His winters are filled following Duke Basketball. His summers are spent tending to his garden tomatoes.
Friday nights in the fall, however, belong to his beloved Bulldogs.
For the past 66 years, Dr. Charles Kernodle Jr. has served as the team physician for the Walter M. Williams High School football team in Burlington, N.C. Though he no longer actively practices medicine at his family clinic, Dr. Kernodle Jr., is still active on the gridiron.
“I’ve enjoyed it over the years, and I look forward to this year,” said Kernodle, 98. “I ride the bus with the players to road games and never miss a home game. I try to encourage these kids. I’ve always enjoyed young people and being around them and enjoyed doing this on Friday nights.”
The son of a country doctor, Kernodle was one of seven children growing up in Alamance County, N.C. He and his four brothers all graduated from Duke Medical School and began practicing in Burlington. In 1949, Kernodle joined his eldest brother, Harold, and his cousin, John Robert, to open the Kernodle Clinic.
While mornings were booked with surgeries and afternoons were consumed visiting patients, Kernodle kept busy in the evenings by covering as team doctor for the then-Burlington High School football team. He and Harold would take turns covering for one another if there was an emergency at the clinic.
“It was rare that I got called away from the football field,” Kernodle said. “My house was across the street from the field. The way that I knew I had a call, they would put the front porch light on. We didn’t have all these cell phones then.”
Kernodle continued his doctoral duties when Williams High School opened in 1951, and eventually he found his way on the team bus to travel to road games. A constant presence on the sidelines, Kernodle has forged a relationship with Bulldogs players that goes beyond football.
“I feel like I’ve been bonded to a lot of these boys,” he said. “A lot of them I’ve tried to help get into college. Some of these boys I’ve gotten awful close to. I just admire them for what they’ve gone through, what they’ve tried to do and what they’re going to do.”
Kernodle is particularly close to Sam Story, who coached Williams High School for 25 years and delivered two state championships. Story first met Kernodle when the former was a sophomore at Williams in 1962. After his playing days ended, Story entered the coaching ranks and eventually became head coach at his alma mater in 1983. He witnessed firsthand the admiration his players had for Kernodle.
“They love to see him coming,” said Story, who previously served as President of the National Football Foundation’s Corrigan/Faircloth Chapter. “They know he cares about them. People don’t care how much you know, they just want to know how much you care. He’s so sincere, and he doesn’t hide his intentions. His intentions are to let the players know, ‘I’m with you 100 percent. I care about you, win or lose. I love you and admire what you do.’”
Kernodle’s service to Williams High School was honored on Oct. 26, 2007 during Story’s final season as coach. To mark Kernodle’s 90th birthday, the Bulldogs’ field was renamed the Dr. Charles E. Kernodle Jr. Field at Memorial Stadium. Each year, in conjunction with the Kernodle Clinic, The Corrigan/Faircloth Chapter awards a scholarship in Kernodle’s name to a player from Alamance County. Kernodle Clinic still offers free physicals to athletes in the district, a policy Kernodle implemented himself.
Today, Kernodle is physician emeritus at the clinic and makes it a point to visit as often as he can. In the winter he walks three miles per day, and he still has Duke Basketball season tickets. He makes it a point to deliver fresh tomatoes from his garden to Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski every year, making the 35-mile drive to do so.
The Bulldogs begin competition Aug. 19, and Kernodle will again be on the sidelines for his 67th season with the team. Football has brought this nonagenarian together with teenagers, and there is no place he would rather be.
“It’s an inspiration to see these boys that work hard and play hard,” Kernodle said. “I’m proud of the relationships I’ve had with these kids. It’s always an inspiration to be around them.”