Charles “Babe” Howell 2004
During a 44-year career in education, Charles “Babe” Howell coached football, baseball, boys and girls basketball, wrestling and track.
While he had a successful coaching stint in Georgia in the late 1950s and early 1960s and ended his career at Avery County High in 1998, it was as a high school football and baseball coach in Jackson County that he gained fame across North Carolina and on a national level.
A native of Monroe’s Mill Hill area and a World War II Navy veteran, Howell first came to Jackson County in the early 1950s to attend and play football and baseball for Western Carolina College. He was influenced to come to Western by Jim Gudger, his high school football coach, who came to the Cullowhee school to coach baseball and basketball about the time Howell was deciding where to further his education.
Following graduation, Howell took a job at Sylva High School, where he was an assistant football coach under mountain coaching legend Joe Hunt.
Howell was head football coach at schools in Fannin and Cherokee counties in Georgia for nine years before returning to Jackson County as football coach at Sylva-Webster High in 1965. He inherited a team that had just one victory the year before and led the Golden Eagles to back-to-back 11-1 records and co-state 2-A championships (as far as teams could go at that time) his first two years.
More importantly, the success of his team and star running back Tommy Love are often cited as keys to the smooth 1965 integration of Jackson County Schools. A year later, Love became the first black to play in the Shrine Bowl.
Howell led the Golden Eagles to outright state 2-A football titles in 1972, 1973 and 1980. From 1971-74, his teams won 29 straight games and had a 36-game unbeaten streak.
His success wasn’t limited to football. Under Howell’s guidance, Sylva-Webster won the state 2-A baseball crown in 1974 and the 3-A baseball title in 1977, even though the school was still 2-A in size. He became one of the few coaches to win two state championships in one school year in 1973-74.
At the time of his retirement, Howell was the winningest high school football and baseball coach in North Carolina with records of 301-121-6 and 628-220, respectively.
Along the way, Howell coached many outstanding players. Among them were Parade Football All-Americans Love, Ronnie Smith and Jimmy Streater. Tommy Pharr (Mississippi State), who he coached in Georgia, and Streater (Tennessee) went on to become All-Southeastern Conference quarterbacks. Love (1966) and Gary Cowan (1971) received outstanding player honors in the Shrine Bowl.
Steve Streater was named national baseball player of the year in 1977 when he pitched the Golden Eagles to the state title with a 23-1 record.
Seeing the need to preserve athletic history, Howell established the Jackson County Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993 and was inducted into that organization a year later. He also has been inducted into halls of fame representing Western North Carolina, Western Carolina University and the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
by Carey Phillips
May 20, 2004