Weatherford Democrat

April 16, 2013

Booster cheering for WC since 1950s

Weatherford Democrat

— They call him the Bubble Gum Man.

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve gone down courtside and given bubble gum to players before games,” said Charlie Sullivan, a long-time Weatherford College basketball booster. “I’d even give it to officials, sometimes.

“Coaches liked that. They hoped chewing the gum would stop up their whistles.”

Charlie is almost 88 years old, and has been a fan of the Coyotes and Lady Coyotes — all Weatherford College sports — since moving to Weatherford in 1950 to work in his father’s grocery market on Main Street.

“I played against them in football and basketball in college when I was at Ranger, and it’s kind of funny that I have been cheering for them for all these years,” Sullivan said.

“Yes, (WC) used to have a football team. I even went out to the field and helped with the team. I wasn’t an assistant coach or anything like that, I just liked helping out.”

Charlie and his wife Nelda have been married nearly 70 years, and much of their life together has been spent at Weatherford College sporting events. Both are long-time sports fans, even before they met, which was fittingly at a basketball game Charlie was officiating.

“We get cards from kids all over the place who have played for Weatherford College, even from as far away as Slovakia,” he said. “Most of the kids here don’t even know my name. They just call me the Bubble Gum Man.”

Charlie and Nelda moved away for a few years, living in Houston and then near what is now called the mid-cities area, but came back to Weatherford in 1958.

But even during their time away, they still supported the programs. Once, when the women’s team wanted to come to Houston for a tournament, he and Nelda put them up.

“Betty Jo Graber called and said they didn’t have money for a hotel, so we said just come on down, we’ve got room,” Charlie said.

During Sullivan’s years as a booster, he’s grown close to the coaches who have passed through the Coyotes program. He still stays in touch with several, and is very close to current Lady Coyotes coach Bob McKinley.

“I never had a brother. He’s as close as I’ve ever had,” said Charlie. “I’m quite proud of those friendships I’ve developed with coaches.”

McKinley, likewise, has grown to value Sullivan as more than a booster.

“He’s been an awesome friend, not just to our program, but also to me,” said the legendary coach. “He’s just a special person, he and Nelda both. They have been so special for our program and have done so much for us over the years. They are family.”

Charlie jokingly recalls the days when he was even a “chauffeur” for the basketball team.

“I hauled those basketball boys all over the state of Texas in my station wagon,” he said. “I’d put up a piece of cardboard so the light wouldn’t bother me, and they’d sit back there and play cards.

“I was an unofficial assistant coach, but I was really bus driver, and it was great.”

In his younger days Charlie used to broadcast games with his friend Ben Combs.

“The Ben and Charlie Show we called it,” he said, his face lighting up with the memory. “We had some great times.”

At their age it’s more difficult for Charlie and Nelda to get to every game. When they do, they have reserved seats with their names on them on the second row, first aisle.

“We treasure those,” he said. “And we have put them to a lot of good use.”

They have followed the team to the national tournament in years past, the most enjoyable when WC played in Tyler and reached the semifinals in the late 1990’s.

The couple was not able to make the trip to Salina, Kan. this year for the national tourney, but followed the Lady Coyotes in spirit and kept a close watch as they went 1-1 and threw a scare into the eventual national champion, Trinity Valley.

Charlie considers himself blessed. He says he’s been fortunate to know what and who he loves, and to have been able to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment out of it all.

“I have been very, very fortunate,” he said. “If I ever did it over again, I’d just want to do even more.”