Story by Ryan Stancil & Sandra Davidson Photography by Baxter Miller
Every Thursday evening, in the back room of Raleigh’s iconic Players Retreat, you can find three 70-something-year-old men convening over cold cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Here, from a dimly lit table near the rear, Jack Murdock, Grey Poole, and Frank Butler gather in brotherhood. A brotherhood rooted in high school basketball.
Founded in 1929, Needham B. Broughton High School is the oldest high school still in use in Raleigh. Within the walls of this sprawling Gothic Revival building, educators and coaches have built a public school known within North Carolina and beyond for its prestigious athletic, academic and arts programs. There aren’t many public schools in North Carolina that look like Broughton, and many folks consider Holliday Gymnasium, the school’s basketball facility, the best high school gymnasium in the state.
But integral to Broughton’s athletic legacy is a now demolished school in the heart of downtown Raleigh, Hugh Morson High School. While academics were separate, the schools’ athletic programs were consolidated under the name Raleigh High School after Broughton opened. During that era, Raleigh High School took home two basketball state championship titles in 1934 and 1935. The athletic program remained consolidated until after WWII, when for a short time the Raleigh High School team was dismantled and Broughton and Hugh Morson played independently. While separated, Broughton and Hugh Morson, regardless of record, alternated in representing the city in the state playoffs until the year Broughton’s basketball team had a 25-0 winning streak, yet had to sit on the sidelines and watch Hugh Morson take its turn in the state playoffs.The subsequent outcry from the school’s students, supporters, and administrators led to the reconsolidation of two programs. Raleigh City High School was reborn.
The team's rebirth coincided with a desire to extinguish a 17-year state championship losing streak in basketball. And extinguish they did. Dominating their conference, which then consisted of Durham, Wilson, Goldsboro, Rocky Mount, Fayetteville and Wilmington, Raleigh High School went on to win three consecutive state championship titles in basketball in 1952, 1953, and 1954, under the leadership of Coach Carroll King.
A few years later, Hugh Morson became a junior-high school and Raleigh High School, the parent of the city’s basketball team, ceased to exist. Today, the banners from those early titles hang in the Holliday Gymnasium, marking the last time basketball players from Broughton were part of a state championship team.
Jackie and Grey, former formidable high school and college athletes, are relics of those last championship teams.
By many accounts, Jackie was perhaps the greatest all-around athlete to ever come out of Raleigh, playing basketball, football, and baseball in high school. A Converse high school All-American and first team All-ACC player in 1957, Jackie played college ball at Wake Forest and later coached the Deacons for a year after Bones McKinney retired. Grey walked on to the UNC basketball team, and, though he couldn’t play as a freshman, was a team member when Carolina won the 1957 NCAA Championship. The duo remember their time on the Raleigh High School team like yesterday.
“In the ‘52 championship, it was a fairly close game. We played at Duke Indoor Stadium, and we beat Greensboro by four or five points,” says Jackie. “In ‘53, at the state finals in Winston-Salem, we beat Wilmington by 21 points.”
Grey was on Raleigh High School’s last state championship team. “You can imagine what a thriller it was for me, being a sophomore,” he says. “I was 6’4” about 165, 170 [pounds], and I was actually in the game when the game was decided. We were playing in Winston-Salem and beat Wilmington. It was a great feeling to be able to be on that team. It was an upset. We beat Wilmington, gosh, by two points or something like that.”
To this day, Jackie and Grey spend time with their old teammates from Raleigh High School, and they’ve followed Broughton teams on and off over the last six decades. When their friend, Frank Butler, joined the team as an assistant coach four years ago, they started going back to games. This brotherhood between players past and current is a big part of the Broughton story. Despite having not won a state title in over 60 years, Broughton’s basketball program perpetuates a legacy of excellence. This legacy and this brotherhood is something current head Coach Jeff Ferrell takes very seriously.
Nineteen years ago, Jeff Ferrell caught word that the head coaching position for Broughton High School’s varsity men’s basketball team had opened.
During his planning period, Jeff, a Broughton math teacher and the Junior Varsity men's basketball coach, went for a run to clear his head. He wanted the job.
“[I] just thought about all the what-ifs,” says Jeff. “What if I do get this job, or what if I don’t? But it was more what if I do get this job? How am I going to build on what’s been going on in this school for the last… almost 65, 70 years? How do I use that and incorporate that into my style and what I want, and what my vision is for these kids?”
When the vacancy was announced, a group of five young men, who had played as freshman during Jeff’s first year coaching JV, were rising seniors. Will McElroy, one of those players, says he and his teammates knew who they wanted to lead them in their final basketball season. “[We] went to the principal and basically demanded, as seniors, that we have [Coach Ferrell] as our coach.”
“We just loved him as a coach, but also as kind of a mentor,” says Will. “He just did a great job of making sure that we knew that our character and what people saw in us off the court was much more important than what they saw in us on the court.”
Jeff got the job, and he hasn’t turned back.
“I think kids try out [for basketball] because they want to be a part of something, and they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” says Coach Ferrell.
At Broughton, that means playing for a program with a reputation for success.
