Remembering ECU sports icons Jeff CHarles, Tery Holland
Brian Bailey remembers the first time he heard of Jeff Charles.
It was 1988. Bailey, sports director at WNCT Channel 9, had interviewed for the play-by-play announcer job at East Carolina University.
“A friend of mine in the athletic department said, ‘You did great, but you’re not going to get the job because this guy Jeff Charles is really good,’” Bailey said with a laugh.
Charles, known as “the Voice of the Pirates,” died suddenly Feb. 10 while in New Orleans to broadcast the ECU-Tulane basketball game. He was 70.
A Piqua, Ohio, native, Charles, whose full name was Jeff Charles Purtee, was a graduate of the Career Academy of Broadcasting School of Columbus, Ohio. He also received a degree in speech communications from Goshen (Indiana) College in 1975.
Before coming to ECU, he worked in the same capacity at Virginia Tech, Illinois and Furman. Charles earned North Carolina Sportscaster-of-the-Year honors from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 2000 and 2014. ECU recognized him as an honorary alumnus in 2015.
Charles also worked as sports director at WSB in Atlanta where he was the nighttime host of a sports talk show heard throughout 38 states and Canada on the 50,000-watt clear channel station.
“He was like a machine that he knew stats and knew players,” said Bailey. “He was everything I would want to be as an announcer.”
For many years, Charles hosted the “Ride With the Voice” motorcycle fundraiser to benefit the Heather A. Purtee Nursing Scholarship in memory of his daughter, who died in a car crash in 1992. She was a nursing student at the time. He also hosted a weekly radio show, Bike Talk, on WGHB 1250-AM for several years.
In late 2012, he underwent surgery for colon cancer. He returned to the sidelines Feb. 13, 2013, to broadcast a 74-61 Pirate basketball victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
About a month before he died, Charles talked with WNCT about having called 1,000 games at ECU. “The relationships are really the neat part,” he said. “That’s what I’ll remember more than the wins and the losses. It’s the relationships you build with people.”
A couple of weeks after Charles died, on Feb. 26, former athletic director Terry Holland died after a yearslong battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 80.
A native of Clinton, Holland played basketball at Davidson College. He served as the head men’s basketball coach there from 1969 to 1974 and at the University of Virginia from 1974 to 1990, compiling a career record of 418-216. At age 48, he retired from coaching and moved into athletic administration, first at Davidson from 1990 to 1994, then at Virginia from 1994 to 2001. In 2004, ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard asked him to lead the athletics department at ECU, which he did until retiring in 2013.
Bailey grew up in eastern Virginia and said he used to imagine he was playing for Holland as he did layups before his youth basketball games. “Having him around was really a neat deal,” Bailey said, “just to work with him and pick his brain. It was really cool to have a Hall of Famer like that as a friend.”
Holland advocated for the university’s Olympic sports, and in 2014, ECU dedicated the Terry Holland Olympic Sports Complex. It’s home to the 1,000-seat Max R. Joyner Family Stadium (softball), the 1,000-seat Johnson Stadium (soccer), the eight-lane Bate Foundation Track & Field Facility and the 20,000-square-foot Williams-Harvey Team Sports Building.
During Holland’s administration, East Carolina earned regular season and tournament championships or qualified for NCAA postseason appearances in football, baseball, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, women’s swimming, and men’s and women’s track.
In the classroom, 973 Pirate student-athletes were selected to the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, and 213 received the league’s top academic medal between 2008 and 2014. During the 2009-2010 year, nine ECU sports netted a perfect Academic Progress Rate score of 1,000.
Holland led efforts that resulted in a 7,000-seat expansion of Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, completed in 2010. Pirate Club membership soared past 17,000, and fundraising scholarship coffers climbed above $6.4 million for the first time. Plans for the $17 million Smith-Williams Center, a basketball practice facility, began under Holland’s guidance.
In 2012, Holland steered the Pirates into a football-only membership invitation to the Big East Conference. Four months later, ECU accepted an all-sports offer in the league, which was renamed the American Athletic Conference.
Women’s sports at ECU achieved “fully funded” status during Holland’s leadership, meaning the 10 women’s teams were able to offer the maximum number of scholarships allowed by the NCAA.
Before Holland left coaching, his Cavalier teams won the ACC Tournament in 1976 and the NIT in 1980 and reached two Final Fours.
“He wasn’t impressed with himself at all,” former Virginia women’s basketball coach Debbie Ryan told NPR after his death. She described him as a Southern gentleman who was focused on his players. “He was just there to make sure these boys became men, and they became good men.”