Three stories about expectations
This column is about a teacher, a family and a state. Their stories are both historic and modern, but they are really about one very simple and powerful idea: expectations.
In 1804, in the deep backwoods of what is now McCormick County, at a crossroads called Willington, four men got together and decided their little community needed a church and their children needed a school.
They were Scots-Irish immigrants who had come to the Upcountry when it was still unsettled Indian territory, before the state was even a state. In keeping with their ancient families’ tradition, they were Presbyterian.
Presbyterians place a high value on learning. Church rules require that a minister be “educated and trained.” Many, if not most, backwoods Presbyterian ministers also taught school in their church communities.
The preacher who came to Willington Presbyterian Church and founded Willington Academy on the banks of the Savannah River was Dr. Moses Waddel.
A native of North Carolina, Waddel had several schools before and after Willington. They were all the same in two ways: what he demanded of his students on the front end and what his schools produced on the back end.
Waddel required every student every night to translate, memorize and recite 250 lines of classical Greek or Latin.
Think about this for a moment. These were not the sons of Charleston aristocratic privilege with private tutors and individualized attention. These were rough and ready boys from the hardscrabble backwoods of the Carolinas and north Georgia.
If you add up all the students from Waddel’s schools, they included one president, two vice presidents, three secretaries of state, three secretaries of war, one assistant secretary of war, one U.S. attorney general, ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one U.S. Supreme Court justice, 11 governors, seven U.S. senators, 32 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 22 judges, eight college presidents, 17 editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.
In the presidential election of 1824, three of the five candidates were his students. When the electoral dust settled, the winning president and vice president were South Carolinians who had studied under Waddel: Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. At one time, five governors in a row were his students.
Waddel expected greatness from his students and he got it.
In 1945, a young man named Clay Matthews graduated from Charleston High School. He was a good athlete and went to Georgia Tech, where he was a standout in swimming, boxing and wrestling.
But his passion and greatest skills were in football. He had a great pro career with the San Francisco 49ers. He married and had two sons, Clay Jr. and Bruce. They both played in the NFL and were named All-Pro multiple times.
Clay Jr. had two sons and Bruce had three sons. All five of them played NFL football. There are also three cousins who played in the NFL. That’s 11 NFL players in three generations of one family. They are known as the first family of the NFL.
The family philosophy was summed up by Clay Jr.: “You guys can do whatever you want and I’ll be proud of you. But whatever you’re going to do, apply yourself, be responsible, show up and do it like you mean it.”
This was the family expectation that produced three generations of greatness.
My father was a minister and we moved from Greenville to Alabama when I was a young boy. I grew up there when Bear Bryant was coach of the University of Alabama football team.
From 1958 until he retired in 1982, the Bear compiled a record of 232 wins, 46 losses and 9 ties. He won 13 SEC championships and six national championships. Twice he won back-to-back national championships.
In 1961, they were undefeated national champions and outscored their opponent 297-25. I vividly remember watching the Bear Bryant show at the end of the season and listening to him apologize for the 25 points that had been scored on them — and he meant it.
What was most amazing about Bear was that he convinced everyone in the state of Alabama, including Auburn fans, that Alabama was going to win every game every year and be the national champion. If it didn’t happen, we all thought there was something wrong.
All of these stories are about one thing: expectations.
And what of South Carolina today? We accept an education system that is 50th in the country, we accept being rated 48th in opportunity, we accept being 46th in overall quality of life. It’s basically the same with bad roads, violent crime, domestic abuse, etc.
Sam Walton said it best: “High expectations are the key to everything.”
We in South Carolina deserve better. We must expect and demand better.
Phil Noble has a technology firm in Charleston, is co-founder of EnvisionSC and writes a weekly column for the S.C. Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com.