kid who was just really being obnoxious and making a lot of trouble. The police didn't know what to do. Bighouse was there. Bighouse went over to him and put his arm around the boy and talked to him for a few minutes and the boy nodded his head and turned and walked out the door, just as quietly as he could be. I went up to Bighouse and I said, "What did you say to that kid?" And he said, "I went over to him and I said, 'You've had too much to drink, haven't you?'" And the boy said yes, he had. Bighouse said, "And you know what you're doing? You're ruining a good time for a whole lot of kids, black and white, by the way you're acting. Don't you want to go home?" And he said, "Yes, I do." And he went home. I don't think anybody in the world could have handled that situation but Bighouse.
Gentry: Of course, Bighouse was about six foot seven.
Garber: Yes, he's a big guy. But the thing was he was quiet and he gave the kid a way out. He didn't say, "You're a bad, nasty boy and you ought to be locked up in jail." He just let the boy know that he was doing a thing that was hurting other people and that that was not the right thing to do.
Gentry: I'll bet he's very good with his students.
Garber: He was good. He was very good. He's an amazing person. I was in his office one time and a young man came in and he said, "Coach," and asked a question. Well, I could understand the young man very well. Bighouse said, "I can't hear you." And so the boy repeated the question. And Bighouse said, "I still can't hear you." And the boy kept raising his voice and speaking louder and louder. And Bighouse kept saying, "I can't hear you." And finally Bighouse said, "I can't hear you and I won't hear you until you take your cap off when you come into the house." So the boy took off his cap and asked the question and Bighouse answered it and he went out.
Gentry: Oh, that's funny.
Garber: I couldn't figure out what in the world Bighouse was doing because I understood perfectly what the young man said, there wasn't any question. He was speaking very plainly and he was asking a very intelligent and good question. But that's Bighouse.
Gentry: He taught them some manners, too, while he was at it.
Garber: Right, he did. He was always walking through the waiting room when the kids were waiting to see him and saying, "Why don't you open that book and see if you can't find something interesting inside of it?"
Gentry: I suppose these coaches were father figures to a lot of their players.
Garber: Oh, very definitely, because in a lot of cases these kids don't have male parents in the home. Bighouse is a real father figure to them and all coaches are. It's amazing what impact the high school coaches have. If I was in charge of schools, I'd be very careful who I picked as a high school coach because these kids really put a lot of stock in what the coaches said. We had a coach at Reynolds High School several years ago named John Tandy. And he was a tremendous leader of young people. A friend of mine was sitting down to dinner one night with the family and the little girl who was a freshman in high school made a statement. Her father said, "Honey, what makes you say that?" She said, "Because Coach Tandy says it and if Coach Tandy says it, it's true."
Coach Tandy also had a big influence when they had integration over at Reynolds. A black young lady was the first student to break the color line. And Time and Life and all the major networks and everybody were down to cover this event. The night before, some people went in on the driveway going into the school and wrote some very ugly racial slurs. John Tandy came early in the morning and saw them. He got some of the kids who were the leaders in the school, and told them, "This is a reflection on Reynolds High School." Those kids got down on their hands and knees and scrubbed all those racial slurs off the driveway. When the people came to cover it, there was not a sign of it anywhere.
And Coach Tandy went out and met the young lady and walked her into the school. There was never any trouble, everything went just perfectly. But John had a great deal to do with that.
Gentry: When did you break in to covering college sports?
Garber: Well, I covered college sports, as I've said before, a little from the forties on. But I really didn't start covering college sports on a regular basis until Wake Forest came here in 1956. With a university here in Winston-Salem, I started covering it a lot more. And finally, I got so I was covering Wake Forest as one of my major beats and I would go out there every day. I would go to practice every day, I would go by and see the coaches every day. And I got to know the players and the coaches and have a very good rapport with them. That's really when it began.
Gentry: As the only woman sportswriter in the area, did you have any trouble getting into the press boxes that were always full of men?
Garber: Yes, I did, at first. I guess it was in '46, I'm not exactly sure when but I went down to Duke to cover a football game with press credentials but the sports information director wouldn't let me sit in the press box because he said women were not allowed. And while I was talking with him, there was a little boy about ten years old hopping up and down on one foot, hopping up and down the steps. I said to the sports information director, "Who is he? Is he covering for the Lilliputian Gazette?" And he didn't think that was very funny. He put me in what they called the wives' box and I tried to cover the game with the wives talking about "Boy, John was in a bad humor when he went to work this morning. I sure hope we win because he's been in such a foul humor for the last two weeks." The kids were beating on the table and chair for Duke and it was horrible.
So I came back home and I had talked with Leon Dure who was the managing editor and he wrote to the athletic directors at what they called the Big Four which is Duke, Carolina, State and Wake Forest and said that it was up to the Winston-Salem Journal/Sentinel to decide who they sent to cover the game and that when they turned me away, they were turning away the Journal/Sentinel, not me. And of course, all the athletic directors didn't want to get involved in an argument with one of the biggest papers in the state so they all agreed that I could sit in the press box. And I never had any trouble after that.
