I recently exchanged notes with Carl, a man you probably have never heard about. Unless you saw him on sites like Deadspin and With Leather back in November. Carl is an amazing athlete that you need to know about.
“Born into poverty on a north Florida tobacco farm in 1961, Carl Joseph didn’t stand much of a chance in life, even if he’d had a left leg. But through strength in God and unyielding perseverance, he led not only a normal life, but an extraordinary one.
When he removed his bulky prosthesis or dropped his crutches to play sports, he morphed from a gimp into a powerful competitor. In going where no one-legged human had gone before, he sacked quarterbacks, dunked basketballs and soared to victories in the high jump…by hopping on one leg!
In his heroic journey, he transformed himself from the object of pity and ridicule as a child to one of respect and awe in high school, winning over incredulous couches at each hop along the way.
The improbable athletic exploits of this bashful honor student were credited with bringing Madison’s black and white communities together during the tense early years of forced integration.”
It’s not everyday that you hear inspirational stories of one-legged athletes defying the odds. It’s even rarer when the story actually relates to Pittsburgh.
In the early 80s, Pitt football coach Jackie Sherrill brought Carl in for a tryout. I asked Carl to recall his time in Pittsburgh for use here. The following is from Carl himself:
“I first met Coach Sherrill, Mark May and Dan Marino when they unexpectedly showed up in my little hometown of Madison, FL, to take part in “Carl Joseph Appreciation Day” in May of 1980. Coach Sherrill then invited me to fall football camp to be a member of the team and inspire his players.
I was at Pitt for about five weeks. I was allowed to suit up and take part in exercises, warmups and drills, but no contact. I was treated as part of the team and had the same rules as the players. The player I was closest with at that time was Rickey Jackson. He showed me a lot of Pittsburgh and he gave me the name “Jackie Sherrill’s Boy” because he felt Coach gave me more freedom. That may have been true, but I really couldn’t do anything with that freedom. My mobility at Pitt was severely limited by the hills. I wore an artificial leg on campus and had several falls, which was a humiliating thing for me.
So while I loved my time with the Panthers, I was glad to get back to the flat farmland of northern Florida. I don’t know how much my presence at Pitt inspired the players, but they did have an 11-1 season.”
Sherrill was touched by Carl enough to write a letter of recommendation for the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, for which Carl was recently nominated. Hopefully, the love Carl has recently gotten from the blogosphere will help in the selection process. Carl and the other nominees should find out the results next month.
Below is video of Carl. PSaMP endorses Carl’s selection into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame!