Using either boxing gloves or golf clubs, Rocky Winstead has been touching the lives of young kids for close to 50 years
Q: Of course, many around Zebulon know you for teaching golf through Zebulon Parks and Recreation, but you were also a boxer at one time – isn’t that how you got your nickname?
“I boxed when I was in the Marine Corps. My given name is Philip Anthony but in the Marines, they started calling me Rocky. I went into the Marine Corps in 1954 when I was 17 and I served for 20 years. I am originally from Spring Hope but I was raised near Pilot and I went to school in Bunn. I quit school when I was in the ninth grade and eventually joined the Marines. I wanted to be on the Marines Boxing Team but you couldn’t be on the team unless you had your high school diploma. The coach told me I need to get my GED so I took classes at night and I got my GED. I made sergeant before I ever made the team.”
Q: Were you pretty decent fighter – lots of accolades and awards?
“We did pretty good but I lost my left kneecap in 1967 in Vietnam.”
Q: In battle?
“I had been in Vietnam and fighting for three months before I got hurt. They put me in charge of the beer club warehouse. We would get beer and ration it out to the men. You could get a lot of cases on one pallet. They were moving one of the pallets with a forklift when it was dropped on me and another sergeant. He got it worse than me but it injured my left leg pretty badly. I later became a coach for the boxing team.”
Q: Were you a better coach than a student?
“Well, for a couple of years, I was at Camp Lejeune and we trained there. I had Ken Norton (professional heavyweight boxer who was one of the few to ever defeat Muhammad Ali) on a team so after that, you can say my stock went up as a teacher. When I retired from the Marine Corps, I worked for a while in Virginia for the Roanoke Parks and Recreation Department and had a boxing camp. At one time, we had 143 kids in our program. We even sent some students to nationals and they did real well. It gave the kids something to do and it kept them out of trouble.”
Q: But did people ever argue that if you teach kids to fight, they only get into more fights?
“It is just the opposite. It doesn’t work that way. They have to be disciplined. They have to train. And they know if they get in trouble, they can’t take part in the program. We would have people like Joe Frazier come to speak with the kids about doing something with their life and staying out of trouble. I heard one of the 8-year-old students tell a reporter one time who had come out to do a story on us, ‘I would rather get my name in the paper for boxing than for stealing hubcaps.’ It was a good experience and it was while I was at Roanoke that someone saw me and recruited me to work for the state of Virginia Prison System to teach boxing and I did that for 10 years too.”
Q: But you later began to teach golf – seems like an odd transition from boxing.
“I was stationed in Hawaii and I was out running one day on a golf course. I saw these two pretty girls playing golf and they invited me over to play with them. Well, I didn’t know how to play golf. After I hit about my third ball in the ocean, I think they were fed up with me and left me there on the course but I was hooked on the game. I taught for about five years in Bunn High and I also began a clinic with Zebulon Parks and Recreation. My son got hurt and he couldn’t play football like he wanted so he began to take golf – it was good for him. There is a lot of good talent around this area. We have some good golfers.”
Q: Do you ever stop to realize the young lives you have touched through the two sports?
“And they have made an impact on me. Sometimes, kids just need to know that you care – that makes all the difference in the world. When I was 12, growing up in Pilot, I wanted to play for the church basketball team but you had to attend church regularly to play on the team. I would sneak out of church sometimes and I will never forget Hoss Alford telling me, ‘You know, you are a good kid.’ He told me he cared about me and that he knew deep down, I was good. It really changed my life. Really, kids just need to hear sometimes that somebody out there cares.”
Correspondent Dena Coward