Gentry: You were never thrown out of the press box again?
Garber: No. No.
Gentry: Then didn't you wear a badge for years that said "No Women and Children Allowed in the Press Box."
Garber: Oh, yes. Of course, in every press box you wear a tag which shows that you're entitled to be in the press box. And it's like your ticket to the game. But most of them, even up until a few years ago would say women and children were not allowed in the press box. At one time, it said women, children and pets. I don't know why they dropped the pets but I wore the tag with women and children and so did several other women sportswriters.
Gentry: And nobody ever protested?
Garber: What difference did it make? It didn't make any difference. Women were still in. If they wanted to use up their old tags that said women and children are not admitted, it didn't bother me. I suppose I should have objected but I didn't.
Gentry: And then you had a problem, didn't you, with having no women's bathrooms in the press boxes for years?
Garber: Oh, yes, for a long time—up until just the last few years, there were no women's bathrooms in the press box. And when I had to go to the bathroom, I'd have to wait until half-time and run down and get in the line at the women's restroom in the regular arena and sometimes you had to move fast to get back. But now almost all the press boxes have separate men's and women's restrooms or sometimes they have co-ed and men and women use the same one.
Gentry: Were you accepted by the male sportswriters in the press box in those early years?
Garber: Nobody bothered me. Now, I understand that some of the women who are covering sports now have been called very ugly names and been treated very nastily by some of the men in the press box.
Gentry: I'm speaking of the forties and fifties.
Garber: I never have had that problem at all. They didn't pay any attention to me. We just sort of sat next to each other and didn't have much to do with each other. About the only time that I remember was I was
covering a game at State and there was a guy from one of the Washington papers, he was a big, fat guy, and he was sitting right behind me. And he made all kinds of comments about women shouldn't be in the press box and dyah, dyah, dyah, dyah, dyah. I didn't pay any attention to him and just ignored him. While he was talking, the State team came out to warm up. The man took a look at the State team going through their drills and he went over and poked the Maryland sports information director and he said, "I don't see why you can't get anything right. Every one of these numbers are wrong." He didn't realize that it was the State team, not the Maryland team that had come out. I got so tickled, I thought I was going to absolutely pop. And I sat there and giggled and giggled and giggled and giggled.
Gentry: And you didn't say anything.
Garber: I didn't say anything to him, no. I figure I may be stupid but at least I could tell one team from the other.
Gentry: So the men just pretty much ignored you.
Garber: They ignored me, but it was my fault as much as theirs. You know, it wouldn't have hurt me at all to turn to the man that was sitting next to me and say, "My name is Mary Garber, I'm with the Winston-Salem Sentinel." And if I'd done that, he probably would have said, "My name's John Jones and I'm with" whatever paper he was with. I think the problem was that both of us were brought up at a time when men and women didn't mix in situations like this and neither one of us knew how to react. They were afraid to tell the stories they usually told and use the language they usually used when I was around. And I didn't know quite how to act with them, I didn't know what to do.
This was one of the biggest problems I had when I began. I was walking unchartered territory, really, and I sort of felt like I was playing in a game and everybody knew the rules but me. There were a lot of times I really didn't know how I was supposed to react when certain things happened. I remember one time I went to Carolina when Jim Hickey was coach. I had an appointment to talk to him and I went into his office. He stood up behind his desk and he said, "I'm thinking about coming around the side of this desk and punching you in the nose." Well, now, I knew he wasn't going to come around and punch me in the nose, I knew he wasn't going to do anything to me at all. But I also knew that I had to make some response. And I really didn't have the faintest idea of what to say. Just on the spur of the moment I said, "And who were you planning to get to help you?" Well, he just absolutely broke up and he came by and gave me a big hug. It was obviously the right thing to say. But I had no way of knowing. I didn't know what to do. He wasn't trying to give me a hard time, he was just teasing.
Gentry: Well, how did you deal with this over the years? It was probably thirty years before another woman got in the press box with you, wasn't it?
Garber: I don't know how long it was but gradually it was just like anything else, you came to be accepted. They knew I was coming, they knew I was around and it just got to the point where we just got along much better. I remember when blacks started to work for the papers, one of the games that one of the first black writers came to, he was from the Durham paper, and he and I sat next to each other. And I was feeling pretty sure of myself by that time. So when he came in and sat down, I reached over and poked him and I said, "Welcome, fellow minority." And he laughed. We just sort of kidded along with each other.
And a lot of unusual things happened. I remember one time I was down at State with Frank Weedon who was the sports information director. It was Homecoming and he came over and gave me one of the flowers that the sponsors wore and put it by my desk. He said, "I know you can't wear this but maybe you can take it home and wear it tomorrow." And you know, things like that didn't happen to the men.
Gentry: Well, you made no waves, either, did you?
Garber: No. No. Because you've got to remember that up until the seventies there was no civil rights law, there was nothing that made the papers say that they could keep me. And so I didn't want to cause any trouble, I didn't want to do anything to be an embarrassment to the paper. So I was very careful in what I did and I tried to walk the straight and narrow. I think it was probably a good idea.
