Friday, May 06, 2016

Highs and Lows: Silver Starr '85 and the Crockett Ballpark Fire

by Dick Bourne
Mid-Atlantic Gateway

I was looking through some 1985 wrestling results for Jim Crockett Promotions, and it dawned on me that one of the company's biggest events that March followed only one day after one of the company's biggest calamities, the fire at the Crockett ballpark.

First, let's look at the wrestling event: 

On Saturday March 16, the Greensboro Coliseum hosted a huge event that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Greensboro Coliseum dubbed "Silver Star '85." It was also part of a slate of events that would celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jim Crockett Promotions that year.

"Silver Starr" was a name born from the creative mind of booker Dusty Rhodes, who had also come up with the name of the company's very successful annual Thanksgiving event called "Starrcade," which had just concluded its second big year.

I've always thought, too, that Dusty just liked the imagery of a silver star, perhaps like an old western Sheriff's badge, pinned over his heart. Dusty was, after all, the modern day John Wayne.

In the ad at right, "Star" is spelled with only one "R", but in some television advertising, it was spelled with two of them - - SilverStarr - - to mirror the branding of the "Starrcade" name, I suppose. I really loved that stuff.

The show was loaded top to bottom, headlined by an NWA world title defense as Ric Flair defended the "ten pounds of gold" against U.S. champion Chief Wahoo McDaniel in an "Indian strap match," which was Wahoo's specialty. The traditional roles were reversed for these two during this time: Flair was a huge babyface in our area (but nowhere else) and Wahoo was now a hated heel. Those roles would reverse again later in this year in 1985.

Another big event, and one of the big draws of this show, was Dusty Rhodes challenging Tully Blanchard for the TV title, with Tully's "Perfect 10" Baby Doll locked inside a steel cage that would be hung high over the ring. The added stipulation was that if Dusty lost, he would "leave town" and never wrestle in Greensboro again.

The third main event played off the patriotism of the era where Magnum T.A. and Don Kernodle were scheduled to be joined by the returning Sgt. Slaughter to face the Russian team of Ivan and Nikita Koloff and Krusher Khrushchev in a flag vs. flag match. Slaughter had been one of the top stars in the company as a heel in 1981-1983, and had turned good-guy in the WWF in 1984 in a high profile angle with the Iron Sheik. But Sarge and the WWF had parted ways by the fall of 1984 over issues related to Sarge's outside deal with the G.I. Joe toy franchise. He was now headlining for the AWA and for "Pro Wrestling USA", a promotion that was trying to run shows with combined talent from the AWA and several NWA promotions in hopes of competing with the WWF in the Northeast states. In the Mid-Atlantic area story, Sarge was recruited by his former tag team partner Don Kernodle to aid him in his battle with the Russians.

So as you can see, it was a huge event, one of the biggest of the year, and the company was enjoying a surge of interest generally as Dusty Rhodes' booking and Crockett's talent acquisitions were just beginning to take off.

But the enthusiasm of this event was blunted by the tragedy of the Crockett baseball park fire that happened just the night before.

Jim Crockett Promotions not only was one of the most successful wrestling promotions in the country, but their AA Baseball franchise, the Charlotte O's, was one of the more successful baseball clubs in the AA minor league system. The team was run by Frances Crockett, who had been named Southern League Executive of the Year in 1980. They were coming off a league championship the year before.

Jim Crockett Memorial Park

Their home was Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Park, a classic old wooden structure that had been home to minor league baseball in Charlotte for over 40 years. And in recent years, a it had hosted a fair number of wrestling cards, too.

The Greensboro newspaper reports on both the Crockett Ballpark fire and the results of Silver Star '85

Investigations later indicated that the fire was a result of arson following a high school baseball game played there earlier (Wikipedia). The Crocketts quickly built a makeshift stadium where the team played for the next several years, but business was dramatically impacted by the fire and eventually the team was sold in 1987.

So a weekend that should have been full of celebration for the Crockett family was certainly marred by the fire that completely destroyed their home ballpark. Not only that, but according to France's daughter, the storage area at the park housed a lot of Crockett family memorabilia that was also destroyed in the fire.

It was definitely a weekend of highs and lows for the Crockett family in March of 1985, as represented in the newspaper clippings above. The company's baseball business would fade after the sad events of the ballpark fire, but the wrestling business was just getting ready to catch fire once again, at least in a metaphorical sense, in a very big way.

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Comment from Michael Hicks (via Facebook):
I always thought this show was somewhat underrated considering the lineup. It deserves more recognition for being a major part of the changing of the times in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling. A busy month in JCP as the Koloffs would win the NWA tag straps two nights later on Monday, March 18 in Fayetteville and the following Saturday -- March 23 -- in Charlotte, Magnum TA would win the US title from Wahoo. 

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Late Note:  Despite some reports of Sgt. Slaughter not being at this show, we have since confirmed that he was. I was able to confirm that with Don Kernodle recently, and also received a nice email from Joshua Jenkins who attended the show that night in Greensboro.