'Rare and special breed'
By Michael N. Graff
Fayetteville Observer Staff writer
Published June 10, 2006
His parachute long since packed away, Marion Crowe Jr. thought he'd begun a new life in 1981 when he enrolled at Fayetteville State as a 40-something student.
He'd completed a 24-year career in the Army, a worldly experience that involved three shooting conflicts and a heap of deployments.
But one day, while Crowe was hunkered into an organization and administration class, the Army arrived with other plans for his future.
|Marion Crowe, sports information director at Fayetteville State, regularly wears championship rings the athletic program has earned during his 13-year tenure.|
Weeks earlier, just as Crowe cracked his first box of pencils for school, the government had written him with new orders.
Crowe ignored the letter. He thought he was retired. He thought he was a schoolboy.
The Army, though, was less than understanding.
In the most abrupt lesson of Crowe's first collegiate semester, two military police officers knocked on the classroom door.
"I said, 'No way, after 24 years, I'm going back to active duty?
No, not me,'" Crowe said. "They sent the MPs to get me and they
came into (Roosevelt) Holmes' class, put the handcuffs on me and
took me to Fort Jackson in South Carolina."
Crowe's new life would have to wait - six months, 15 days and 12 hours, to be exact - until after he taught a few classes on chemical, biological and radiological operations.
"After I answered all of their questions outside that classroom," Crowe says now, his chuckle pumping deep from chest, "they said, 'OK, you're going with us.'"
Memories and opinions There's more. Plenty more.
Fayetteville State's part-time, wild-working, beloved sports
information director packs a ridiculous amount of belly-aching
stories into his 5-foot-5 frame. He also packs plenty of
information, something that comes with the territory when you're
the longest-running SID currently in the historical Central
Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
He's in his 70s, though you'll never yank his real age from his mouth.
Women break for him like he's 20. Men respect him like he's kin.
Leaning back in his office chair recently, a candle burning behind him and the faint sound of Motown music in the background, Crowe darted back and forth between memories and opinions.
Some details are fuzzy, dates and ages from the past in particular.
Things he'll never forget?
A buddy from Springfield High School in Ohio once bet him he couldn't steal a girl away from another boy in the class. Crowe won the bet. And the girl became his wife of more than 40 years.
There was a big-ol' fella that bounced him off of "four walls and the ceiling" in a bar in Kentucky the day he became a 10-foot-tall and bulletproof paratrooper. Screamed Crowe during the whipping: "Somebody get this man off of me before I hurt him."
During a deployment in Panama, he helped a woman on the street give birth, an experience that prompts him to lecture Bronco athletes every year: "If ya'll see a baby born, you wouldn't be so quick to make one."
There also was that difficult class taught by a woman named Dr. Stiff at FSU, the one his buddy convinced him to stay in even after everybody else dropped it. "I said, 'Why are we here?' He said, 'Mr. Crowe, there's just two of us; you know she's not going to flunk two of us.'"
Crowe and his buddy each received an incomplete at the end of the semester.
Place in his heart But many of the things Crowe holds closest from his past don't have a punchline.
His volunteer assistants are his treasures. Inside his office in Capel Arena, he lines their pictures on his walls.
Usually soft-faced and even-tempered, Crowe's switch flips when he feels his volunteers aren't being treated or rewarded properly. He's staged a continuous battle with the school to have his assistants receive awards at the annual athletic banquet.
But he's hard on his understudies, sometimes calling them at 2 a.m.
They complain. But they do it.
"He's somebody people automatically respond to," said Shante Green, a Fayetteville State graduate who this year completed law school at Howard University. "He is like that grandfather. Yeah, we talk about him, but if anybody else says anything about Mr. Crowe, they've got issues."
Most of Crowe's volunteers have been women. And in most of the pictures on his wall, Crowe's widest smiles come while he's standing between them.
He reasons that college women work harder than college men.
They also keep a closer watch of him.
Crowe is a diabetic, a potentially devastating blow for somebody who spends a lot of time traveling with teams.
A few years ago on a road trip, Fayetteville State men's basketball coach Sam Hanger sneakily gave Crowe a candy bar.
Wanting to save it for the right moment, Crowe hid the sinister food in his pillowcase during a bus ride. But when he woke up from a nap, the candy bar fell on the ground, a slip that drew the wrath of a volunteer.
"She said, 'Where did this come from?'" Crowe said.
For all the joy and success he's had at Fayetteville State, Crowe says his biggest regret is that his wife hasn't been around to enjoy it.
Phyllis, his high school sweetheart and the mother of his five children, died in 1996.
Crowe has won the CIAA's sports information director of the year award twice since then.
"I wish my wife was there to see it," Crowe said. "She was a real supporter of me. She worked with me and she was a true Bronco fan."
Quite a family sprouted from Crowe's long-time marriage.
When he graduated from Fayetteville State in 1984, his daughter Wrenn also walked.
Wrenn was voted Miss Fayetteville State at the same time Crowe
was vice president of the school's student council.
"At her coronation, she picked her dad to be her escort, of all the jokers on campus," said Crowe, who's one of 13 children himself..
Last month, over Memorial Day weekend, Crowe watched the first of his 11 grandchildren, Rashida, graduate from college.
In 1993, Fayetteville State was without a sports information director.
In a bind, Ralph Burns, the athletic director at time, called on Crowe, who was planning to retire from Fayetteville Parks and Recreation that year.
"He asked me if I would do it until they found another person. He said, 'Yeah, it's part time, just until we find somebody,'" Crowe said. "And that was January '93. Thirteen years later, I'm still part-time, still waiting for them to bring in somebody."
With limited resources, Crowe has helped build the athletic department Web site and has started numerous files for record-tracking.
"He was a breath of fresh air," said Eric Tucker, Fayetteville
State's women's basketball coach. "Mr. Crowe was a guy that was
very conscientious. Crowe will get back here at 1 or 2 in the
morning after a road trip and he'll sit up until 4 or 5 in the
morning listening to his Gladys Knight and do his work. Some
super-duper professional would be home at 10:30."
Remarkably, Crowe believes he's still in debt to the school.
Fayetteville State did, after all, give him an education.
"I owe a lot to Fayetteville State," he said. "They gave me an education; they gave my daughter an education. ... If I give you, let's say $1,000. Even though you pay me back, you still feel you owe me something, because I gave it to you when you needed it."
Crowe has reached a borderline iconic standing in the CIAA, according to Kyle Serba, N.C. Central's sports information director, who took his job just one month after Crowe started at Fayetteville State.
Crowe's trademarks at CIAA events are his rings. He wears one on every finger but his thumbs, gifts he's received from the various championship teams during his tenure at Fayetteville State.
"I can honestly say, he's loved by the people of the CIAA," Serba said.
"He's doing a great service for Fayetteville State. Mr. Crowe makes it known every day the successes of that school. He's like a walking advertisement.
"He's a rare and special breed."
Staff writer Michael N. Graff can be reached at
[email protected] or 486-3591.