The voice known around the Valley
In September 1954, Owen High School did not yet exist. It would be two more months before the school board announced the name of the school, as well as the name of Shuford Field, named for the school’s first principal, the late N.C. Shuford.
Carl Bartlett was in Asheville on Sept. 3, 1954 when the yet-to-be-named school’s Warhorses fell in their inaugural game, 19-6, to Lee Edwards High School. Bartlett, a high school freshman that year, has been to nearly every game since then.
“I’ve seen all of the teams,” he said recently.
Bartlett is recognizable to many Black Mountain residents as the former mayor of the town - a position he held multiple times through 2013. Yet for nearly four decades, the Swannanoa Valley has known Barlett as the voice of the Warhorse football team.
Announcing games for Owen allows Bartlett to be part of a game that he’s loved his entire life. In fact, Bartlett had his eyes on the NFL in his younger days, but not as a player.
“I was officiating high school, college and semi-pro football and basketball,” he said. “I had visions of the NFL, but at a high school game I got busted up. A kid missed a block and the other kid hit me in the knee. I never could run after that.”
Former Warhorses coach Kenny Ford had known Bartlett for most of his life when, while playing for Mars Hill College, he heard a familiar voice on the field.
“I made a good play on the quarterback and he pitched it," Ford said. "I had the running back around the legs and missed him. Carl’s running behind the play and I hear him say ‘You should’ve had him, Ford.’ And he just kept going right on by.”
Ford would become even more familiar with Bartlett's commentary, something he'd hear at every home game during Ford's 29 years as head coach of the Warhorses.
"He's fun to go to ball games with too because he knows his stuff," Ford said. "He's great at noticing certain things happening on the field, like a kid making a block or someone who put out a lot of effort on a play."
Bartlett has seen a lot from the press box atop Warhorse Stadium. He sits there alongside guys he has worked with for years, sharing countless memories.
"There's a lot of camaraderie up there, we laugh and joke all the time," he said. "A lot of memories have been made with us up there working cold weather games, or games with exciting finishes. And also we get into debates over who was the best lineman or who was the best running back."
Some highlights, such as Jager Gardner's breaking the career rushing record for Western North Carolina prepsters and Ford's coaching his final game for the Warhorses, have happened at Warhorse Stadium. Yet many of Barlett's memories go back to the days when the Warhorses played at Shuford Field, where the press box was considerably smaller than the one in use today.
"You talk about a box," he said. "Half of the sports writers and scouts were up on top of it and that sucker would sway. No heat, nothing."
The lack of modern comforts never kept Bartlett from enjoying the action on the field, though. He still recalls many of them in vivid detail.
"The ones you really remember are like when Porky (Spencer) kicked the winning field goal against East Henderson," he said. "At the time I think it was about a 35-yard field goal. Today I think we remember it as 50 yards in the driving rain."
Bartlett believes Black Mountain is a "football town" and the talent he has witnessed on the field through the years.
"Shawn Gibbs was a guy that seemed like he had about five speeds," Bartlett recalled. "He would just kick in another speed and then go onto another one. Of course he had a great blocker in front of him, and they don't get much fanfare.
"Al Ellis was also one of our very best," he continued. "He went on to Appalachian State and their coach at the time believed he could play in the NFL."
Bartlett's knowledge of Owen football makes his opinion significant, according to Ford.
"He's always going to give you his opinion," Ford said. "And his opinion was always very important to me because he's seen it all up there."