Skidmore has timed South Stanly sports for 6 decades

Published 3:39 pm Friday, January 5, 2024

In the summer of 1962, Tommy Skidmore had come back to his hometown after four years away at college, plus a stint in the military.

Two years later, Bob Dylan would score a hit with the song, “The Times, They Are a’ Changin,’ ” but changes were already afoot in Stanly County.

A major transformation had come to the local school system and to Skidmore’s alma mater, Norwood High. A bond referendum to merge the county’s 10 community high schools into three consolidated ones had passed in 1960, and the newly-opened South Stanly High, which combined the ninth through twelfth grade classes of Norwood and Aquadale schools, was about to open.

Skidmore, who had gone on to play basketball at High Point College after playing football and basketball at Norwood, was ready and willing to help out wherever he could with the new school’s athletic program. He became part of the South Stanly Sports Council, the forerunner of the school’s booster club.

“I don’t remember who asked me,” said Skidmore, recalling his “recruitment” as the school’s clock operator for its inaugural football season, “but, I’d always wanted to be involved, so I said yes.”

Little did he know that 61 years later, he would still be manning the switch in the press box at Kermit L. Young Memorial Stadium.

“I’ve seen the highs and lows over the years,” said Skidmore, who saw the school’s teams earn regional football runner-up honors in 1965, 1968 and 1974.

“Coach (Harvey) Brooks had some great teams in the early years,” he said, mentioning standout performances by eventual N.C. State running back Jimmy “Bubba” Lisk during the 1962 and 1963 seasons as particularly memorable.

“Also, Coach (Bill) West and Coach (David) Elder’s teams in 1968 and 1974 were great to watch,” Skidmore recalled.

“And there have been some low points, too,” he said, recalling the school’s only two winless campaigns, which came in 1967 (0-8-2) and 2022 (0-10).

As for the job, Skidmore recalled that in the early years, the clock operator was “up close and personal” with the game itself.

“The clock switch wasn’t located in the press box,” he said. “There was a hand-held switch attached to a 50-yard cord next to the field and I walked the sidelines to operate the clock. More than once, I had to get out of the way of plays near the sideline. And when it was raining, the clock switch would shock you when you flipped it on or off.”

Things improved when the school expanded the press box in the early 1980s, relocating the clock controls into a more temperate environment.

“Now we are in a separate cubicle with plexiglass in front of us,” said Skidmore, who credited long-time cohorts Larry Hill, who for many years handled the duties of posting downs and yards-to-go, and the 25/40 second play clock, as well as long-time PA announcer Marty Walter, with helping make the job enjoyable.

“I really miss those two,” he said, noting that both had “retired” from their respective duties in the past two years.
Figuring an experienced football clock operator would adjust quickly to basketball, then-hoops coach Rick Hessman asked Skidmore if he would come on board as the basketball clock and scoreboard operator in 2004, and once again Skidmore agreed. He has manned the scorer’s table for SSHS basketball games ever since, but still professes football as his first love.

“I think football is easier,” he said. “There aren’t as many distractions up in the press box. In basketball, I’m sitting here on the visitors’ side with people all around me, and if I let an extra second run off, I’ve got people all in my ear.”

Basketball also takes longer, observed Skidmore, who handles the clock for both JV and varsity contests.

“Sitting out here for five hours at a time is tough,” he said.

Does he plan to come back for year number 62?

“I’m pushing 85,” said Skidmore, “so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do this.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.