Gentry: Is that what you'd call your Jackie Robinson philosophy?
Garber: I guess so because Jackie Robinson was breaking in at that time and he was playing with the Dodgers. And he had to take a whole lot more than I ever had to take because people weren't that ugly to me as they were to him. But he learned to keep his mouth shut and to mind his own business and do his job and he was accepted. And I felt that if he could take all the things he took, I could certainly take what little I had to take. There was very little of it.
Gentry: Didn't a black Wake Forest player once give you some good advice about things like that?
Garber: Yes, he did. His name was Robert Grant and he was one of the first black players to play for Wake Forest. And of course, he had to take a lot of the stuff that anyone breaking a line does. We were talking one time and I was asking him how he had adjusted to being the first black player. He said one of the most important things was to not look for discrimination. He said, "You'll find enough of it. There will be enough discrimination that is true without you getting upset over something that doesn't mean any harm." And I found that that was a really, really good piece of advice. I tried whenever something upset me to think whether this was really important to my job or whether the person who did it really meant to hurt me. And to be sure that the things that I got upset about were really important and not just something that was part of my ego.
For an example, when I was kept out of the press box, Leon Dure helped me with that. But when I was kept out of the Southern Conference Sportswriters, he said he would have no part in interfering with that because that was up to the men whether they wanted to take me in or not. He said, "That has nothing to do with your job." And I realize now that it was just an ego thing, I wanted to be accepted and it hurt me because I wasn't accepted. But it really wasn't that important. I think that's one of the hardest things a woman sportswriter has to learn. Some things are important, some things aren't. If you waste your energy and strength getting upset over things that just hurt your ego, you're never going to get anywhere.
Gentry: I suppose through the years you've faced a lot of petty little prejudice.
Garber: Yes, and even though you know it's not important, it does hurt you. I know one time I was covering a football media thing up in Boone. We went to lunch and all of us were going down the line. I got in line to go down to the cafeteria and the lady at the cafeteria stopped me and said, "Ma'am, you're going to have to go someplace else because this is just for the football people." I mean, she never asked me if I was with the football people, she never did anything—
Gentry: She assumed you weren't.
Garber: She just assumed that I wasn't.
And then I went into a press conference at Carolina and the man on the gate let every man through and when I came through, he checked my credentials. These are unimportant things, they don't mean a thing but they are really annoying.
Gentry: At the time they hurt, though.
Garber: They don't really hurt, they just make you mad.
Gentry: All right. What about women, did they ever criticize you for being a woman sportswriter or were they just proud?
Garber: I think a lot of women didn't understand why I was doing it. A lot of people didn't understand why I wanted to do it. I remember Wallace Wade who was coach at Duke. He was always very nice to me and we got along fine. Right before he died, I was at his house and he said, "I just want you to know how much I admire you for all the things that you've accomplished. But," he said, "I will never understand why you wanted to do it."
And really, sometimes I felt that the women were more prejudiced against me than the men. And I don't understand that, it's something I don't understand.
Gentry: I don't either. Maybe way back but not since the women's movement, anyway.
Garber: No. But some of them just felt that this wasn't right for a woman to be there. And there was a great deal of snickering and giggling about going into the men's dressing room. I never went into the men's dressing room, never. Until the set-up was made so that I could go in and the men stayed dressed. I think that annoys me as much as anything. Whenever I'm introduced, I'm always introduced as the lady who broke the barriers and went into the men's dressing room. Then everybody giggles. And I just want to say "Eya-a-a-ak!"
Gentry: When did the barriers, if there were any barriers with male sportswriters, completely break down or pretty much break down?
Garber: It wasn't a great thing and all of a sudden, Mary is accepted and everybody blew a great trumpet and the roll of drums and all. It was just sort of a gradual thing. The first time that I really felt accepted by the other writers, I was covering the ACC [Atlantic Coast Conference] meeting in Greensboro and I went by the press room. Obviously I felt enough at ease to go by the press room where the guys were. They were getting ready to go out to eat. I had made it a self-imposed rule that I was never going to invite myself and I was never going to say, "I'm going with you," which I would do now. As they were getting ready to go, one of the guys turned to me and said, "Mary, what are you going to do?" And Elton Casey who was sports editor of the Durham Herald at the time said, "Well, she's coming with us." It was just like big brother saying to little sister, "C'mon, you can play with us." So we went downstairs and got a big table, there must have been twenty of us. I was the only woman there but I felt absolutely and totally at ease. We all talked across the table and about every two or three people split a bottle of wine. We had a perfectly great time. And I really felt that they accepted me.
But then just a few years before I retired, Helen Ross who works for the Greensboro Daily News and I were assigned to go on the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters bus, on the football tour. And I'd been several times before and so had Helen. But we had always driven our own cars to Duke and Carolina and State and picked up the crowd there. No women had ever ridden the bus. The men were not at all happy to see us. Helen and I got together the night before and we agreed on two things. One, we were going to stay completely away from each other. We were not going to stand there and hold hands. And two, no matter what the men did, we were not going to make any reaction whatsoever. So we sat apart from each other on the way down there.
