CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Evangelist Billy Graham attended his 50th high school reunion Sunday and was remembered by classmates as an average student who was mischievous, liked loud ties and had an eye for pretty girls.
Graham, 68, who has traveled the world for more than 35 years urging millions to renounce sin and accept Jesus Christ, was known to his Sharon High School classmates as a young man who liked a good time.
Winston Covington, a close friend of Graham's in Sharon high's class of 1936, recalled a time he and the future evangelist set fire to a trash can for excitement.
'In the eighth grade, we were always doing anything to disrupt class. That day, we ran out of things to do,' Covington said.
The two youngsters tossed a match into a waste basket, which filled the school with smoke and forced everyone to flee the building. Covington said the principal took the boys home, where they were reprimanded by their parents.
Sam Paxton, another good friend of Graham's, said Billy Frank -- as Graham was known in high school -- was mischievous, 'but was never the type of boy to get into serious trouble.'
Covington said Graham also was very popular with girls in high school.
'I think when he'd see a beautiful girl he was in love right then, if you could call it that,' said Covington.
But Graham dismissed his eye for the ladies.
'I had my share of romantic interests, but I never touched a girl in the wrong way,' Graham said.
Mingling with his classmates and few former teachers, Graham said he enjoyed seeing everyone again.
'It's thrilling and wonderful. We've been talking to each other like we were 16 again,' he said.
Covington recalled Graham was less than spectacular as a high school student. On one occasion when he failed to do his homework, a teacher told him, 'you will never amount to anything.'
Graham, whose name in 1949 became a household word because of the fiery sermons he delivered from a tent in Los Angeles, was more affluent than his high school classmates and was allowed to drive his mother's car to school.
With hiswavy blond hair and the keys to the 1934 Plymouth, Graham was also a little more popular with the girls, classmates recalled.
'We double-dated a whole lot and he really did like to do a little smooching,' Covington said. 'Maybe his wife wouldn't appreciate that, but I know he did. He liked pretty girls, pretty cars and pretty clothes.'
In fact, Graham was anything but an earnest Christian during his first early teenage years, according to his peers. But shortly before he turned 17, he attended a revival meeting in Charlotte and found religion.
'He liked to witness for Christ,' said Covington. 'We would go to different churches together and he would just get up and tell his story about what Christ meant to him and being saved.'
Several classmates who planned to attend the reunion at a Charlotte country club said they were glad of their early association with the evangelist who served as spiritual adviser to several presidents.
'It's nice to bask in the glory of someone as famous as he is,' said Bill Smith, a Greensboro stock broker. 'As I often tell people, the fact that I graduated with him was my claim to fame.'