By Turner Walston
Charles Waddell was ahead of his time. In the late 1960s, after his freshman year at an all-black high school in Southern Pines, he transferred to what had been an all-white school just a few years prior. The county had planned to integrate schools the following year, but Waddell wanted to play football as a sophomore, so he had to attend a school that could financially support a team. “I guess I surprised some people, that I came in and not only was I good athlete, but I was a good student as well,” he said. “I competed in the classroom just like I did on the court or the field.”
In the years since, Waddell has continued to blaze trails in sports and business, and the former Tar Heel three-sport athlete is therefore a Tar Heel Trailblazer in 2015. “I don’t know if it was anything that I was trying to do,” he said. “You just try to be somebody who builds bridges, rather than dealing with the negative side.”
In high school, Waddell competed in football, basketball and track. He came to Carolina on a football scholarship with the understanding that he would have the opportunity to play basketball. Waddell’s first year on campus, 1971-72, was the last before freshman became eligible to compete in football and basketball. He participated in spring football practice that year. But in his sophomore season after the Sun Bowl that December, Waddell joined the JV basketball team. “Before the end of the season, I got moved up to varsity,” he said. He appeared in 11 basketball games that season.
“It was a little challenging to play multiple sports because Coach (Bill) Dooley wanted me going to spring practice and lifting weights and putting on weight, when basketball was a lot of running,” he said. “I ended up losing 10 to 15 pounds.” That spring, he also participated in shot put and discus for the Tar Heel track team.
Waddell’s lettering in three sports allowed him the unique opportunity to experience the lifestyle of the football and basketball athlete and the Olympic sports athlete. The small size of the basketball roster allowed the team to have a bit nicer accommodations and experiences. The football traveling party could reach 100 people, so most activities centered around the team hotel. And the track team traveled modestly, even staying in on-campus dorms at Maryland for the 1973 ACC championships. “[Track] was a team sport comprised of individuals (in their own events),” he said. “It was a different perspective, but all of this was just a higher level of what I was used to in high school.”
In the years before he got to Carolina, high schools like Waddell’s were becoming more integrated, so student-athletes became accustomed to playing with teammates of other races. Waddell can’t remember having a racial incident with a teammate while at Carolina, but he recalls being on the road with the basketball team when due to injuries, he was the only black player on the bench. Football players from the opposing school sat behind the Tar Heel bench. “Things got a little out of hand,” Waddell said. “Some of them probably said some things that they shouldn’t have said.” For his part, Smith never pulled Waddell aside and advised him on how to handle racial issues; the coach’s actions made it clear where he stood.
Charles Scott became Carolina’s first African-American scholarship athlete in 1966. Waddell said that Smith’s recruitment of Scott had a ripple effect on the entire state and the south. “A lot of kids saw him on television, and he was the only black face out there on the court,” Waddell said. “That gave us all hope, and more than just give us hope, it opened up an opportunity. It made us aware of an opportunity that hadn’t existed.” When he played for Smith, Waddell got to experience the man up close. “The biggest thing Coach Smith did was treat everybody the same,” he said, “and that’s all you look for in sports.”
On the football field, Waddell was an All-America tight end, and he had the opportunity to play in the NFL following his time at Carolina. Injuries cut short his professional career, however, and he came back to work on the academic and strength and conditioning staffs at Carolina. Waddell would go on to earn an MBA in the mid-1980s. In that time, he interned with NCNB (now Bank of America) as just one of many former student-athletes working there. “They wanted people who were competitive and knew how to handle losses and were able to make decisions,” he said. Upon receiving his degree, Waddell would work with the company for seven years.
“Investment banking was a lot of fun, but it was like the wild, wild west” he said. “If you won 60 percent of the time in investment banking, that’s exceptional, but I wasn’t used to losing 40 percent of the time. That wore me out, because the highs are never as high as the lows are low.”
When former Tar Heel Jim Delany became commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, Waddell saw an opportunity. He spent four years as an assistant commissioner, and later moved on to work with Richardson Sports and the Carolina Panthers.
In his current role as deputy athletics director at the University of South Carolina, Waddell draws on all of his experiences: his time as a three-sport athlete, his bachelor’s degree in industrial relations and his MBA and time at NCNB. “Athletics today is a big business, and it’s getting bigger all the time,” he said. “Managing the business side of things is very important. You have to be a viable business. You can’t do everything for everybody, so you have to be fiscally responsible as an administrator.”
As a three-sport athlete at Carolina, as part of the first generation of African-American student-athletes as the first intern and African-American on the trading floor at NCNB and as an administrator today, Waddell has continued to blaze trails. “My whole philosophy on fitting in is you’ve just got to find common ground. Once you find common ground with people, they let down their borders. They open up and allow you to take it to places where you can build on that. You can build on the common ground when there’s enough common ground, and most of the times you’ll find that you’ll like that person, and you have more similarities than differences.”