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Legion baseball: Hall of Fame ceremony on Sunday

American Legion baseball will recognize two pioneers from Gastonia, a pillar of Rowan County and a savior from Pitt County on Sunday.

The organization will induct into its North Carolina Hall of Fame Willie Gillispie and Elmore Hill — the first black players in state American Legion baseball history — as well as longtime Rowan County coach Jim Gantt and Post 39 advocate and former coach Grant D. Jarman.

A program recognizing these individuals is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday at Post 342 on Lincolnton Road. It starts with a meet and greet followed by a dinner. Bobby Richardson, who played in seven World Series with the New York Yankees, will deliver the keynote address.

Willie Gillispie, a Salisbury resident, and Elmore Hill were the first black baseball players to wear a uniform for Gastonia Post 23. Gillispie and Hill joined the team in 1964. They were instrumental in Gastonia winning its third straight Area IV championship. The season ended with a loss to Charlotte Post 9, which was the national runner-up that year.

Gillispie played football and baseball at Shaw University in Raleigh. He played and coached on semi-pro baseball teams in Charlotte, Gastonia, Kings Mountain, Winston-Salem and Clover, South Carolina. Gillispie also worked at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury for 41 years.

Hill had a 46-year career in professional baseball as a player and coach. Baseball America selected him as the best player in Midwest League history in 1999. After his 15-year professional career ended, he worked as a coach for Kansas City, Houston, Baltimore, Seattle and Texas.

Catawba College baseball coach Jim Gantt has been at the helm of Rowan County Post 342 for the past 14 seasons. His 2009 team finished third at the American Legion World Series. It captured the Southeast Regional Championship title and the Area III championship as well.

His teams qualified for the state tournament in 2002, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Jarman was involved in the Post 39 program for 45 years. He suited up for the squad in 1964-65 and was head coach from 1988-91. His teams won three Area I championships during his tenure.

He has also been a long-standing financial supporter of the Legion baseball program. When the post decided to cease sponsorship of the team, Jarman stepped in to provide the financial support to keep the program going.

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