In the late 1950s, football players who arrived at Western Carolina College as freshmen shared many experiences. They lived on the same hallway in Reynolds Residence Hall and ate their cafeteria meals together. They helped one another abide by the curfews and rules of conduct put in place to preserve their gridiron prowess. Many became lifelong friends.
“We were thick as thieves back then and still are,” said Charlotte businessman Tobe Childers, former Catamount quarterback who with his wife, Barbara, helps organize annual treks to Cullowhee for the gridiron group known as “the Herd.”
The former players, now senior citizens, have been getting together to celebrate Homecoming weekend for more than 50 years. Herd members from North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Alabama, West Virginia and other states attend the group’s social events.
For the 2015 Homecoming weekend, the Herd booked rooms at the Quality Inn in Sylva and hosted a Friday night dinner attended by more than 100 people. More than 160 people came to their tailgate picnic held before Saturday’s game under a huge tent decorated with dozens of purple and gold balloons.
Childers sends email updates to Herd members throughout the year to help them stay in touch and make Homecoming plans. “Most of us are in our late 70s now. You wouldn’t believe what a close-knit group we are,” he said.
As Childers remembers, the Herd got its name in 1958. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was on campus in May to give a speech. Several football players lumbered into the auditorium a few minutes late, just after her talk began. The Western Carolinian reporter covering the event noted in the newspaper that they entered like a herd of stampeding animals. Through the years, the legacy of the name stayed with them, and the former student-athletes continue to have an enduring impact at WCU through financial support to the Catamount Club and various endowed scholarships.