The first thing they did was to turn the air conditioning down so low that it must have been twenty degrees below zero and all the men were freezing. I had a sweater in my bag so I just took the sweater out and put it on and I was perfectly comfortable. I didn't care if they put it down to thirty below zero. That was all right. And then they started telling dirty jokes. The bus driver was so embarrassed by the jokes they were telling that he disconnected the public address system.
When we got down to Clemson, we got out of the bus and I went to pick up my luggage and all of the sudden, this big hand reached out. It was one of the radio announcers. He yanked my bag out of my hand and
carried my bag into the hotel for me. It was a tiny, little bag, just a little overnight canvas bag. It wasn't heavy. But I thought that was strange—here they give you all this flak all the way down and then they carry your bag for you. And then that night at the Clemson dinner, the jokes continued. Helen and I totally and completely ignored them.
Gentry: They were doing that for your purpose.
Garber: Oh, yes, they were doing it just to see if they could embarrass us. And we paid no attention to them whatsoever. And even Charlie Pell who was the coach said, "Mary, this isn't right." And I said, "Don't pay any attention to them, they're just trying to see if they can embarrass us." Then by the next day, we went back to Duke. They sort of let up. And at lunch that day, Helen and I sat down with them and they made no move to stay away from us or anything like that. At Duke that night there were no dirty jokes, there was nothing, there was just a perfectly normal meal and nobody gave us a hard time at all.
And the next day we finished up at Carolina, we were sitting on the grass by the fieldhouse there waiting for the bus to come and pick us up. And one of our chief tormentors was sitting next to me. And I said, "Now, come on, it really wasn't so bad having us along, was it?" And he looked at me and said, "No, you all done good, you can come back any time you want to." I thought, "Hoo-ray, we have finally made it."
But the funny part about it is we stopped covering the ACC tour after that.
Gentry: This was in the eighties, right?
Garber: Yes. It was just a few years before I retired. I don't think Helen ever went back, either. But at least we know we can come back if we want to. You know, a lot of times when you are the only woman in the place, they start swapping stories. One of the times that I really was embarrassed, I was at a high school coaches' clinic. One of the speakers told an off-color joke. The joke was okay, that didn't bother me at all. All the men laughed and I did, too. But he was the secretary for the National High School Federation and the North Carolina high school federation man got up and went to him and explained that there was a lady there. Well, he stopped and he said, "I am sorry, I have just been told that there's a lady present. I apologize for that story, I am very sorry."
And every man in the place turned around and looked at me. I thought I was absolutely going to die. If he had just left the thing alone and paid no attention to it whatsoever, it wouldn't have been embarrassing. But when he apologized and 250 men turned around and stared at me, my face was just as red as it could be. And I'll never forget Wilbon Clary, he was the coach at Children's Home. He sat next to me and he reached over and patted my shoulder. He made me feel so good, as much as if to say, "Hey, don't let it get you down."
Gentry: In all those years of being the only woman sportswriter in the region, how did you compete with men and work around the problem of not getting in the dressing room to get interviews?
Garber: In a lot of ways, I think it was easier then than it is now because even though there's supposed to be equal access and women can go in the dressing room, some places won't let you in, some places will, and some places you have to go to an interview room. You really never know what the situation's going to be. I knew that I could not go into the dressing room so I learned to work around it. And I did it in various ways. When I was working on the evening paper, it really wasn't a problem. I had to wait forty-five minutes or an hour and that was annoying but it wasn't an impossible situation. I would tell sports information directors what players I wanted to talk with. I found afterwards when I compared notes with other women who were covering sports that they did the same thing. I always asked for more players than I really wanted to talk with because you could always count on at least one and maybe two of them slipping out the back door without talking to you because they were tired. I mean, they'd played and they'd answered the same question nine thousand times.
Gentry: Because all the men had gotten to them first.
Garber: Right. And then they had to go and talk to me again. It was a real pain to them. Sometimes I would get assistant coaches to get players out of the dressing room. Sometimes I'd talk to assistant coaches because they could tell you the strategy of what went on and how things were done. When I got in the real desperate straits, sometimes other writers would share quotes with me. Coaches would get players out of the dressing room for me. I got an awful lot of cooperation and help.
I remember one time I really had a problem. I was covering the dressing room in a semi-final game of the ACC basketball tournament. It was the second game, and the game started at 9:00 which meant it was going to be over probably at 11:15, 11:30. That didn't give me time to stand outside the dressing room and wait while the players talked to all the men—then showered, dressed and came out. So usually when we have a split like that, one writer will take the winner's dressing room and one will take the loser's. But Bill Cole and I were working together so I said to Bill, "Could we each take a school rather than winners or losers and then I could plan for working around the dressing room?" So he said, "Okay," and I took Wake Forest.
