HUMANA Hero: Harold Vealey, 77, Charleston, West Virginia
When the West Virginia Generals men’s 75-79 basketball team won a hard-fought gold medal in the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana, the players celebrated another accomplishment: four of the five teammates played for the same high school in Charleston six decades ago.
Asked how it felt to triumph over a field of 15 competitive teams, captain Harold Vealey replies with a laugh, "All I felt was bruised and sore. My game is to drive a lot, so guys grab and hold my arms. By the end, both arms were one solid bruise. When you get old, gosh, that happens. But we're all in pretty good shape and play well together. We read each other's minds.”
Vealey and teammates Fred Duffield, Sam Dye, and Don Griffith all played for Stonewall Jackson High School, while the other, Dennis Parker, graduated from rival Charleston High School in the Mountain State’s capital city. And yes, Parker gets teased for being an outsider by the others. (Another Stonewall Jackson teammate of theirs was Jim Harrick, who had a 23-year college coaching career and lead UCLA to a national championship in 1995.)
“I was the shortest center in the state, and we were the largest high school in West Virginia,” Vealey recalls. “One of my best games was against the great Jerry West, who played for East Bank High School. In the first game, we won and I got 25 points. Three weeks later, we played again and Jerry guarded me because I had been the high scorer. Well, he got 40 and I got seven points. I saw him out socially awhile back and he didn’t let me forget it.”
Vealey advanced to college play at Marshall University, but says his career ended pretty quickly “because there weren’t many 5’11” centers in college.” In his adult life, the Charleston native switched to guard and continued to play in the Army and in league basketball while building an insurance career and a family of three children. He also took up judo and received a brown belt.
While all of this is interesting, Vealey has gained notoriety in recent years due to his uncanny resemblance to a certain beer commercial character. On a whim, in 2012 he entered a “Most Interesting Man” look-alike contest at a Cinco de Mayo festival in the parking lot of a local Mexican restaurant. “There must have been 500 people there, and I won the contest and $300,” he says with a chuckle. “It sorta caught on. I get stopped on the street and in restaurants. Good looking women want to have their picture taken with me. My wife just shakes her head. I’m glad she goes along with it.”
Vealey was even recruited to act the part in a TV commercial for local car dealership. “The guy that plays The Most Interesting Man in The World is the same age as me,” he adds. “Maybe I should challenge him to play in Senior Games.” The gregarious hoopster is a past president of the West Virginia Senior Games and continues to be an active volunteer. He went to St. Louis for his first National Senior Games in 1989 and has only missed one since.
Asked what his favorite expression is, Vealey’s response is rapid. “I don’t always play games, but when I do, it’s senior basketball.”