MAMERS, N.C. (AP) - Buried treasures usually come in worn wooden chests, clinking coins of tarnished metal of untold wealth.
Patsy Taylor’s treasure was discovered in soggy cardboard boxes, reeking with age and mildew, in a dark room that hadn’t seen daylight in decades.
The value of her discovery? No one seems to know. But for the close-knit community of Boone Trail, finding more than 100 long-forgotten high school basketball uniforms - including some which may have been worn in a historic contest more than 50 years ago - is an emotional treasure.
“I get calls from people saying things like, ‘My uncle wore No. 15 when he was at Boone Trail,’” Taylor said. “‘Do you have his uniform?’
“I might. I have no way on Earth of knowing who wore what. But I’ve got a bunch of them.”
Enough to have kept the washing machine churning at her home near the now-abandoned high school for the past few weeks. Passers-by have stopped to marvel at antiquated outfits drying in the late summer sun.
It’s been nearly 40 years since a high school game has been played at the Boone Trail High School gym, where the Pioneers were a small-school power. And it’s been more than 50 years since the school won the longest high school ball game in history, a mammoth 13-overtime contest against cross-county foe Angier.
At some point, when Boone Trail High School was closed in 1978, the boys and girls uniforms were boxed up, crammed in a storage room and forgotten.
Until rumors started circulating that the old school might be torn down.
Patsy Faircloth Taylor didn’t go to Boone Trail. She was one of the Harnett County “city girls.”
“I was a Cavalier, went to Lillington High School Class of ‘72,” she said. “We played Boone Trail, Angier, Bunnlevel, Coats … there were some tough games back then.”
“Back then” was before the county began consolidating schools in the ‘70s. Soon, bitter rivals found themselves classmates.
Taylor married into the Boone Trail tradition, a former Pioneer football player. They lived across the street from the imposing, two-story school, watching elementary school students come and go from the front porch.
“It’s such a grand old building,” she said. “It means a lot to a lot of people here.”
In time, the elementary school closed as well. The building began to fall into disrepair. The ball field was used for impromptu sporting events, which meant lots of trash left behind.
“One morning, our local Ruritan Club was out cleaning up the ball field,” Taylor said. “Since I know the guys, I went over to chat. We stared talking about how nice it would be if the community could just take over the school and the field.”
A committee formed to discuss the future of the school with county officials during the summer. After one of those discussions, Taylor and neighbor Heather Adams took a stroll around the building.
“Someone had forced open a door on the old ag building, so we went in and looked around,” she said. “There wasn’t much to see.
“But in one room we saw some old clothes, sort of crumpled on a table. We got closer and could see that they weren’t clothes from some homeless people.”
They were basketball jerseys - old jerseys.
“I told Heather, ‘We need to get these out of here,’ but it was getting late and dark. So we came back on Saturday morning. I drove my old truck around to the back of the building and we started looking around.”
Finally, in a pitch-black storage room - “more like a dungeon,” Taylor said with a laugh - the duo found musty, unmarked boxes. It was sort of like an Indiana Jones adventure, with potential traps lurking in every darkened corner.
“It was daytime, but still pitch dark in there,” she said. “I couldn’t see anything. There could have been 10,000 snakes waiting for us, and here we were using our cellphones for flashlights.
“We dragged those boxes out to the truck. They were wet and, oh Lord, the smell!”
When they got the boxes home, Taylor and Adams began sorting their find. In all there were more than 300 pieces, dating back to the 1950s.
“There were tops, bottoms, boys and girls, and warmup jackets,” she said. “All of them came from Clarks Sporting Goods in Fayetteville. They still had the labels stitched in them.”
After weeks of cleaning and line drying - “I didn’t dare throw them in the dryer,” Taylor said - most of the outfits are ready for game day - if game day was in the Eisenhower administration.
“You know, they all washed up nice, every one,” she said. “You could put together a team and dress them right now.”
She held up a pair of the pants, which look more like belt-buckled underwear than today’s basketball trunks.
“I don’t know that you’d ever get someone to actually wear pants like this now days,” she said, giggling at the outdated outfit.
Many of the girls’ outfits had marks of multiple seams, likely where moms of decades past re-sewed the jerseys to fit better.
There’s no way to tell which uniforms were actually worn in the historic 1964 game, but “they sure look the same,” she said.
Taylor plans to use the uniforms to raise money for the Boone Trail Recreation Center project. Aside from a couple of outfits set aside for a future display, the rest will be sold at a yard sale later this month.
“We got approval from the county to sell anything in the building as surplus,” Taylor said. “As long as the proceeds go to helping our recreation department.”
A larger question is how much to ask for the uniforms. Ask too little and it cheats the fundraising efforts. Ask too much and Taylor trudges home with bags of uniforms for a school that no longer exists.
“How do you put a value on tradition? On history?” she said. “You look on eBay and prices are all over the place.”
Jimmy Keefe, who now runs Clark Sporting Goods in Fayetteville, is intrigued by the discovery, but has no idea of the value.
“Jack Clark passed away a couple of years ago, and he was amazing with numbers like that,” Keefe said. “I’d love to see them, just from a sports fashion standpoint.
“The look of uniforms has changed tremendously over the years. But it’s nice to know our product has held up so well all this time.”
It would help boost the value if a Michael Jordan or Lebron James might have played for Boone Trail. Alas, there were no Pioneers in the NBA. Even the biggest “name” in that classic 1964 game, sports columnist Carlton Tudor, played for Angier.
“They were just a small school that won a lot of games,” Taylor said.
And left an intriguing treasure behind.
Information from: The Fayetteville Observer, https://www.fayobserver.com
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