So I went to Carl Tacy who was the Wake Forest basketball coach and explained my problem to him. And I said, "I really don't know what to do. Is there any way you can help me?" And he said, "Well, I'll tell you what I'll do. If you will come down to the Wake Forest dressing room about two or three minutes before the game is over, I'll get one of the assistant coaches to slip you into the dressing room and you can talk to the players during the ten-minute cooling-off period when writers are not allowed in there." And he said, "But you'll have to get out when the men come in and the players start to dress." So I said fine, that's all I need, ten minutes will give me all the time I need.
So about two minutes before the game was over, I went down to the dressing room and Dave Odom who is now the Wake Forest basketball coach was an assistant coach then. And he slipped me into the dressing room. And it was the time that Wake Forest beat Carolina in the semi-finals so of course it was a big win for Wake Forest. And when we got in there, he said, "Now, Coach Tacy always likes to talk to the players so maybe we'd better step back here in the shower." And that set up, of course, one of my very favorite stories that I tell around Wake Forest today with great embarrassment about the time Dave and I were in the shower together. But the shower was all yucky and wet and the shower dripped and I got all wet. But Coach Tacy talked to the players and he said, "Now, Mary is here and she's here with my permission. And she only has ten minutes so when she tries to talk to you, please talk to her." And of course, the place was bedlam, the guys were hugging each other and crying and dancing and it was just absolutely marvelous. And I got some great quotes and got the real atmosphere of what the dressing room is like immediately after a big win.
Gentry: That was the first time you'd really seen it?
Garber: Right. And then—the first time anybody'd really seen it. When Carl got ready to go, he gave me the signal and I went out with him. And all the men were waiting outside. They were so mad when they saw I had gotten inside. And Betty Cuneberti who was working for Washington had gotten in, too. He'd done it for both of us. And we really got flak for that.
Gentry: I'll bet.
Garber: But I guess they didn't stop to think of all the times we had waited outside and they had been inside.
Gentry: Of course they never thought about that.
Gentry: Didn't Bones McKinney early on get you in his dressing room?
Garber: No, no, no. What Bones did was to have his coach's conference outside the dressing room—at that time, all the coaches had their conferences after the games in the dressing room. And I couldn't go in there. So one day Bones said that that was not fair and he promised me that he would always have his press conference outside the dressing room. And once he started it, all the coaches did it.
But one particular game, Carolina and Wake Forest had a big fight. And so, you know, people were milling around outside. And there was no way Bones could come out and I understood that. But he stuck his head out the door and he said, "Give me a minute and I'll fix it up so you can get in." And at the time, the Wake Forest dressing room was divided into two sections. And the boys dressed in one area and it was kind of like a meeting room in the other. And he said, "You can come in here on this side and the players know you're coming and they won't come walking in here without any clothes on."
So I went in there and he had his press conference. And I'll never forget the looks on faces when I came out with all the men writers from the dressing room because they thought I'd probably been in there with them but I really hadn't.
Gentry: So the only time you really got in was probably in the seventies, then, the time in the shower.
Garber: The time in the shower, of course. But one of the first times I got in was—I think it was '74, I'm not sure, but it was the year that State won the national championship. This was the finals of the ACC basketball tournament. State had won and there was a TV crew in the State dressing room taking some films. So of course the boys had to stay dressed. And Eddie Biedenbach, who was the assistant coach at State, came to me and said, "You've always wanted to get in the dressing room. Now you can." So I went in and he said, "Now, when the TV crew gets through, you're going to have to leave because the boys are going to be changing." And I said, "Just tap me on the shoulder and let me know when they get ready to go."
And I had plenty of time to talk to the players. When the TV crew was through, Eddie tapped me on the shoulder and I got up to leave. And Monty Towe was sitting by the door. And as I started out, he said, "I'm sure glad you got into the dressing room." And on the spur of the moment, I reached over and gave him a big hug and a kiss. And all of those State boys really laughed—Monty was so embarrassed. I didn't mean to embarrass him.
Gentry: And you had a few friends helping you. Didn't you have a door guard named John Baker?
Garber: Yes, that was at State. The guy on the State football dressing room door was a man named John Baker. He was built on the same lines as Bighouse. I was down there one time and he wanted to know who I was and I told him. And he said, "Little lady, you can have a bad time because you can't go in the dressing room." And I said, "That's right." He said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do for you. You come down early after every one of the State games and I'll slip you into the coach's room where they have the post-game conference and you won't have to go through the dressing room. If you want to talk to any players, you tell me and I'll see they don't get out the door till they talk to you."
So I would go down about two or three minutes before the game was over and we'd stand by the dressing room door and watch the end of the game. And then as soon as the game was over, he would unlock the dressing room door and let me go in the coach's room. It was really nice because in late November it gets cold and I was sitting there nice and warm and cozy and everybody else was standing outside waiting for the ten-minute cooling-off period to be over so they could come in. And then I would tell Mr. Baker what players I wanted. And every one of them would come by because he wouldn't let them out the door.
