ROCKINGHAM — When the Richmond Raider football team held its first practice in the summer of 1972, Bennie Howard and Ricky Treadaway remember the blistering heat that met them and their teammates on the field.
Around them was a group of 40 players and four coaches, brought together from four neighboring communities, for the inaugural football season of the recently opened Richmond Senior High School.
Gone were the days of Ellerbe, Hamlet, Rockingham and Rohanen high schools. For the past 50 years, the Richmond Raiders have established themselves as a perennial power and a household name in North Carolina high school football lore.
And it all started with the late head coach Ron Krall and a band of brothers playing under the newly minted Raiders logo.
As the Raiders and current head coach Bryan Till are set to begin the new season in just under two weeks, the 1972 team will hold a 50-year reunion during a home game on Sept. 30.
“We want to tell about the team that got Raider Magic started,” Treadaway said. “That summer we started out as four schools coming together as one. At the first practice, we had to earn our position and nothing was guaranteed.
“In that first year, we were 40 kids who learned how to become a team,” he continued. “It was neat for all of us to come together and there wasn’t a lot of rivalry. We bonded from the start and our coaches did a great job of making sure of that.”
Treadaway, who was the quarterback of the team that season and went to Rohanen prior, was part of Richmond’s first graduating class in the spring of 1973. A conversation between him and Howard, a fellow ‘73 graduate, spurred the idea of holding a reunion.
Richmond will host Sandhills Athletic Conference foe Hoke County High School during the team’s homecoming game in late September.
The reunion, which is open to all football players, cheerleaders, support staff and coaches, will see those in attendance recognized on the field.
During the fall campaign in 1972, the Raiders and Krall put together an 11-1 overall record, making it to the third round of the 3A state playoffs and won the Southeastern Conference championship.
Richmond had a perfect record heading into its third-round game against Sanford High School (now Lee County High School), but suffered a 21-14 loss.
In week two of the regular season, the Raiders defeated Sanford 8-7 in what was considered a huge upset at the time, as Sanford went on to win the state co-championship that season.
During the team’s fourth game against Pinecrest High School, the Raiders recorded their first shutout in program history, a 35-0 win. It was the first of three consecutive zeroes put up by the defense.
Howard, who had attended Hamlet and later went on to coach soccer at Richmond for 30 years, had never played high school football before the summer of 1972. Now five decades later, it’s a decision he’s glad he made.
“It was my first year of playing football at all, and I remember my buddy Brian Sexton talked me into it,” Howard recalled. “Playing was a lot of fun and I’m so happy that I was part of the team.
“Richmond has been playing football for 50 years and has been playing well for a long time,” he continued. “We had a lot of great athletes on that first team and we were successful because we came together as one for the common cause of winning.”
Howard remembered how the team members all got along and that there was “no animosity” amongst the players. Out the window were the days of the then-decades old rivalries between Hamlet and Rockingham, as well as Ellerbe and Rohanen.
Rattling off teammates and positions like he suited up just last fall, Howard, who was a wide receiver, vividly remembered Clint Bostick lining up in the wishbone at running back, Freddy Brown at tight end, Treadaway and Donald Marston under center and the strong offensive and defensive lines, among others.
Game days were represented by a gold t-shirt with green writing sprawled with the Raiders’ logo. There was no field house on campus, so players dressed at Rockingham Junior High School and were bused to Raider Stadium.
Also a big part of the 1972 season was the newly formed Richmond cheerleading team, headed by Sylvia Greene and composed of 14 cheerleaders meshed together from the four old high schools.
One of those cheerleaders was Mary Grace Calhoun, who was a senior that fall. Currently an educator at Cordova Middle School, Calhoun was one of five cheerleaders who made the team from Hamlet.
Five others were chosen from Rockingham, three joined from Rohanen and one cheerleader was from Ellerbe.
“We all had to try out at our own school and it was so exciting,” Calhoun shared. “It was a pretty big deal to make the team because it was such a small team compared to our old schools.
“We didn’t know our new teammates, just like the football team, and our advisor Sylvia Greene did such a great job,” she added. “All of us were such big rivals before we came together at Richmond, but there was never any issue.”
Riding the team bus, cheering during three playoff games, hyping up “huge crowds” at Raider Stadium and dancing along with “the best band in the state” are just some of the few memories Calhoun was able to pack into the late months of 1972.
But her greatest memory is still one that impacts her and her teammates today.
“We got along great as a cheerleading team, and a lot of us are still good friends to this day,” Calhoun said. “I’m most proud of being chosen for the team and the friendships we made. It was such an honor to be on the sidelines.
“This 50th reunion is the first time I can remember that this team and cheerleaders will be recognized. It was a special time during that first season, a real fairytale year.”
Following the game on Sept. 30, members of the 1972 teams will meet at the Rockingham VFW for a reception to reminisce and share stories.
If interested in attending, or have any questions, Treadaway can be reached at 704-252-0917 or via Facebook.
“The main reason for this reunion is for all of us to be together again,” Treadaway closed. “There are people I haven’t seen since graduation, and 50 years is a big milestone.
“I’m hoping to get people back to Richmond County and share what it means to us to be the first team in Richmond’s great history.”
Note: Deon Cranford contributed stats, information and photos for this article.