Cam Carte rallies former Bennett teammates to remember a fallen hero

Cam Carte, left, coaches his son, Maddy “Pig” Carte, at Turner Ashby High School in Bridgewater, Va., in 2016. Cam Carte was the quarterback of the Bennett Clippers’ undefeated state championship seasons in 1982 and ’83.

The word “Family” is engraved into the side of the three dozen or so State Championship rings to be presented Oct. 28 to celebrate the James M. Bennett football team’s magical run in the 1980s.

“Family” is how former JMB quarterback Cam Carte remembers the Clippers’ glory years — a strong network of athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, band members and fans — and there is one member of that family who will be at the center of the Bennett reunion.

Wardell Turner was key to the Clippers successes in the 1982 and ’83 undefeated state championship seasons. He was voted Most Valuable Player by his teammates after the 1983 season for his outstanding contributions as fullback and middle linebacker

Turner, from Nanticoke, went on to play football on scholarship at Towson University, where he graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in management

In 1993, Turner joined the U.S. Army. He was promoted to sergeant major and served as the top enlisted officer responsible for training Afghan National Security Forces.

He was killed Nov. 24, 2014, in Kabul, Afghanistan, after his vehicle was attacked with an improvised explosive device.

Carte, now an eighth-grade teacher and Methodist preacher in central Virginia, has organized a memorial service for Turner to be held at 9 a.m. on Oct. 28 at Wicomico Presbyterian Church in Salisbury, where his former teammate will be remembered in prayer, proclamation and song.

In addition, at the state championship ring ceremony following the memorial service, James M. Bennett High School will officially retire Turner’s No. 40 football jersey.

The weekend’s events also include a dinner meet-and-greet with current and past JMB football members on Oct. 27 at the school, the homecoming game Oct. 28 at noon at The Shipyard on the JMB campus and a Reunion Dinner for the state championship teams, families and fans Oct. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at Black Diamond Lodge in Fruitland.

Tickets for the dinner are $30 and should be reserved in advance. Call 540-282-9010 or email ccarte@rockingham.k12.va.us.

Q. You and former JMB running back Elmer Davis — also now a Methodist preacher — helped design the state championships rings. You included the word “Family.” Why?

A. We were, and still are, to a great extent, a family in every sense of the word. I have spoken to grown men in their 50s in the past two months that I have not seen in decades, and within the first minute of the conversation “I love you, man” is spoken.

Conversations have been started that seem as if we played a game in the past month. We did everything together, many of us being inseparable from one another.

You always had guys that had your back. During the season, I was more likely to have one of my teammates over for dinner than not. Only a family does that, so that was an easy decision.

Q. What made Wardell Turner special?

A. When I think about Wardell, one word comes to mind — stability.  I can illustrate that in two different ways, one comical and one serious.  

The comical one first. Wardell had no neck. His head was like it was just glued to his shoulders.

He took a bunch of kidding from us for it. Case in point: We were on the bus headed to a game and Darryl Willing spoke up and told Coach (John) Usilton that Wardell had been arrested by the police earlier in the day. Coach Usilton was shocked and asked, “What for?” Darryl said it was for “neck-less driving!” The whole bus cracked up!

Sgt. Maj. Wardell Turner of Nanticoke was killed in Afghanistan in 2014. A memorial service will be held Oct. 28 in Salisbury.

I think Mike Williams is still laughing. Wardell took all of that in stride. It did not phase him, even when everyone was messing with him.

On a serious note, Wardell never showed signs of being shook or rattled.Wardell was never jumping around being a rah-rah guy, either. Not in practice, not in games, not in life.

Our team put a lot on Wardell. He played every down, even special teams, and he never complained. He just went about doing his job.

Wardell was even-keeled. I am certain that this mindset was a huge reason he was successful in his chosen profession as a soldier. Stability is what made him special.

Q. How can the community participate in this remembrance of Wardell Turner?

A. Wardell’s family and teammates are inviting the community to come join us in celebrating his life and his accomplishments.

We would very much welcome anyone to join us on Oct. 28 at any and all of the aforementioned events.

You do not have to have been a teammate or a classmate, or a JMB graduate for that matter. Just come and help us honor a teammate, friend and American hero.

Q. Bennett played in four consecutive state football championships from 1982 to 1985, winning three of them. What made those teams so successful?

A. The cop-out answer is phenomenal talent, which is not hyperbole. However, a more genuine answer is a businesslike mentality. Don’t get me wrong, we had an entire team of clowns and characters off the field, with the key phrase being “off the field.”

You very rarely saw anyone clowning around during practice, and never during a game. It was not tolerated by our coaching staff and it was not tolerated by the team.

Coach G (Anthony Giddens) had a mantra: “You work hard, you don’t work long!” We did just that. Our practices were highly organized, high intensity and highly competitive. When game day rolled around, we had already methodically worked against and scrimmaged against the best team in the state — us.

Running back Carl Morton, left, and quarterback Cam Carte were part of an explosive offense that led the Bennett Clippers to the 1983 Maryland State Championship title.

Q. As the Clippers’ quarterback, you helped lead a team that went 24-0 over two seasons. Is there one play or moment that stands out?

A. Can I have two? Same scenario, but two different events.

We were playing at County Stadium my junior year, against who knows. We had first and goal on the one, headed in the end zone looking at old Salisbury Mall.

We always ran a trap play to convert these short yardage downs. Coach Usilton called time-out and said to me, “Get Lybrant (Robinson) the ball. I don’t care how you do it, but let him score.”

Lybrant split time at tight end and was a devastating blocker. But he could not catch. Let me say that again, he could not catch! He dropped two straight passes, and a third was broken up on a good play by the outside linebacker.

So here we are, fourth and goal. Willie Sheppard, our standout wide receiver said lob it to him like a basketball rebound.

