Spring Valley High School
Class of 1972
Charlie White parlayed his blazing speed and savvy running ability into All-America prominence at Bethune-Cookman College and an eight-year pro football career with four teams, including his hometown New York Jets.
Charles Frankie White, the youngest child of Harry and Vivian Pearl White, ran to glory on the track cinders and football gridiron for Spring Valley High School. In track, Charlie sped to victory two straight years in the 100-yard dash at the Rockland County championships, clocking a stellar time of 9.9 seconds in an era when breaking 10 seconds was considered the gold standard of high school sprinting. He made first team All-County both years. Charlie was coached in track by none other than “Jimmy the Jet” Ashcroft, who set the still-standing County record of 9.5 seconds in 1964.
Glory on the Gridiron
In football, Charlie was an All-County running back his senior year and an All-County defensive lineman his junior year. At 6-feet, 200-plus pounds, he had the size to battle the offensive-line behemoths in the trenches and the speed to overhaul running backs from behind. Just ask Nyack’s Tom Sanders, who was tackled by Charlie on a downfield run during Spring Valley’s stirring 12-7 victory over the Indians in Charlie’s junior year.
Charlie didn’t make the varsity football team his sophomore year, but thanks in part to some valuable guidance from teammate David Stedge, he earned a spot the following year on the defensive line, playing middle guard while Stedge played left tackle. “He took me under his wing and gave me advice,” Charlie said. “If he hit high, I hit low, and if I hit high, he hit low.” Charlie’s best friend at Spring Valley was Marvin “Tank” Watson, a track and football star whom Charlie has known since seventh grade. “He was like a brother to me,” Charlie said. “We pushed each other, to [exceed] our ability. When you see me, you see him, and when you see him, you see me.” Charlie was coached in football by Paul Sbrollini.
Tearing Up the Track
In track, Charlie matched strides with many outstanding sprinters, including Glenn Weiser of Nanuet, Mark Connors of Suffern and Michael Powell of Ramapo. After capturing the 100-yard dash in the County meet his sophomore and junior years, Charlie sustained a serious hamstring injury at the start of his senior track season, thwarting his bid for a third consecutive title. “I was good until 40 yards,” he said. “After that, the hamstring blew out.” Stu Helfgott of Clarkstown North ended up outsprinting the field for the gold medal in the County meet.
Charlie played football for two years at Fort Dodge Junior College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, making the junior college All-America team both years. He then transferred to Colorado State, but his father felt the academics offered at that institution was not rigorous enough, so he had Charlie apply to Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he earned a scholarship. “My father was set on me getting an education,” Charlie recalled. “He said, ‘You’re not in school to be a dummy.’” Charlie became the first Wildcat running back to earn All-America honors, reaping that distinction in back-to-back seasons as a featured halfback. Another highlight was shutting out archrival Florida A&M in 1976.
Making the Pros
Charlie intended to complete his degree immediately in physical education and health at Bethune-Cookman, but took a detour when he was chosen in the 1977 NFL draft by the Jets. He worked out for only two teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jets, but wound up being selected the first pick of the seventh round, 168th pick overall, in the draft. He beat out former Heisman Trophy runner-up Ed Marinaro for a berth at halfback and helped push Clark Gaines, the NFL Rookie of the Year in 1976, to fullback. Along with fellow rookie Scott Dierking, Charlie saw plenty of action in the backfield that season, rushing 50 times for 151 yards and one touchdown in 13 games. The Jets, under new coach Walt Michaels, endured their third straight 3-11 season.
Charlie was then picked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were shorthanded at running back with injuries to Ricky Bell and others. Charlie got into seven games with the Bucs during the 1978 season, rushing 11 times for 42 yards. When Bucs backfield coach Joe Gibbs relocated to San Diego to reunite with Coach Don Coryell, Charlie moved on to the Chargers as well. However, an injury to his left knee required surgery and placed him on injured reserve for the season. He then latched on with the Baltimore Colts, but the knee faltered again during the preseason and necessitated further surgery to remove damaged cartilage. He finally called it quits in 1985. “If I kept playing I would have done more damage,” he said. “I wanted to walk away while I still could.”
Life After Football: Successful Businessman
After completing his degree from Bethune-Cookman in 1985, Charlie tried teaching for a while but then switched to business. “I wanted to be a businessman like my father,” said Charlie, whose dad owned a trucking company and converted homes into rental properties. “He only had a 10th-grade education but he worked hard to better himself and his family.” Charlie took a collections job with American Express, then started a pair of companies, in collections and construction. He maintained his company for almost 20 years before retiring in 2017, due in part to health issues. He came down with kidney cancer but is now free of cancer symptoms. He has also had six heart stents and closely monitors his heart, exercising whenever possible.
Despite undergoing 24 major operations over the years for injuries “all over my body,” Charlie feels good and is enjoying life in Lithia, Fla., giving talks to school children about the value of education and not pinning all their hopes on a professional athletic career. He has frequently returned to Spring Valley High School to reinforce this message and encourage young people to work toward a dream or a goal. “They have to learn and realize that you don’t set a goal on sports alone,” he said. “There are other opportunities out there. The average pro career is three to five years. The odds of making pro are very small. You need something to fall back on, for your second, third or fourth opportunity. It’s about making your life better and providing for your family.”
Charlie appreciates the sacrifices made by his parents to enable him and his siblings to receive a quality education. That includes his sister, Nancy Mary White; brother Harry Richard White Jr., a former tight end for Virginia Union College; and brother Robert Donald White, whose athletic career was derailed by a broken leg from a chop block in junior high football.
Charlie, who is 68, has five stepchildren from three previous marriages. He stays in touch with former teammates from Bethune-Cookman, helps support the college, and keeps busy with church activities. Charlie’s football uniform number at Spring Valley, 48, was retired in an alumni ceremony in November 2009. “Sports was an outlet for me,” Charlie said. “The people I met and became friends with was the most important thing for me. I didn’t look for the achievements.”