Sports fans of the 50s would say Charles Duncan Niven was arguably the best and most exciting three-sports athlete ever to play in Wilmington. His size was an unimposing 5 feet 8 inches and 170 pounds and he was referred to as Charlie “Barrel” Niven. He was exceptionally fast and excelled at football, basketball and baseball.
In football at New Hanover High School, Charlie would fill Legion Stadium with his football antics. Breaking the school record for most touchdowns in a single season, he made All State in football, was MVP in both the North-South Shrine All Star Football Game and the East-West Football All Star Game. Choo Choo Justice of Carolina football fame was scouting the games for Carolina and said “Barrel” was the best runner he had ever seen. Carolina offered Niven a football scholarship but with the help of Coach Jap Davis of Duke football fame, one of the original Iron Dukes, Charlie went to Duke on a football scholarship.
After a great freshman football season at Duke, the Canadian Football League offered Niven a $600 per game contract to play for them so he headed to the Canadian League. After one season and some great games, he returned to Wilmington, got married and decided not to go back. Coach Bill Brooks, basketball coach at Wilmington College gave Niven a Basketball Scholarship to come play for him. Charlie put Wilmington College on the map, leading the nation in scoring with a 38.6 points per game average and there were no three-point shots at that time.
After his career came to an end, Niven continued to be involved in sports. He played in the YMCA Industrial League Basketball on “The Spot” team alongside past Hall of Fame Inductees Roman Gabriel and George Rountree III. He also acted as an umpire in baseball, refereeing football and basketball and volunteering as a football coach. He joined Grace Baptist Church and became one of the Church’s strongest supporters. Niven passed away in August of 1994. He had two daughters, Claudia and Deborah and one son, Charles Niven, Jr.