He then told Lybrant to “catch the ——- ball!” He did so, then he ran around like we had won the State Championship right then. He was so proud, but we reminded him that we were already up like 40 points.

The second requires a little backstory.

Cambridge-South Dorchester was the team to beat in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and they had recently won a state championship. I absolutely hated the fact that in their pregame routine they came out in toboggans with a pom-pom on top instead of wearing their helmets.

Who does that crap? It really bothers me, and I said so to Coach Usilton. He reminded me that we were there on a business trip.

Keep in mind, I was the quarterback of one of the best offenses statistically and in scoring in the history of Maryland high school history. However, I had never scored a touchdown. I threw a bunch of them, but I didn’t rush for one. I didn’t need to with the backfield we had.

So again, first and goal on the one. It is my senior year and we are at Cambridge-South Dorchester going into the endzone closest to their school.

Coach Usilton called timeout and tells me to run it in. I asked him if he was sure, and he reminded me we were on a business trip. Does that sound familiar? I scored running right up behind our center Billy Webster’s block. That’s the only touchdown I scored at Bennett.  

I have always really appreciated that gesture by Coach Usilton.  He rewarded Lybrant and me for outstanding play in other aspects of our offense, when he did not have to.  That is called grace and it is part of what made him a terrific head coach.

Q. What message do you hope the current Bennett team takes from the reunion weekend?

A. Two things. Our work ethic and our true love for one another as a family. Those things will take you a long way.

Q. Football took you from playing at Bennett and Virginia Tech to coaching at Auburn, one of the nation’s top programs. Why did you leave, once you had reached “The Big Time?”

A. I really enjoyed, and treasure my time at Mississippi State and Auburn as a graduate assistant coach. I learned a great deal about football, working with people and life.

I had finished the coursework for my doctorate and I had a decision to make. Pursue a career in coaching college football or go to work in Washington, D.C., as I had planned when I finished school. I was offered a full-time job coaching linebackers at both Troy and Louisiana Tech.

When I went to talk to Coach Bowden, he reminded me that college coaches get fired and/or move every two to three years. I wanted stability and I wanted to use my education, so off to D.C. I went.

Q. Along the way, you’ve held a surprising number of titles — teacher, preacher, paramedic  — but one stands out: adviser to the Vice President of the United States. Explain that.

A. I was an environmental policy adviser to then-Vice President Al Gore in the early 1990s. I was working as a senior lobbyist for the forest products industry and he wanted to get the industry perspective regarding environmental policies in the U.S. and abroad.

I disagreed with a fair amount of Vice President Gore’s environmental policy initiatives, but that is why I was there: to be a barometer of how much regulation that the forest products industry was willing to support and adhere to.

Not many people get to meet on a regular basis with the leaders of our nation. It was certainly a privilege and honor to work with Vice President Gore.

Q. You left the “rat race” after climbing to the highest levels of the federal government. What motivated your decision?

A. I had access to ranking members of Congress and the Clinton Administration, but I was far from being in the highest levels of the federal government. I was, however, firmly ensconced in the “rat race.”

The reason I left was my family. I love my family, and the travel and hours I was keeping were not in keeping with how my wife, Margaret, and I were raised and how we wanted to raise our boys.

When you have to choose between success at work or success as a husband and father, the choice is easy and clear cut. In my opinion, you cannot be a true family man working in Washington, D.C., with the level of responsibility I had. The hours and stress level are not in your favor.

Q. You returned to football to coach your sons in high school. How has the game changed since you played?

A. Two things come to mind.

First, fewer kids are multisport athletes. Most kids who play football in our district in Virginia play only football.

Football in Virginia is a year-round sport. We changed the rules five years ago to allow for year-round practice, including several days of contact in the spring. This has caused kids to become more specialized.

It maybe good for the sport, but in my opinion it is not good for the kids. It has created a bunch of overuse injuries in sports like baseball and softball.

Both of my sons lettered in other sports and it made them more well-rounded athletically, and as young men.

Second, the game now uses the whole field. It used to be that everyone played offense in a phone booth. You might have one wide receiver split, or a twins set but that was about it. Offenses now spread the field with multiple receivers, and many do not use a running back or tight end.

Our 4-4 Stack used in the way we played it at Bennett in the ’80s would not be feasible now against most of the teams we face here in central Virginia because we would not be able to account for all of the route options.

Q. This is your first autumn in a long time that you are not on the field every Friday night. How are you making out?

A. I am doing great! I have 27 years worth of positive coaching experiences at both the high school and college level, and that is enough.

I play a lot of golf, go to the gym and have ample time to bug my wife to death. I am routinely thrown out of the house to get me out of her hair.

I have not seen a live football practice or game yet this year. In fact, I have only stepped foot in the high school where I coached twice this year.

Q. You earned another high school state championship ring in recent years. Explain that achievement.

A. I was fortunate enough to coach the most awesome high school girls in the world! In 2015, we won the (Virginia) 3A Girls Basketball State Championship.

Interestingly enough, we came in third in our conference. Our conference was tough, but we got hot at the right time. We did not have the best skill players, but we were the best team and that wins championships.

I am most proud of the fact that the girls had a cumulative aggregate GPA of 3.6 and nine of the 12 girls were members of the National Honor Society. You can’t coach that!

Q. Any last thoughts?

A. We are all a product of the relationships we have had with other people.

I have been blessed to have had wonderful parents, coaches, teachers and nurturing communities throughout my life. What success I have had in life is because I have been surrounded by wonderful people by the grace of God.

My four years at Bennett exposed me to great people, exposed me to what is right and good with America.

The 1980s was a great time to be at JMB. I met my wife there. I made lifelong friends there. And JMB helped me be me. Thanks Bennett!

 

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