Between 1935 and 1948, Mount Airy was the toast of what is now referred to as North Carolina 1-A high school football.
The Granite Bears won five outright state championships in 13 seasons of play, more than any other school during that era. No freshman who entered Mount Airy High School between 1932 and 1948 failed to witness at least one Bear state championship before they graduated. Five of the six football championships in school history were won during this time; Mount Airy wouldn’t win another until the seniors on the 1948 Class A champions were roughly 78 years old.
One of the few remaining links to those glory years still lives in the Granite City. He is Clarence Hines, who turned 87 years old last month, and who played on the 1946 state champions and the 1947 runners-up before going on to play college football at Catawba College.
After graduating from college, Hines’ travels took him to a number of different places, including Virginia, Florida, and the North Carolina cities of Hickory and Charlotte, before eventually returning home to Mount Airy, where he is retired after a professional career with Wachovia, Barclay’s of London and Citigroup that eventually saw him overseeing branch operations in four states.
He served his state and country as an officer in the North Carolina National Guard for more than a decade, raised two sons with his late wife Patricia, and served as president of the Civitan Club while living in Martinsville, Va. He was a deacon at two different churches during his years away from Mount Airy.
On Sunday, his life will bring him him full circle, as he takes his place in the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame. Hines is a member of the 14th class of inductees since the institution was established in 2003.
Clarence James Hines was born in Mount Airy on March 10, 1929, the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hines. Growing up, he attended Rockford Street School and Central Methodist Church, and was also a member of the city’s Boy Scout troop.
Where he truly made his mark, however, was in his teenage years, as a star on the MAHS football team.
As one of the state’s top programs, earning a spot on the Granite Bears’ gridiron contingent was challenging in those days, but Hines claimed a spot on the team as a sophomore in 1945 after playing on the JV team in 1943 and 1944 (eighth-graders were eligible to play for the high school at the time). In his junior year, Mount Airy ended a four-year absence from the state championship game, winning the Class A East Region title and advancing to the finals, where they routed Wadesboro High School 38-0. Now an established star on the Granite Bears, Hines won all-state honors in his senior season. After a slow start where an injury-depleted Mount Airy squad tied and lost in its first two games of the 1947 season, they marched all the way back to the state finals, falling 25-14 to Henderson High School in a Thanksgiving Day showdown on the Rams’ home field.
Although no one made any excuses at the time, the ‘47 Granite Bears may have lost the championship before they even played it. Less than a week before the championship game, Mount Airy won the Western Class A title in a grueling 12-6 decision over Reidsville High, the 1945 state champions and 1943 co-champions, while Henderson easily downed an overmatched Hamlet team to take the East crown.
The Mount Airy football program, under the direction of head coach Wally Shelton, was one of the best in the state regardless of classification during the war years and their immediate aftermath. Although multiple-class competition had come to the NCHSAA in 1929, the Granite Bears frequently challenged larger schools and often came away victorious. At one point during Hines’ career with the team, Mount Airy won 21 straight regular-season contests.
Shelton ran a single-wing offense, something that was commonplace at the time although beginning to go out of style, and Hines earned the starting quarterback position soon after joining the team.
However, being the quarterback in a single wing isn’t the glamour position that it is in other offensive schemes—in a single wing, the ball is pitched by the center back to the tailback, who lines up a few yards behind and slightly to the left of center. The tailback then operates the offense in a manner similar to a modern quarterback running a spread attack (an scheme that was inspired by the old single wing, in fact). A single-wing quarterback, who lines up behind the line to the right of the center, is primarily a blocker. In fact, contemporary accounts of Hines’ exploits, and even the team’s roster, with the Bears almost always referred to him as the team’s “blocking back.”
In his senior season, Hines scarcely saw the ball at all until the fifth game, when the 170-pounder got the ball and ran 70 yards for a score against Boonville High. A few weeks later, Coach Shelton told a local paper that Hines was “the best he had ever coached.”
He played at the end of an era in football, as the T-formation was coming into vogue. In fact, in the article introducing the 1947 all-state team, the Charlotte News was forced to add a disclaimer that “because of the widespread use of the T formation which does not rely on a specialized blocking back,” in making its selections without designating the role of the offensive backs.
During his senior season, Hines accepted a scholarship to Catawba, but didn’t play for the Indians in 1948 due to injuries. He returned to the team in ‘49 and immediately showed promise. The 1949 prospectus for Catawba described Hines as a “spring practice find” and said that he “showed up well in spring drills,” and “hits hard for a little man.” However, Hines was unable to stay healthy in college football, and his career ended after just two seasons with the Indians.
Hines currently resides on Jackson Road with his second wife, the former Eleanor Powell.