The oldest living Tar Heel athlete has one more goal in mind. Bobby Gersten, whose 99th birthday Monday was covered by two local TV stations among other media, has set his sights on one remaining milestone in his illustrious and quite remarkable life.
“I hope we can all be back together one year from today,” Gersten said to friends and family at small dinner gathering at The Cedars retirement community, where he has lived since relocating to Chapel Hill a decade ago.
Gersten was captain of the Tar Heels’ basketball and baseball teams in 1942, after which he won the coveted Patterson Medal as UNC’s outstanding student-athlete in the days there was only one winner. He also served three years in the military and was the second-generation owner of a celebrated boys summer camp in up-state New York, which is only four years older than Gersten and where he still spends every June, July and August.
A long-time high school coach on Long Island, he mentored Hall of Famer Larry Brown and sent him to UNC, along with other members of Frank McGuire’s great teams of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Gersten appears like he will make it to the century mark easily, based on his vim and vigor for 99. His memory is sharp if not exactly accurate. He tells a story about former Tar Heel hooper Bob Rose and his famous girlfriend actress Ava Gardner, who was from Smithfield, North Carolina, before marrying Mickey Rooney and Frank Sinatra.
In 2010, Gersten was the toast of Franklin Street the morning after he suited up at 89 and played a half-court game at the Dean Dome on the 100th anniversary celebration of Carolina basketball. He made the front pages of the Daily Tar Heel and News & Observer.
Gersten received birthday cards from UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham and Roy Williams and Mike Fox, caretaker coaches of his two favorite UNC sports teams. Known to many Tar Heels as Bobby G, he played tennis three times a week until just five years ago and then started the twice annual Walk for Health to promote exercising until, well, the day you die.
Williams still leaves two tickets to any Tar Heel home game Gersten can attend, and Fox said he expects to see him at The Bosh again this fall and spring.
After all, Gersten has to keep his athletic body and mind in shape to reach that final goal of a golden life.