One day last April, Chuck Jordan, the football coach at Conway High in Conway, S.C., called Carlos Hunt, a quarterback, into his office. Spring drills were a few weeks away, and among Conway's 10,000 denizens, there was a sweet anticipation that the fall might bring the Tigers their first state title.
Carlos also had reason to feel elated. Before the '88 season, Jordan had named him the starting quarterback, and Carlos had guided the Tigers to an 8-4 record. He completed 37 of 92 passes for 605 yards, with six touchdowns and five interceptions. Approaching his senior year Carlos was so excited about his assignment that he had had the letters QB and his number, 7, inscribed on his class ring. Carlos envisioned himself leading a victory parade down Highway 501 through the middle of his proud hometown, the state Class 4-A trophy in his grasp.
But Jordan had not been pleased with Carlos's performance at quarterback. A Tiger football captain in 1974, Jordan, 32, had returned to Conway in '83 as the coach and athletic director. His stubborn, uncompromising style helped revive a team that had gone 25-38 during the six previous seasons. From 1983 through '88 Jordan's teams put together a 51-18 record. Jordan demanded a disciplined, error-free offense, and in Carlos he saw a quarterback too moody to lead and too irresponsible to follow orders. On a couple of occasions Carlos had raised Jordan's hackles by running with the ball, instead of handing it off as he had been instructed.
So, after discussing the matter with his staff, Jordan told Carlos, who's 6'3", 175 pounds, of his intention to replace him with 5'9", 155-pound Mickey Wilson Jr., the son of an assistant coach, who had played sparingly in 1988. Carlos is black; Mickey is white. Jordan explained to Carlos that college recruiters wanted to see him play defensive back, and that shifting him to defense would not only benefit him but would also be to "the betterment of the team."
Jordan says that Carlos was satisfied with the switch—in fact, relieved. Carlos says that he loved playing quarterback and that he left the meeting that day thinking he would still be allowed to compete for the position in preseason practice. From this disagreement between a white coach and a black player has arisen a conflict that continues to divide Conway and has inflamed age-old prejudices.
After brooding for much of the summer, Carlos decided not to accept Jordan's decision. In support of Carlos, 31 of 37 black players, 15 of them starters, decided to boycott the team for the season, which ended last Friday night with a 42-3 loss to Spring Valley. The Tigers, who were outscored 332-42, finished with a record of 1-11.
In announcing the players' decision to boycott, on Aug. 22 the Rev. H.H. Singleton, a spokesman for the striking players, said that Jordan's failure to allow Carlos an opportunity to play quarterback showed "callous and racial intolerance that seems to have bordered on racial bigotry." Says Jordan, who started a black quarterback in three of his six seasons at Conway, "As a coach, I have the right and the obligation to make personnel decisions for my team."
The head of the state Human Affairs Commission, James Clyburn, a black who investigated the dispute, finds Jordan's act "as far from racism as anything I've been involved in." William Gibson, a national spokesman for the NAACP, disagrees, saying. "Racism was involved in that a white kid would not be treated in the manner" of Carlos Hunt.
The Conway boycott has served as a rallying point for Horry County blacks, who believe they are underpaid and unempowered, and last Saturday it brought 1,000 protesters from across the state to an NAACP-led march 15 miles away in Myrtle Beach. The boycott has aroused the anger of disbelieving whites, who have thrown their support around Jordan like a warm blanket. It has led to the suspension of Singleton, an earth sciences teacher at Conway Middle School, by an all-white school board. It has sparked fistfights in the high school parking lot, graffiti on the school's building, harsh name-calling and even death threats. It has prompted one NAACP spokesman to liken Carlos to Rosa Parks, the black woman whose refusal to give up her seat to a white person on a bus touched off the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955. Most of all, the players' boycott has forced nearly everyone in Conway—the county seat, and a community of real-estate developers, blue-collar workers and tobacco farmers—to latch onto a version of the truth and then to choose sides.
As in many small towns, Conway's entertainment of choice on fall Friday nights is high school football. Games are serious business in Conway. As many as 4,000 fans pay $4 a ticket for seats at the stadium—known to all as the Graveyard—and the All-Sports Booster Club has an active membership of 400. Each year the club gives Jordan $200 in cash, which he keeps in a file cabinet in his office, to use at his discretion.