Memories of a Lifetime With Pack Basketball
Jan. 20, 2011
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In the winter of 1946, legendary NC State basketball coach Everett Case asked C.A. Dillon if he would do the public address announcing at Wolfpack home games.
For the next 53 seasons, C.A. was Mr. P.A. Five head coaches and hundreds of players came and went, but Dillon endured, his voice strong, resonant and ringing with clarity in tiny Frank Thompson Gym, storied Reynolds Coliseum -- and for one ceremonial night in the new RBC Center.
Widely known and more widely heard, Dillon stepped away from the microphone in 1999 with his larynx intact and his name etched indelibly in NC State lore. A sign bearing the words "C.A. Dillon" sits high in the RBC Center along with honored Wolfpack athletes, whom he will join at Sunday's big reunion game against Miami.
Now 85 years old and using a cane, Dillon still watches the Pack, carrying with him an arena full of memories. Gifted with a radio voice, he always enjoyed the announcing, the players, the coaches, the atmosphere.
"I'm so grateful,'' he said. "People have been so kind to me."
At the mic he had to deal with plenty of tongue twisters, especially when a Russian team came for an exhibition game. But ever meticulous, Dillon checked for the proper pronunciation on each opposing roster prior to every game.
Nobody charted his slips of the lip, but he probably made fewer mistakes in 53 years than some players committed on the court in half a game.
His style was always professional, forthright, designed to inform, not entertain or draw attention to himself with bluster and braying. Although, a few times he did wish he could eat his words.
BLOWING THE WHISTLE
Once, in a game against Duke, a comment got him in trouble with veteran official Lennie Wirtz.
"They had called eight straight fouls against State and none against Duke,'' Dillon said. "Finally, a foul was called on Duke. Frank Weedon (associate athletics director) was standing behind me and said: `and that's just the first one.' Then I said: `And that's just the first one.'
"Wirtz spun around, came over and said `do that one more time and you're out of here!'"
On another occasion, during a Dixie Classic game, someone handed him a note, asking him to announce that a certain person was "wanted at the front door." Without hesitation, Dillon read the request and suddenly laughter reverberated around the Coliseum.
"It was (the name) of a Wake Forest student who was wanted by the police for possible murder," Dillon said. "It was my most embarrassing moment. After that, I never made an announcement unless I got it officially approved."
Dillon, a kind, gentle man and long-time president of Dillon Supply Company in Raleigh, was well liked and highly respected by the Wolfpack family and beyond.
Former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith always stopped at the scorers table to chat with him when the Tar Heels played at Reynolds.
Lou Eisenstein, a long-time official who studied the stock market, also would come over and give him advice about investing.
"I would invest in what (Lou) told me and every time it went straight down,'' Dillon said.
A State alumnus, Dillon did several radio broadcasts,, including the 1950 NCAA Tournament in Madison Square Garden as a sub for N.C. Hall of Fame announcer Ray Reeve. He called many State football games as well at Riddick Stadium and Carter-Finely Stadium, plus some pro baseball.
But his cordial, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to William Neal Reynolds Coliseum, where NC State University is pleased to have as its guest..." was his signature line.
After the welcome he introduced starting lineups that, in the old days, was left forward, right forward, center, left guard and right guard. When Les Robinson became the Pack's head coach, he requested freshman be introduced first and seniors last and Dillon obliged.
Before Reynolds, C.A. called the shots and fouls at Frank Thompson Gym and was there the night an overflow crowd filed in, forcing the Raleigh fire marshal to cancel State's 1947 home game against North Carolina.
Later, in 1949, he helped open Reynolds and announced the first official basket made in the arena -- by State's Vic Bubas. That facility became a basketball shrine and was influential in luring Case, a high school coach in Indiana, to Raleigh.
"He had seen the skeleton structure and that's why he came,'' said Dillon, noting that Case, a visionary, asked to expand the building plans to make it a multi-purpose facility that eventually did house circuses and the Ice Capades.
Dillon was close to Case. He drove the coach to area games at UNC and Wake Forest if the rivals were playing when the Wolfpack was off.
He also visited in Case's home. The State coach would frequently invite Dillon, along with certain opposing coaches from distant schools, to drop by after games.
While admiring multiple college coaches, Dillon strongly affirms the long-held view that it was Case who brought big time basketball to the area with his "Hoosier Hot Shots," uptempo style and clever marketing skills.
Now, in more than six decades of watching State teams, Dillon ranks the great David Thompson as the best Wolfpack player he has ever seen.
What about the top five Pack players?
After lingering pensively for a few moments, he gave this list: Thompson, Dick Dickey, Sammy Ranzino, and Ronnie Shavlik, with a tie going to Rodney Monroe and Lou Pucillo for the fifth starting spot.
Dillon saw those players, plus numerous others, produce many spectacular performances and win lots of championships.
But of all the sterling individual efforts, of all the dramatic games he saw, Dillon calls the "Never Give Up" speech in Reynolds by the late Jim Valvano as a most memorable moment.
"It was moving,'' Dillon said.
In addition to handling the P.A., Dillon ran the company founded by his father as president from 1971 to 1990, and along with wife, Mildred, helped raise five children, His community involvement included serving in several high regional or national positions with Kiwanis.
A devout Christian, Dillon did prison ministry from 1990 to 1999. A long-time, active member at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, he team teaches a Sunday School class with Mildred once a month.
Though unable to do fitness workouts, Dillon has remained a serious, high-ranking bridge player who competes five days a week in Raleigh and once a week in Durham.
But thousands of sports fans, especially basketball enthusiasts, connect C.A. with the P.A.
And to multitudes, his voice still resonates and revives fond memories.
By A.J. Carr