Editorial: Even one of Davie’s best Afros didn’t impress ‘Coach’
He could hit a baseball farther and harder than anyone else on our Little League baseball team.
I called him Hank Aaron.
Not knowing at the time, but the nickname turned out to be true in ways that went well beyond baseball. He was a great guy, too. Still is.
Jeff Barker was our Little League shortstop, way back in the late 60s. He was the best player on the team, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to him. He was humble, as well.
And, oh yeah, he had hair. Lots of hair.
The “fro” as we called it was becoming popular among black folks at the time. As we went through high school, Jeff’s became bigger. And bigger.
By the time he reached Pfeiffer College to tryout for the baseball team, he had quite the “fro.” There was another Davie County native at Pfeiffer, Coach Joe Ferebee.
Coach, who grew up in rural Davie roaming the woods with cousin Tom Ferebee, another famous native (He was the bombadier on the Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.), believed every player on his team should have a certain look.
That meant no facial hair. That meant no head hair that could be seen outside of the baseball cap.
Those baseball caps just couldn’t hold Jeffrey Barker’s fro.
Read this from Barker in a memorial book about Coach Joe Ferebee (available by contacting Bob Gulledge at firstname.lastname@example.org):
“He (Coach) wanted us to look our best in all aspects when it came to our appearance. He wanted his players to be neatly shaved with little or no facial hair. He wanted nice and neat haircuts at all times.
“For me at that time, the haircut was going to be a problem. I was very proud of my Afro. It was about six inches long all over. I was so proud when he told me I had made the team. One of my proudest moments was when he gave me my uniform in a Food Town bag with my jersey, number 20. I had a problem cutting my Afro, though. I had been growing it for four years since my freshman year in high school. We had a contest back then to see who could grow the longest Afro.”
Not wanting to cause trouble and wanting plenty of playing time, Barker went for a haircut – his first trip to the barbershop in four years. “I thought if I just got it trimmed maybe an inch off, I could get away with that.”
Coach informed him that was not acceptable, not with five or so inches of hair bursting out from under his cap.
Barker didn’t ask him how short it had to be, but he made another trip for a haircut. “I went to a friend of my mother who attempted to trim another two inches off my Afro and even cut what we called back in the day a Shag – a tapered look with the hair longer on the back of the neck.”
At the next practice, Coach pretty much ignored Barker, who had tried to stay away from him as much as possible. At the end of practice, Coach called him over and asked what was on his head. “I said, ‘You wanted me to get another haircut, right?’” Coach made his desires clear. No hair visible from the cap or on the neck.
Barker’s daddy took him to he barbershop the next time, and told the barber to cut off all of his son’s hair. He did. Jeffrey cried.
“It took me three trips to a barber in a two-week span to learn not to test the will of Coach Joe Ferebee. I never tested him again from that point on. This legend of a man, Joe Ferebee, pushed me to become the player I was and the man I am to this day.”
Thanks, Coach. Barker is now in the Pfeiffer sports hall of fame. His batting average was .460 one season. He was an honorable mention All American.
There’s another story in the book of a player from Davie County who called Joe Ferebee “Coach.” It was Brack Bailey, who put his two cents worth in the book, as well.
It’s worth reading.
– Mike Barnhardt