By CALVIN ADKINS
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
East Carolina University (ECU) has not forgotten about the fastest man in Princeville — the late Carter Ray Suggs. The university will posthumously induct Suggs in the Hall of Fame this weekend along with four other athletes. A golf tournament as well as a banquet will be held today. The inductees will also be recognized on Saturday during the Pirates' football game against Tulsa.
Suggs helped the Pirates win three Southern Conference Track and Field titles during his four-year career. As a freshman, he won five events at the 1975 championships and was named MVP of both the indoor and outdoor championship meets. A year later he captured the 100-meter title after winning the 100-yard dash as a freshman.
Suggs, who was highly spirited and sometimes humorous, unexpectedly passed away Jan. 17, 2012 at the age of 56. He leaves to cherish his memories, his wife Sylvia, their son Darrone as well as three sisters and three brothers. The majority are planning on attending the enshrinement. Suggs' son, Darrone Suggs, 41, is expected to speak on behalf of the family.
"It's an honor that they are inducting my dad in the Hall of Fame," he said. "All my life I've heard how fast he was. I never saw him run in a real race. I wish that I could see what I've heard."
His wife, Sylvia, also viewed the induction an honor.
"It's real nice but it is a little too late," she said. "I wish it had happened before he died. He would have been real proud."
Before becoming a star at ECU, Suggs placed Tarboro High School on the map with his blazing speed. In 1973, the speedster broke the North Carolina High School Athletic Association's 100-yard dash record (9.6) by crossing the finish line in 9.3. That mark tied the national record and lifted the budding trackster to stardom. That same year, Suggs earned a spot on the U.S. Junior Olympic 100-yard dash and the 4x100 relay teams. Suggs won the 100-yard dash with a time of 10.4 and led the Americans to a 132-80 victory over the Germans. The 4x100 relay team also won first place.
When Suggs returned to Tarboro, he was given a hero's welcome with a parade in downtown Tarboro. The parade ended at the Town Common where a proclamation was read proclaiming Aug. 1, 1973 as Carter Ray Suggs Day.
"That was an awesome day," said his sister, Catherine Suggs, who also ran track at ECU. "People were lined up all the way down the street. We were so proud of him. When you say the name Suggs everybody thought of Carter. We were the first family in Princeville that got that much attention."
Suggs completed a stellar high school career recording 9.3 in the 100-yard dash six times and led the Vikings to the state championship in 1973 and 1974. As a senior, he won the state title in the 100-yard dash in 9.5, set the 220 record with a time of 21.0. He was also the first leg of the 4x440 relay team that set a state record with 3:18.5.
A little known fact that was reported in The Daily Southerner during Suggs' heyday states that he played football and basketball. Apparently he wasn't as successful in those sports.
Track and field was obviously his calling. While attending ECU, he had his sights on becoming a member of the 1976 Olympic team. Two years prior, a panel of experts had all but inked Suggs on the American track team. During that time, Suggs was quoted as saying that he would "break the nine second barrier." Many of his colleagues believed it was possible.
However, it was one problem that is likely prevented Suggs from doing so — he had problems with his takeoff. Suggs was often the last runner out of the box, but was fast enough to make up the difference. Despite the problem he finished amongst the first at the finish line until he shattered his knee during a pickup basketball game sometimes between his junior and senior year. The injury also shattered Suggs dream of breaking the nine seconds barrier.
After graduating from ECU, Suggs worked with the Tarboro Parks & Recreation Department as the M.A. Ray Center Supervisor. He was later employed as a teacher in Edgecombe County Public Schools. His last hoorah in track involved coaching the North Edgecombe track team.
Suggs was proud of his accomplishments. It was evident by a scrapbook that he kept with newspaper clippings dating as far back as 1972. The leaves on the red scrapbook are worn by time. The clippings are discolored but are as legible as they were when he placed them in the book. Suggs' wife cherishes the book as if it is a piece of her heart.
"Carter Ray loved this book," she said. "He has clippings of every race that he ever won in it. He was good at what he did. This book is all I have of him. I will treasure it the rest of my life."
When she was asked how other people view her husband, she smiled and quoted a coach who made remarks at Suggs' funeral.
"At his funeral, Coach Frey said he was the fastest man in the world."