Rowan Hall inducts six
By Mike London
Tracy Connor-Riddick and Frank McRae, legends of Wake Forest athletics, entered the Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame together on Saturday.
McRae was surrounded by the baseball teammates he sparked to the 1955 national championship.
Connor-Riddick, the finest player in Wake women’s hoops history, was surrounded by family, including her three children.
Sam Gealy, who coached Bobby Jackson and four state-champion golf teams at Salisbury, was inducted, along with the late Jack Turney, a baseball man who guided Boyden wrestlers to 66 straight victories in the 1960s.
The late Fletcher Jones, a standout pre-integration back and punter at J.C. Price and Benedict, was inducted. Jones coached at Livingstone from 1959-94.
Scott Maddox, who is most responsible for the existence of the Rowan-Salisbury Hall, became a member as well as founder when he accepted a Horace Billings Special Achievement Award.
Years ago, Maddox started the ball rolling on the Hall with a call to Wilson Cherry, yesterday’s master of ceremonies at Seth Murdoch Auditorium. That call led to the formation of a committee that voted in the first induction class in 2001. The Hall’s roster now stands at 47.
Connor, a three-time county player of the year in basketball and a two-event state champion in track at South Rowan, dominated at Wake in the mid-1990s. She had 35 points and 22 rebounds one night against N.C. State, but family always mattered to her more than numbers.
Her father, Benny, maneuvered an 18-wheeler into the Cameron Indoor Stadium’s cramped parking area to watch her play, and his shouts of “Defense!” could be heard even in the loudest gym.
“Entering this Hall is a ‘wow’ moment,” Connor-Riddick said. “There’s so much talent in Rowan County and so much greatness.”
Maddox wasn’t seeking greatness when he left the Department of Revenue to become a Salisbury coach and teacher eight years ago.
“But I wish I’d done it sooner,” he said. “If you make a difference in the life of just one kid, it’s worth it.”
Gealy, a Pennsylvania native who played basketball and golf at N.C. State, coached 427 basketball wins at Cardinal Gibbons, Bunn, North Rowan and Salisbury.
Five of those 427 were Christmas tournament championship games, and his 266-139 record at Salisbury and North ranks among the all-time best in Rowan County.
Gealy’s most talented group at Salisbury won 60 of 64 games in 1987 and 1988 and a state title. He hesitated to single out individuals, but he mentioned NBA veteran Jackson, Rowan’s biggest hoops success story. Jackson helped Gealy win 1991 and 1992 SPC tournaments in 3A.
Hall of Fame Salisbury coach and athletics director Bob Pharr spoke about Turney, a longtime friend who had a fear of heights. Turney hated plane rides and high rises almost as badly as losing. “But there were some heights he wasn’t afraid of, and he reached all of them,” Pharr said. “All-State high school player. All-America baseball player. MVP as a minor league baseball player, and champion as a coach.”
Ironically, Greg Turney, Jack’s son, works on aircraft every day. He accepted his father’s award.
Jones’ award was accepted by his niece, Nancy Douglas. His feats included a 95-yard TD run at Price, a 96-yard punt at Benedict and building the nation’s best small-college defense at Livingstone in 1974. The master motivator would use a paddle when he had to ó even on the sideline.
McRae’s entry into the Hall will be greeted with enthusiasm by many. Hall of Famer Billy Ray Barnes, a teammate of McRae’s at Wake, and Hall of Fame fireballer Tom Eaton say they never saw anyone hit a baseball like McRae, who knocked one out of Newman Park in the summer of 1948 when he was only 13.
Still eligible for Legion in 1952, McRae pitched 18 straight innings against Concord and High Point without allowing a hit.
McRae was All-State in hoops at Boyden and starred for coach Derwood Huneycutt. He scored 42 against Asheville, a school mark that stood until 2003. He had 34 against R.J. Reynolds, 32 against Gastonia.
While McRae excelled at basketball, baseball was his love. He held a contract from the Pittsburgh Pirates in his hands after high school graduation, but he elected to go to Wake to play two sports.
He backed up superstar Dickie Hemric in basketball, but he was a force in baseball.
Colonel Bob Waggoner, a Boyden graduate who attended Saturday’s induction ceremonies, knocked in McRae with the first run in Wake’s 1955 title game in Omaha against Western Michigan.
McRae’s performance in the biggest game of his life is still storybook stuff. He was 5-for-5 in a 7-6 victory and made a game-saving catch.
No ACC school has prevailed in Omaha since 1955.
McRae also went 8-for-13 down the stretch to win the ACC batting title in 1956 with a .419 mark, but injuries ruined his pro chances.
One of McRae’s first coaches, Earl Ruth, watched him over-slide second base and badly sprain an ankle.
Ruth barked, “Frankie, you’re my best pitcher and best hitter, but you’re the sorriest baserunner I ever saw.”
McRae shattered a leg and wrecked a shoulder sliding into second base for Wake, but he finally entered his local Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“Frank was one of the best,” said Joe Ferebee, who coached McRae during his Salisbury Legion days. “He’s a true Hall of Famer.”
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.