Robert Eller

This week, events that are a part of the Juneteenth series continue throughout Catawba County. This Sunday at 2pm at Drendel Auditorium in the Salt Block comes another milestone for an extraordinary group of men, now known throughout the area as the Untouchables. The documentary, The Untouchables: The Perfect Season of the Ridgeview Football Panthers will be screened along with a few special guests.

Their accomplishment has been rarely repeated in sports. During the 1964 season, the squad went undefeated on their way to the state championship. Impressive, but even more so is the fact that the team denied any opponent to score on them. Final season total, 446-0.

Recognition of the feat has finally been recognized and the celebration continues. Many team members are unfortunately no longer around to enjoy the belated acclaim but a portion (now in their 70s) are still with us. Some of them will be on hand to talk personally about their experience. Interviews of team members are a major part of the documentary which also features not only each game of that incredible season but also the journey of recognition that came half a century later.

Three events in the documentary mark the culmination of their story, as it now stands. First, last fall brought the unveiling of a commemorative arch at the field where they won their home games. The United Arts Council of Catawba County successfully competed with over 80 other North Carolina communities to receive a grant to raise a lasting memorial to the team and the school. Two murals by Adele James McCarty highlight the many activities at Ridgeview High and the miraculous season. Last September, the City of Hickory declared Untouchables Day with an unveiling celebration at the site.

The second event that permanently honors the team is their induction into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame as a Team of Distinction. They actually received the honor in 2020 but because of the pandemic, the ceremony to bestow the title was delayed until last month. Just before the pandemic struck, the last big event to honor the team came when they were invited to the TEDX event at Lenoir-Rhyne University. Their comments about being an Untouchable won over the crowd, who gave them a standing ovation. Along with those distinctions, the story has been featured on PBS NC, WBTV’s Carolina Camera, and a recent edition of Our State magazine. By the way, google any of these or to see more.

And likely there will be more. Screenwriter, actor and producer Wayne Deloriea will also be at the screening to discuss plans for a feature film on the Untouchables. Who knows where the story goes from here but one thing is certain. The accomplishment remains unparalleled. Still, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association cites the team as holding two records. During the Untouchable season and into 1965, they amassed 14 straight shutouts. They also hold the record for most consecutive regular season wins going back to 1958. In the 1990’s a Charlotte high school tied the record, but they couldn’t beat it. The same can be said about the Untouchables; you could not beat them.

It only took a long time but now the team is finally getting its due. The guys don’t run five miles like they did as they prepared for the 1964 season. But they still represent excellence. A lasting memory for team members is how the stands were packed with folks from all parts of Hickory. It was the most integrated gathering in Hickory as spectators came to see what true dedication and talent could do.