One time I was sitting in there waiting, Dave Buckey who was the quarterback had had a big game and everybody wanted to talk to him. Mr. Baker came to the door and says, "Have you seen everybody?" And I said, "Everybody but Dave Buckey." And he says, "Well, he hasn't gotten past me but I'm going to go get
him right now." And all of a sudden, the door flung open and here comes poor old Dave Buckey dragged in by his shirt practically by Mr. Baker. And poor old Dave's hair was still wet from the shower and he was trying to get all his clothes arranged so he didn't look too bad. Mr. Baker would not let him out of that place until he talked to me.
And then several weeks later, I hadn't been down to State for some time. And I went down and Mr. Baker said, "Oh, Miss Mary, I'm so glad to see you." And he threw both arms around me and picked me up. At the time, I felt sort of a sharp pain in my side but I didn't think too much about it. He put me down. And by Monday, I couldn't breathe, I was so uncomfortable. So I went to the doctor and he checked me over. And he said, "I can go send you to get an X-ray but I can tell you right now what's happened. You've either got bruised ribs or cracked ribs and there's nothing you can do about it, they'll heal." That man had cracked my ribs by hugging me.
Well, I went back to State and I told everybody at State about it. Everybody at North Carolina State University in the athletic department knew that story. They all laughed about it and they all had a good time with it but nobody ever told Mr. Baker because he would have been absolutely crushed if he had ever heard it. He died several years ago—
Gentry: And no one ever told him.
Garber: No one ever told him. I wrote the story after he was dead. And his son wrote me a note thanking me for not ever telling him.
Gentry: That's great. Let's see. Didn't you sometimes when you couldn't get to the players talk to some of the wives, the girl friends?
Garber: Not so much talked to the wives and girl friends as to stay with them. One of the problems I had was the players would leave. Well, I knew they weren't going to leave without Momma or the girl friend. And a lot of times I'd stay in there and talk to Ma and the girl friend—
Gentry: Knowing he'd be back.
Garber: Knowing that the boy would come back out there. And always the wife or girl friends would say, "Now you talk to Miss Garber before you leave." Usually the kids were really nice. I appreciated what they did.
Gentry: But did anybody ever go out of their way like John Baker? That was really special.
Garber: No. He was great.
Then I've forgotten what year it was but one time I was talking—I think everything seems to be around State but I just happened to spend a lot of time there. You know, I was talking to Norm Sloan who was then the basketball coach at State and telling him about the problems I had with the dressing room. And he said, "You know, that's really not fair." And he said, "Let me talk to the basketball coaches"—he was president of the ACC basketball coaches—"and see if we can't work out something."
So he talked to the coaches and the coaches agreed that the best thing to do was to close the dressing room to everybody and bring whatever players people wanted to an interview room. Well, of course, the men did not like that. And then I really did get some flak and so did Norm. So I called Norm and I said, "Forget it, I've been working around the dressing room for thirty years, it doesn't make that much difference." But Bill Brill, who was president of the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters at the time, said, "No, let's see if we can't work out something." So a committee of writers and coaches got together and what they agreed was that after the
cooling-off period, everybody would be admitted to the dressing room and the guys would take precautions to stay dressed or put towels around or something like that. And the women could be there for fifteen minutes and then they'd have to get out. And never in all the time that I covered basketball after that, never was I asked to leave, I always had plenty of time to do what I wanted to do. There was never any problem.
Here's something that I really don't understand. I don't see any reason why when a player goes into the shower he can't wrap a towel about himself or put on a bathrobe. He doesn't have to walk around without any clothes on. And just last year, I did the Winston-Salem State-North Carolina Central when Bighouse was shooting for his eight hundredth win. And he didn't get it but I went to the Winston-Salem State dressing room. I wasn't really working but I just wanted to see Bighouse. And when I got in there, I found that the players were getting undressed so I just backed out. And Buddy Taylor who's the trainer at Winston-Salem State saw me and he said, "Don't leave, we'll take care of that." And he spoke to the boys and they all put towels around themselves before they went to the shower. And I thought it was a very considerate thing for them to do because I know it was probably some trouble for them. But they don't have to go through all that sort of stuff. It can be worked out if people just try and work together and help each other.
Gentry: Did any other male sportswriters support you back in the days when you never could get in there and nothing was working?
Garber: Oh, yes. There was a sportswriter for the High Point Enterprise named Bill Currie. And when I got thrown out of the press box and from the sportswriter's association, he wrote a scathing column saying that this was utterly ridiculous and this was not 1850 or anything like that but it was time things were changed. And I appreciated it very much. He and Scoop McCrary, who worked for the Lexington paper and I had what we called the Evening Paper Aide Society in which we would pool information and try to help each other. We had a lot of fun doing that.
