Twelve inducted in Hall of Fame
SALISBURY — W.A. Cline III’s speech was almost as good as his history-making 1969 East Rowan football team that went 13-0.
Cline drew the loudest and longest laughs at Sunday’s 14th annual Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, particularly when he talked about his early coaching days in Danville, Va.
The fellow who hired him believed any publicity was good publicity, and Cline was somewhat surprised to open the newspaper one day and see that he’d been signed up for a demolition derby.
Cline said he won’t be heading back to school for the first time in 52 years. He’s been an athlete, coach teacher — or demolition derby participant — all those years.
“One of my grandchildren told me that I finally got out of school,” Cline said with a still-boyish grin.
Since there were a record 12 inductees — Cline, twins Emmanuel and Reginald Barnes, Wendy Hampton Wilson, Joel Fleming, Randy Benson, Jim Edmiston, Jimmy Thompson, James Pemberton, Steve Gilmore Sr., Aaron Neely and James Barringer Jr. — speakers were asked by master of ceremonies and selection committee chairman Wilson Cherry to limit their acceptance remarks to just three minutes.
Cline was officially clocked in 8 minutes, 3 seconds — high for the day — but no one seemed to mind. After all, he had a lot of people to thank — everyone from God, to the fellow (Gerald Adams) who trusted him with his first coaching job. He also wanted to thank a loyal wife who missed one game in 17 seasons, all his players and all his assistants.
One of Cline’s assistants joined him in the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
That was Neely, who grew up in southern Rowan, played football at North Carolina A&T and became a assistant coach who was instrumental in great football runs at East and Salisbury. Neely, nicknamed “The Godfather” also was the head coach of state-championship track teams at Salisbury.
Everyone agreed Neely’s acceptance oration was the softest speech of his long career.
“I was very fortunate,” he said quietly. “We had a lot of athletes who put their heart and soul into it on the track and the football field.”
Pemberton, a four-sport legend at Livingstone and a coach at East Spencer’s Dunbar High was inducted posthumously. His daughter Teryl Charleston accepted his plaque.
Jimmy Thompson, a legend at J.C. Price High, a record-setting punter at Benedict, and a professional player in Canada, could not travel from Richmond, Va., to accept his honor, but he was represented by family. Leslie Richardson, his daughter, accepted his honor.
Thompson is in his 80s and is battling Alzheimer’s, but his daughter told the crowd that Jimmy’s musical gifts may have been even greater than his athletic gifts, and he still loves the trumpet.
Edmiston also was inducted posthumously.
While a large contingent of Edmiston’s family attended the ceremony, Jim Arey, his teammate at Boyden and lifelong friend, spoke.
Edmiston was a state champion on a Bill Ludwig-coached Boyden team in 1957 and was a national champion at Lenoir-Rhyne in 1960.
Arey reminded the crowd that the Bears were pretty amazing in those days. They were 40-3-2 during Edmiston’s four years and competed in three national-title games.
Edmiston starred for both those winning programs at left guard in a single-wing offense. He was a team captain and Little All-American at L-R and was voted the Carolina Conference’s best lineman.
“If there’s football in Heaven, Jim is playing left guard on an unbalanced line in a single-wing offense,” Arey said.
Barringer, who took photos for the Salisbury Post from the early 1960s until 2005 and continued at the Mocksville paper another five years after he retired from the Post, was honored with the Horace Billings Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions with a camera.
Former Post sports editor Ed Dupree, who introduced Barringer, estimated that Barringer had won 100 press awards during his distinguished career.
Tall and lean, Benson was a very good basketball player, but he’s known mostly as one the great baseball players in county history.
He dominated at East Rowan in the late 1960s and did not allow an earned run the entire 1968 season. That was arguably as fine a season as any pitcher in the state ever has had.
He was nearly as dominant with Rowan County American Legion as both a pitcher and hitter, and he walloped the most famous homer in local Legion history to win the 1969 state title.
Benson was a conference player of the year and two-time All-American at Pfeiffer and was named by the Sporting News as the nation’s top college lefty in 1972.
A third-round draft pick by the Baltimore Orioles, he reached Triple-A in the minor leagues and played for his father, Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famer Vern, at that level.
