Angie Elwood (at the time, she was Angie Little) was my classmate at Piedmont High School in Monroe, N.C., in the early 1980s. She played seemingly every sport there was, and was a strong student.
We had a class or two together, and we were on the same tennis team for a few years, but she was in the top levels of both academics and sports, so we didn’t interact too much. She always seemed like a rock star.
But she didn’t think of herself that way. An early experience with Little League taught her not to take her sports experience for granted. She was one of two girls who tried out for her brother’s team.
“I was small and they would only allow one girl on the team,” Elwood said. “I was cut, but that actually inspired me more to be involved in athletics and be the best I could be.”
They should not have cut her. She was the best shortstop I ever saw besides Cal Ripken Jr., who was a foot taller and could reach more liners.
I still think she had a better arm.
It was not until I reconnected with her while unraveling the threads of my own sports experience that I heard her suggest she was unaware of her rock-star reputation. Her nonchalance was familiar, though — I took a turn on “Jeopardy” after appearing on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and my appearances on the shows were fascinating to some.
To me, they were just the thing I was doing. Same for Elwood in high school, when what she was doing was (sometimes literally) running rings around the rest of us.
She played tennis in the fall, basketball in the winter, and softball in the spring, and one year, found a way to run a few track meets. Even in the early ‘80s in rural North Carolina, girls had available to us nearly as many sports as boys. It makes me wonder about my mom’s and Murphy’s generation, if they’d been able to see firsthand, as kids, all the lessons sport teaches us. How would their lives be different?
At 5’3”, Elwood had a lower center of gravity, which allowed her to uncoil for certain moves, generating lots of power. It seems contradictory that a smaller athlete would be better at certain things, but being closer to the level of the net in tennis meant she could sizzle a shot just over it in a deadly way. She gave up the height angle that taller players have on serves, but that just meant she worked all the harder on her strokes.
“Sports taught me so much about people and life,” she said. “Winning and losing, success and failure, and just how to deal with people and just what life deals you sometimes.”
In basketball, which Elwood played in college, she found passing lanes that no one else saw, and was so accurate from 3-point range that she still holds a school record for made threes in a game (with eight). The 3-point arc was added for her final two years of college — if they’d had it sooner, she might have grabbed more records since she rarely shot from inside 15 feet.
“I do believe sports gave me confidence but it also humbled me and made me appreciate all the elements of a team,” she said.
Elwood had been accepted at UNC-Chapel Hill, but was recruited for basketball and softball at Pfeiffer (then College, now University), where she played both sports (plus a season of tennis), earned a graduate degree, and then coached. She was the school’s Female Athlete of the Year in her junior year and won the Fred West Academic Athlete award for the school’s highest GPA by a senior athlete for four years.
In 2001, she was inducted into the Pfeiffer University Sports Hall of Fame.
“It was definitely exciting to be able to attend college and get an education and allow someone else to help pay for it,” she said.
Elwood still plays tennis, rides bikes, plays golf, and bowls. She spent much of her time in the past 20 years traveling with her three boys and watching them play, mainly baseball (two played at UNC Charlotte and one at Pfeiffer).
“I am a very loyal person, and love hard workers and dedication. That drove me to coaching as well, and I hope I instilled some of my beliefs in my players as well as my boys.”