Gentry: Well, after like thirty or forty years of not getting into the locker rooms and working around them, how did you feel when you finally got in? It was no big deal or—
Garber: No, it has never been a big deal. I remember one of the first times I went into a locker room was during the NCAA playoffs and I think it was Temple. And the Connecticut sports information director was helping me, he was getting quotes. And finally he stuck his head out the door and he says, "Mary, everybody's dressed, come on in." So I went in. And there were crowds of people around them. I didn't know the Temple players. Once they got the uniforms off, I couldn't tell one from the other. And somebody up front would ask a question. I couldn't hear what he said and I couldn't hear the boy's answer. And I thought, "Golly, ding, to think I spent all my time wanting to get into this place. This is worse than waiting outside."
Gentry: You had it all worked out.
Gentry: I mean over the years.
Garber: The only problem was when you got on the morning paper you really didn't have time to wait and it really was a pressure situation then. And women have to have equal access. They just have to, that's all there is to it.
Gentry: Do you know what year equal access came about? When women got equal access to the locker room?
Garber: I don't remember. Seventy-something.
Garber: The Associated Press sports editors several years ago set up an equal access committee. And once they got those people behind it, the sports editors had a whole lot more clout because now it's set up that if a woman has any problem, you go to the equal access Associated Press sports editors. And the NFL and the Southeastern Conference and all, they listen to them because these are the people who run the sports departments in the biggest newspapers in the country.
Karen Rosen had some trouble at Vanderbilt just a couple of years ago. The Vanderbilt athletic director would not let her into the dressing room and they did not bring the players out in time for her to talk to them. She tried to go into the dressing room and they forcibly kept her out. And she got in touch with the Associated Press media—equal access, and they wrote to the Southeastern Conference and said, "We are not going to have this, this is against the law, we will prosecute if you don't straighten this situation out." And boy, Vanderbilt backed off in a hurry.
Another time a woman sportswriter, Joan Ryan, had some nasty suggestive remarks made to her in a professional football dressing room and she protested it. And they went to the NFL Commissioner, Pete Rozelle at the time, and the players wrote her an apology. So we do have some clout, we do have some ways to protect ourselves.
Gentry: Did the women's movement have any impact on that?
Garber: I don't think so. I think the only thing the women's movement did was to open up sports writing jobs—all of a sudden it became a big deal to have a woman sportswriter. And at the time, I think sometimes they hired people who really weren't competent to be sportswriters. And I think that hurt more than it helped.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Gentry: After decades of working outside the dressing rooms effectively in your own way, do you now feel comfortable interviewing inside the dressing rooms?
Garber: I was brought up that men and women didn't undress in front of each other in situations like that. And I have never been really comfortable in the dressing room. But the way the situation is now with men and women living together when they're not married and co-ed dormitories in college, I can't see that it's that big a deal for the younger generation coming up. They're used to it, they're used to situations like that. I'm an old lady and I'm just not real comfortable with it. I have found that a lot of the men are very considerate and do try to make it as easy as possible.
Gentry: Do you think the younger women sportswriters are comfortable with it? Have you ever talked to them?
Garber: I have never talked to them but I think they probably are. I don't know why they would be—
Gentry: They probably came from the co-ed dorms.
Garber: They probably grew up in co-ed dorms and, you know, it's just not that big a deal for men.
Gentry: Now in 1990 is there anyplace you can't go as a woman sportswriter getting a story?
* Mary Garber later wrote: I think it was actually 1978. Maybe '76 should be changed to '78.
Garber: I don't think so. I think I could probably go anyplace but as I say, you always run into the possibility that somebody is going to try to keep you out. Of course, there are certain rules and regulations that are set up for everybody. For instance, in covering tennis at the U.S. Open or at Wimbledon and places like that, writers are not permitted, not men or women are permitted in the dressing room. The players are brought to an interview room and the player's required to come but never are writers allowed down on the court or are they allowed in the dressing room in tennis at any time. And that's everybody. That's men and women.
Gentry: Do you think the young women sportswriters coming in during the last decade of equal access, have it much easier than you did getting their story?
Garber: They probably have it easier getting their stories but I think that they may have even more problems than I did because you get into this conflict of regulations being made for equal access and the interview rooms and people are not being allowed in the dressing room under certain situations. Unfortunately, a lot of the male sportswriters blame that on the women and they don't ever stop to think that they wouldn't like it if it happened to them. They think that the women are trying to start something and they've been very ugly to some of them. And I think sometimes the women have a really tough job.
For instance, Dale Murphy who used to be with the Atlanta Braves felt so strongly about women not being in the dressing room that he refused to talk to anybody if there were any women in the dressing room. Well, you know, that makes it awfully hard on the guys and it makes it awfully hard on the woman who's just in there trying to do her job.
Gentry: So how did they handle it?
Garber: That's just the way he does. He won't talk when there's a woman in there.
Gentry: So the women have to stand out.
Garber: So the women have to either get out or he won't talk. I mean, I respect it if that's the way he feels but—
Gentry: Is he the only one like that?