Benson shared the story of a bus trip in 1959 when his father was managing the Tulsa Oilers in the Texas League. Weary, hot and hungry after a game, the team stopped in a Texas diner, and Vern got off the bus and went inside to talk to the man in charge.
Vern was informed all the Oilers would be allowed to eat there, but the main dining room was whites only, and the black and Cuban players would have to be fed in a separate area.
Vern, who had played in the majors, responded that his team won together and lost together and they’d eat together. Then he got back on the bus and headed down the road.
“I got a good baseball education growing up and a good education on how to treat all people the same,” Randy said. “I was as proud of my dad that day as for anything he did in baseball.”
While many of Sunday’s inductees are graying, the Hall’s doors also are opening now for some athletes who starred in the 1990s.
When Cherry introduced basketball star Fleming as a “young man,” Fleming laughed and reminded everyone that he’s now 38.
Fleming also has a legendary father, longtime football coach Clement Fleming, and it does seem like only yesterday that Fleming was starring at West Rowan.
West was 21-9, 24-3 and 27-1 in the three seasons that Fleming played for coach Charles Hellard, and West won 29 of 30 league games his junior and senior seasons.
“More than the points, the assists or the steals, you remember the wins,” Fleming said. “I remember we won a lot more than we lost and winning is what mattered.”
Fleming also was a standout at Western Carolina, where he was one of the school’s all-time leaders in assists. He had nine assists in a March Madness game against Purdue.
Wendy Hampton Wilson was a standout for the girls basketball team at West at the same time Fleming was shining for the boys team.
She scored 1, 764 points — in three varsity seasons — and went on to be a very good player at Florida State.
She captained the Seminoles, earned a starting job, and made a successful transition from prep post player to ACC guard. She made seven 3s in a game and finished her career as one the top 3-point shooters in FSU history.
While people may remember what a good basketball player she was, they may have forgotten she set West’s mile record in track and was all-conference in volleyball.
The lone female inductee also offered one of the best lines of the day.
When she got the phone call telling her she’d been elected to the Hall of Fame, she excitedly called her husband to relay the news.
He burst her bubble.
“You know what the Hall of Fame means,” he said. “It means you’re getting old.”
Also from the 1990s are the Barnes twins.
Both were high school track and field sensations at North Rowan and both remain on the lists of the best all-time prep performances in North Carolina history in the hurdles and jumps.
Both continued to shine at N.C. State from 1993-96 and both had the thrill of wearing USA on their jerseys as they represented their country, their county and their community overseas.
Both thanked their families and their coaches, especially longtime North track coach Robert Steele.
“He sacrificed not just his time and his energy, but his gas, driving us all over the country,” Reginald said.
Added Emmanuel, “Track paved the way for us and gave us the opportunity to be not just athletes, but Hall of Fame people.”
A lot of the emotion on the long afternoon was supplied by Wendy Baskins, who accepted the Hall of Fame plaque for Gilmore, her father.
He passed away at 85, just five months ago.
Baskins said his kids knew Gilmore as a great golfer and as a dedicated railroad man who would get calls in the middle of the night to go fix the tracks somewhere.
They didn’t know much about his football days until very late in his life.
He’d kept his football joy buried inside because college and pro opportunities were limited for black players when he was growing up, but he’d been a tremendous running back, punter and linebacker for J.C. Price High in the mid-1940s.
Gilmore revealed late in life that because he’d been denied access to whites-only parks as a youngster, he’d learned to dodge tacklers by sprinting through the woods and eluding trees at full speed.
He got good enough at it that he was chosen to represent Price in the first Shrine Bowl for black players in 1946 and starred for the N.C. all-stars as they fought to a tie with their Virginia counterparts in front of a packed house in Greensboro.
Not long after he boarded a train to play in that all-star game, Gilmore got married and went to work for the railroad. He stayed with the railroad 42 years and with his wife, Allie, for 55 years until his death. He was a Hall of Famer in a lot of ways.
“The family hoped for many years that this day would come, and it’s been overdue,” Baskins said. “But now I can finally say to him, ‘You made it Daddy.’ ”