“I think they do know [the program] has been successful,” says Coach. “Maybe they don’t know why; they don’t know how; they don’t know anything beyond last year; but, being successful is a big part of it.”
What does success mean to a team that hasn’t won a championship since 1954?
Broughton’s basketball legacy is grounded in more than titles. The program has turned out countless college athletes and several pro players. Coach Ferrell says there are currently 12 former Broughton basketball alumni in college hoops, most notably Kansas guard Devonte’ Graham and Boston College guard Jerome Robinson.
One of Broughton’s most beloved and legendary alumni athletes is “Pistol Pete” Maravich. To this day, Pistol Pete holds numerous NCAA scoring records including most career points, high career scoring average, most field goals made and attempted, and most career 50-point games—all records set prior to the introduction of the three-point line!
Coach Ferrell, who has only taken one team to the state finals, doesn’t believe in defining success through wins and losses. “There’s so much more that goes into what we do than just winning and losing games.”
At Broughton, success is motivating players to put character above wins. It’s establishing community. It’s building a team that feels like a family. It’s creating an environment that players want to return to after graduating.
By those standards, Coach Ferrell and the program are a success.
Year after year, players from past teams return for games and scrimmages.
Shavlik Randolph, arguably the best player to come out of Broughton since Pistol Pete, still considers Broughton his home gym. Shavlik says, ”I would say it is the primary gym that I workout in during the summer… every offseason a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into Holliday gym, just like when I was in school there.”
“It makes me just beam when I see these kids come back,” says Coach Ferrell. “And it also tells me that we’re doing something right. I bet you those kids couldn’t tell you how many games they won or lost or how far they went in the tournament... but they could tell you some stories about things that happened. They could tell you [about] the relationships they developed and how they grew, and that, to me, is way more important than any win you could ever achieve or accomplish.”
Shavlik, who says he actually can remember how far his team went in the playoffs, was an All-American at Broughton in the late 90s. He went on to play at Duke and spent a decade in the NBA playing for teams like the 76ers, Miami, and the Celtics. He is now playing professional ball in China. Shavlik says the emphasis Coach Ferrell places on relationships and character is what draws him back.
“In high school basketball where there is so much greed and selfishness and people trying use players for what they can do for them, Coach Ferrell only wanted what was best for his players and Broughton basketball,” says Shavlik. “He didn't care about hype [or] about fame, just the values of his program, and what's best for the kid. And still to this day that's all he wants from me and any of his players."
Tharon Suggs, a current senior and team captain, echoes this. “Most of the time, I’m the type of person who doesn’t really say anything when I’m down or when something’s wrong, but he can tell,” says Tharon. “Whenever people are down, he’s the first to come over and make sure everything’s okay.”
Coach Ferrell is also known for his commitment to discipline. Assistant Coach Frank Butler recalls, “We had a player who didn’t show up for practice, and he didn’t get to play the next game. [Coach Ferrell] sets [that] kind of example. He just has high morals and high expectations of the young men.”
“I think Coach Ferrell has always really put an emphasis on doing things the right way and doesn’t believe in cutting corners and does hold the kids accountable,” says Assistant Coach Bill White. “Discipline is so important, and I think the kids that come through the program do appreciate it.”
Will McElroy, who ultimately returned to Broughton for several years to coach with Jeff, certainly appreciates it. “He has been so freakin’ good about keeping the character of that team high, it’s unbelievable,” says Will. “Character goes a long way in society but it goes a heck of a long way when you’re trying to will a team to win. It’s one of those things that he’s found success in—building a team of character.”
In 2013, Coach Ferrell’s team made it to the final round of the state playoffs. Thousands of fans gathered to watch Broughton face Charlotte’s Olympic High School. Anticipation, expectation, and excitement ran high.
“We had not won a state championship since 1954, and people were coming out of the woodwork... [saying] ‘We want you to win for us. We want you to win this thing for us. It’s been too long,’” remembers Coach Ferrell. “It was the most pressure I’ve ever felt. I feel like I had this weight of this entire community that wanted us to win this, and I wanted to win it for them so, so awfully bad. I wanted to win it for [Broughton] and for our kids.”
Olympic High School defeated Broughton by three points.
“That broke my heart,” says Coach Ferrell. “Guys like Grey and Jackie… I wanted to win this thing for them.”
Banners adorn the ceilings and walls of the entry hall and rafters of Holliday Gym. A dozen or more glass cases, filled to the brim with trophies and memorabilia, line the walls of the foyer. Here, on these dustless shelves, Broughton’s athletic excellence across all sports is on display.
Last Thursday, before Broughton played in the second round of its conference tournament, Coach Ferrell gave the team a tour of the program’s memorabilia. While these players may not feel connected to Jackie Murdock or Grey Poole or Pistol Pete, Coach Ferrell wanted to remind them that their team represents the next chapter in Broughton’s legacy.
This brotherhood will continue. Tharon Suggs, who graduates this year, plans to come back and help the team after he leaves for college. “Purple and gold are my favorite colors,” says Tharon. “Broughton is my heart and passion.” Perhaps, in 60 years, you will find Tharon at his very own table at the Players Retreat.