Thursday, November 8, 2007

Gardner-Webb's roots were in NAIA

Gardner-Webb, which shocked 20th-ranked Kentucky 84-68 in Lexington on Wednesday, has a sparkling basketball tradition of its own. But that tradition is more a result of the Bulldogs’ time as an NAIA and junior college power in the 1960s and ’70s than their recent move to college basketball’s big time -- otherwise known as NCAA Division I.

Still, it’s worth it to revisit the small-college roots of Gardner-Webb, as well as several other Carolinas colleges that took the same path as the Bulldogs.

Gardner-Webb, located in the Cleveland County town of Boiling Springs about 50 miles west of Charlotte, has been NCAA Division I since 2000, when it moved up from a brief stay in Division II.

Even before that, Gardner-Webb was a long-time power in the small-college NAIA, producing future NBA stars such as Artis Gilmore and John Drew in the ’60s and ’70s.

North Carolina was once divided into two NAIA districts. Gardner-Webb was one of several schools that made District 26 one of the country’s hotbeds of small-college basketball. Schools such as Pfeiffer, Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne, Winston-Salem State and Guilford (which won the NAIA championship in 1973) were often national contenders.

Their annual goal -- a berth in the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Mo. - was cherished as much as Final Four is for Division I teams.

Things are different now.

North Carolina has just one school (Montreat) in the NAIA today. Gardner-Webb, Elon, UNC Asheville and High Point are Division I. The state had another NAIA district (29), that included schools such as Campbell and UNC Wilmington, both of which are Division I now. Most of the others are in NCAA Division II leagues such as the South Atlantic, Conference Carolinas or CIAA. Guilford is NCAA Division III.

Barton (formerly Atlantic Christian), located in Rocky Mount and a former District 29 school, won last season’s NCAA Division II title.

South Carolina’s District 6 included schools such as Winthrop and Wofford - both long established at the Division I level now.

-- David Scott


Chris said...

Barton is in Wilson.