Carl was Kings Mountain’s Champion!
Kings Mountain’s Carl Champion, who died last week, had the perfect last name. He was a real champion to his family and friends, to Kings Mountain High and many other high schools and colleges, the City of Kings Mountain, countless charities, and to many other people and organizations he was involved with.
Growing up in the Bethware area, Champion had an early love for sports that would continue for the rest of his life. In sports and other endeavors, he gave his full support.
He made his mark on Kings Mountain sports not just on game days, but also by his generosity of money and providing free grading for most of the athletic fields at the high school and other places.
His generosity reached far and wide, as did his friends.
Shortly after he met Champion in the late 1960s at a softball game, Belmont’s Art Shoemaker became one of his closest friends.
“He always made me feel like I was part of his family,” Shoemaker said. “We immediately hit it off.”
In the late sixties Shoemaker was coaching a slowpitch softball team in Gaston County, and needed a sponsor.
“I knew of Carl,” Shoemaker recalled. “We had played him when I was coaching Groves Thread. I went to him and introduced myself. Groves was no longer going to sponsor a team. He told me he was starting a team and wanted me to help him get it off the ground. Looking back, he’s done so much for people in Kings Mountain and all over. He was generous to a fault. It’s been a great honor to know him.”
Shoemaker recalled that Champion’s team won three straight NC state championships, and one year finished third in the national tournament in York, PA.
“There won’t be another Carl Champion,” Shoemaker said. “When we started the team he wanted to play. I had gotten some top notch players in the area and I told him his name was on the jerseys as owner, but he couldn’t play. He said, ‘Well, if that’s the way you feel that’s the way it’s going to be.’ ”
In 1973, Shoemaker recalled, Champion’s team finished third in the nation behind two teams that had all paid players.
“We both decided we couldn’t compete at that level,” he said. “The best thing about coaching Carl’s team is that we became great friends. He was like a brother to me.
“It just broke my heart to see him struggling to breathe near the end,” he said. “We’d had a surprise 80th birthday for him recently and I could tell then he wasn’t feeling well.”
Champion loved his friends and loved Kings Mountain, Shoemaker said.
“If there was anything he could do for you he’d do it,” he said. “I loved him and he loved me, and I know I will see him again.”
Shoemaker agrees that Champion had the perfect last name.
“He was a champion in every sense of the word,” he said. “When he said something he meant it. He was one of the most generous men I’ve ever known.”
Champion was serious about his businesses doing things the right way. But he could have less-serious moments.
“He was the best prankster I’ve ever known,” Shoemaker said. “I will never forget one time I was officiating a middle school football game in Kings Mountain and Carl was in the stands. At halftime he called me down the sideline and pulled out a bunch of money like he was paying me off. I said ‘You put that money back.’ I knew there were a lot of people watching.”
Shoemaker said coming to KM and coaching Carl’s softball teams was one of the best things he ever did.
“He always tried to do it the right way,” he said. “We had the best amateurs in Cleveland and Gaston County. But the two teams that finished ahead of us in the national tournament were pro teams.
“Carl was a great friend of Kings Mountain athletics. I never will forget when Kings Mountain went to Chapel Hill for the state football championship in ’98. He called me and said ‘Get me four or five charter buses.’ He filled them with fans and they didn’t have to pay one penny. He was so generous. If he knew somebody needed something he would take care of it. There will never be another Carl Champion.”
Bruce Clark, who coached at KMHS in the 1980s and 1990s, echoed Shoemaker’s remarks.
“I have never had a better experience in coaching,” he said. “I coached his daughter Ashley in softball and his son Kevin in football. He’s just one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He cared so much about Kings Mountain and wanted everyone to do well.
“It was not just what he did for sports, but the things he did for me personally. I was at a coach’s clinic when we were building a house. He came out and looked at the yard and said there was going to be a drainage problem. My wife called me and said he had some equipment out there. When I got home he had landscaped the yard and sowed it, and it was perfectly manicured.”
After Clark’s 1989 baseball team won the state 3A championship, Champion took the players, coaches and their wives, and others to the beach and paid the entire bill.
“He was such a great supporter of all athletes,” Clark said. “When we kept winning during the playoffs he would shoot fireworks. He came to me one day and said he wanted to take the team to the beach. He gave us a big RV so we could all ride together. We stayed for a week – the players, coaches and their wives and their parents and family.
“Carl and Dub Blalock were two of our biggest supporters,” he added. “They would take everybody to the Riverview Fish Camp in Belmont. Carl was just a fine man. He just wanted to see you have a good time and enjoy the moment.
“What he did for the Kings Mountain Hall of Fame was just amazing. He will always be a special person in my heart.
“When I was coaching in Greensboro, North Gaston and Boiling Springs Carl would just all of a sudden show up. He’d just sit with me and talk and see how things were going.
“He was an amazing man. We have lost a good one.”
As great of a supporter as he was in sports, that’s only a drop in the bucket of the good he did while on Earth. Whenever there was a need – someone was hurt in an accident, a child born with numerous health problems, supporting the Shriners Hospitals and numerous other causes, Carl Champion was there for them.
He was a true Champion!