Spring 09: Celebrating a Century of Hoops – Jim Waggoner ’55

Waggoner, the chronicler of Elon athletics history, helps his alma mater celebrate 100 years of Elon men's basketball.

Jim Waggoner ’55

By Kristin Simonetti ’05

If you know that Jesse Branson ’65 scored 44 points against Wofford in 1965, or that Tommy Cole ’72 sank 828 field goals during his career, you can thank Jim Waggoner ’55.

Since the mid-1950s, Waggoner has worked tirelessly to collect, preserve and share the memorabilia, statistics and stories of Elon athletics history. Many of the artifacts the university holds from Elon’s sporting past, as well as the definitive history of Elon athletics, The Fighting Christians: Elon College Athletics Through the Years, are the fruits of Waggoner’s labor. Most recently, he played an integral role in putting together the celebration of the 100th season of Elon basketball, held the weekend of Feb. 6-7.

“Jim has been critical to the presentation of athletics history at Elon,” says Brian Tracy, assistant director of athletics for external affairs. “His dedication to his alma mater is invaluable, and we thank him for all of his service.”

Waggoner’s love of sports dates to his childhood and teen years in Jacksonville, Fla. He dreamed of playing sports in high school, but his small size dashed those hopes.

“I went out for football, basketball and baseball, and I kind of got laughed off the field because of my size,” he recalls.

Unable to pursue his passion on the field, Waggoner considered sports reporting as a hobby. After transferring to Elon from Temple College in Chattanooga, Tenn., he joined Elon’s biweekly newspaper, Maroon and Gold. As the newspaper’s editor-in-chief in fall 1953, he planned to run a series of three articles chronicling the history of Elon athletics, the first installment of which focused on Elon basketball. Unable to find an interested reporter, Waggoner took on the story himself and soon realized the research would be difficult.

“I realized Elon athletics had nothing to go by for records except newspapers and annuals,” he says.

Unbowed by the challenge, Waggoner took some advice from his mentor, the late professor Luther Byrd, and began compiling Elon athletics records, statistics and stories.

“It’s like genealogy,” Waggoner says. “If someone doesn’t keep track of the information, it won’t be preserved.”

Waggoner never let go of his passion for documenting Elon athletics. After graduating from Elon, he attended chaplain’s school and served for 30 years in the ministry, including 21 years with the North Carolina Division of Youth Services, now the N.C. Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The time he spent chronicling the history of Elon athletics provided a welcome escape from the sometimes serious nature of his work.

By the 1970s, Waggoner had completed team and individual record books for all the sports that existed at Elon up to that point, including the new women’s programs that were instituted following the passage of Title IX in 1972. At the end of the decade, Elon approached Waggoner about writing a comprehensive history of Elon athletics. Waggoner was happy to oblige and, in 1990, The Fighting Christians was published and distributed by the Elon athletics department.

As he compiled the record books and histories of Elon athletics, Waggoner amassed a wealth of artifacts. His collection included hundreds of photos, news clippings, team rosters, schedules, media guides, films, pennants, pins, playing equipment, the first issue of Maroon and Gold published in 1919 and scorebooks dating to the 1940s. He spoke with and wrote to prominent people associated with Elon, including the late Alonzo L. Hook, and asked them to donate any sports memorabilia they had. At one point, Waggoner used a spare bedroom to house his collection, which he estimates filled 50 to 75 cartons.

By the 1980s, the collection had become so large that Waggoner could no longer store it in his home. He approached former director of athletics Alan White about donating it to his alma mater. White was happy to take Waggoner up on his offer. Today, some of the collection is displayed in the Atkins Room in Koury Athletics Center and the Woods Center at Rhodes Stadium, among other campus venues.

“A lot of times, this type of historical material can be destroyed, lost or not saved by families, which is unfortunate,” says Katie Nash, university archivist. “Jim’s original collection has caused others who came after him to pay special attention to saving and collecting materials that document the history of athletics at Elon, which is beneficial to the Elon community and the general public.”

To Waggoner, it was his way of leaving a legacy at his alma mater.

“Some people can give $1 million in cash, others can give $1 million in service,” he says. “I’ve put hundreds of miles on my car, and I’ve bought about five computers to gather all this information. This is my avocation, and I’m glad to have made a real contribution to Elon.”