Garber: I'm sure there are others. Some of them have just been real nasty about it, they really have. But it's just a tough situation. And then, of course, there are so many women now. At least when I was doing it, I was the only one—if there was going to be anybody messing up, it was going to be me. And I had a chance to try to straighten it out if I did mess up. But now with so many women covering, some of them don't do a very good job. And it's unfortunate that whereas if John Jones is a big jerk and nobody likes him among the sportswriters, then John Jones is a big jerk. But if Mary Jones is a big jerk, then all women sportswriters are big jerks and that's just not fair.
Garber: Because Mary and John can be jerks by themselves and that doesn't have anything to do with—I remember right after John Lucas was coming back from his trouble with drugs and he thought that he'd like to get back to playing tennis. He came to Tanglewood which is a park near here and a tennis tournament we had. And it was the first time that he had come out in public since his drug rehabilitation. I'd known John since he was ten years old and I was and I am very fond of him. So I was looking forward to seeing him. And a young lady from one of the Washington papers came down. When John came in, he had his wife with him. We both walked up to her and I gave John a big hug and he introduced me to his wife. And the young lady from the Washington paper said, "John Lucas, the last time I saw you, you were in the Washington Bullets dressing room and you didn't have any clothes on." Well, of course, poor John was so embarrassed to have something
like that said in front of his wife. And I realize what the young lady was trying to do, she was trying to establish an identity. But she could have done it by saying, "John, I'm so-and-so and I used to cover the Washington Bullets. I remember I talked to you after one of the games." That would have given him the lead-in to who she was without being embarrassing to him or to his wife. And I have no idea why she said that the way she did. But I was embarrassed and John was embarrassed and his poor wife was just—she almost went through the floor.
Gentry: Do you think sometimes—maybe this is hard to answer—but the sports staffs are so anxious to have a woman on their staff just as they were anxious to have a token black at one point, that they may hire people who really don't have the experience and the tact?
Garber: I think they did that at one time, I don't think that's quite so prevalent now. I remember there's a very nice young lady who has been working on the Greensboro Daily News named Lisa Mickey. And she said when they hired her, they just asked her if she wanted to write sports and she said, "They never asked me whether I knew anything about it or had any background in it at all." They wanted a woman sportswriter at the time and so they hired her. And as it worked out, she does. She had competed in sports in high school and college and she was very knowledgeable. But as she said, at least they should have asked if she knew anything about it.
Gentry: But that's pretty much stopped now.
Gentry: You had a great deal of trouble getting into the sportswriting organizations for years, didn't you?
Garber: Yes, I did. I wanted very much to be in the Southern Conference Sportswriters Association and I was barred. But any boy who had five bucks, which was the dues charge at the time, and who had a job on a newspaper, even if he'd only worked a week, could get into the Southern Conference Sportswriters and I couldn't. And that really annoyed me. And then when the Atlantic Coast Conference was formed, the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters barred me also. But we had a policy that the paper paid our dues to these professional organizations and we had a new sports editor and he didn't realize that I couldn't join. So he sent my dues in along with the rest of the men. And the treasurer didn't realize that I couldn't belong so he cashed the check. And when they realized, oh-oh, we got problems!
Gentry: Did they put M. Garber—
Garber: No. Mal didn't know the difference so he put "Mary" on it and he sent it in. And then the board of directors got together and then I think they finally said, "Ah, come on, she might just as well be in, she's not going to go away." And then a few years later—
Gentry: When was that, do you know?
Garber: I don't remember.
Garber: No, it was earlier than that, it was back in the late fifties, sixties. And then several years later I served a couple of terms on the board of directors and then one year when they announced that the slate of offices, Bob Quincy from the Charlotte News was the head of the nominating committee and he went through all the new board of directors and everything. And then he said, "For president, we nominate the biggest jock of all, Mary Garber." I felt really accepted.
Gentry: You were elected president?
Garber: I was president and served a term. Just about everybody who stays in the organization gets to be president one time or another.
Gentry: Well, not if they don't like you.
Garber: Oh, I don't know. I think just about everybody gets to be president.
Gentry: It's a huge organization?
Garber: Yes, it is.
Gentry: Are there many women in it?
Garber: Helen Ross is in it now. She's from the Greensboro Daily News and she's in. I don't know whether Lisa's in it or not.
Gentry: Just two or three women?
Garber: There are not that many women covering sports in our area, there're still just a few. I don't know how many women there are in it now since I have—in quote, unquote—"retired," I don't go to the meetings any more. Once you retire, you get to be a lifetime member. You don't have to pay any dues. I'm a lifetime member.
Gentry: Now the other big organization was the Football Writers?
Garber: The Football Writers. And they barred women. They were the ones that kept me out of the press box. They had a national rule that women aren't allowed to sit in the press box. But that sort of faded away and in 1965 I wrote and asked them if I could join and they said yes. And so I sent my dues and I've been a member ever since.
Gentry: It's a national organization?
Garber: It's a national organization. And I've served two terms on their board of directors. I never did anything but I served on the board of directors.
Gentry: Did that make you feel good when you finally broke in?
Garber: It sure did, it sure did because all of those things show that you have been accepted as a full-fledged sportswriter and that they're not concerned about whether you're a man or a woman.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.