By Mike London email@example.com SALISBURY — A chunk of Salisbury resident Bill Gillispie’s contribution to North Carolina sports history is known to many. When Gillispie and teammate Elmore Hill manned center and left field for Gastonia Post 23 as teenage ground-breakers in the summer of 1964, they integrated American Legion baseball in this state. In ceremonies held in Salisbury in 2015, Gillispie and Hill were inducted into the North Carolina American Legion Hall of Fame, not so much because of their role as pioneers, but because they were standouts who led their team to the Area IV championship. Gillispie, known as “Jet” in those days, ran wild on the bases and batted over .400 in a three-season career in an era when pitching was king and hitters swung wood. It is less widely known that Gillispie also was one of six black players who integrated Gaston County high school football in the fall of 1965, competing for previously all-white programs. Those six players broke the color barrier at four different schools. Gillispie, Johnny Bankhead and Cecil Clemmer played on the Dallas High team. Stanley, Mount Holly and Gastonia Ashley had one black player each that season. African-American students first integrated Gaston County schools in the 1963-64 school year. The 1965-66 school year was designated as a transition year, with full integration set to take place in 1966-67. Students such as Gillispie, who had played for all-black Highland High as a sophomore and junior had a choice of schools for the first time. Gillispie lived close enough to walk to Dallas, while Highland was an eight-mile bus ride. That’s why he made the choice he did. Still, he cried when he left Highland. Highland had been good to him. Gillispie was the leading rusher and scorer in his season at Dallas. He remembers that football season preceding relatively peacefully, especially when compared to the turmoil of that first Legion summer, in which he’d been the target of verbal insults and experienced physical danger on the road. His head football coach at Dallas, Don Saine, had been an assistant coach on the 1964 Post 23 Legion team. That helped ease his transition to Dallas. Gillispie’s first love always has been baseball, but he’s still a huge football fan. Now he has a grandson who has become a football standout in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That grandson, Moe Neal, finished his career at Gastonia’s Forestview High in 2015, 50 years after Gillispie’s glory days. Neal graduated as Gaston County’s all-time leading scorer and fifth-leading rusher. “The first time I saw Moe play football was in Pop Warner, and I knew he’d be special,” Gillispie said. “It’s in the bloodline.” Neal also was a fine baseball player for the Forestview Jaguars, but he received a lot more recruiting attention in football. He wasn’t big in high school (5-11, 160), but his speed and pass-catching ability out of the backfield were special enough that he was a three-star recruit who weighed at least 15 major offers. His final five included Duke, Wake Boston College and Mississippi State. It came down to Wake Forest and Syracuse. He chose the Orange after making his official visit. Syracuse brought in former Syracuse running back and NFL Hall of Famer Floyd Little to personally recruit Neal, and it paid off. Neal enrolled at Syracuse in January, 2016. They made him a slot receiver for a while, but as a true freshman in the fall of 2016, he rushed for 357 yards. As a sophomore, he started three games and rushed for 488 yards. This season he’s enjoyed a breakout. The junior ranks 11th in the ACC with 827 rushing yards on 147 carries. He has five rushing TDs. “He reminds me of me as far as the speed,” Gillispie said. “But he’s probably more elusive than I was. I’d run over people when I had to.” Gillispie has had a chance to go see his grandson play twice in person this season. He saw him score a touchdown in a win at Wake Forest in early November. “It was amazing just to see Moe playing at that level of football,” Gillispie said. “To see him score a touchdown, that just made it more amazing. Moe has built himself up now to about 190 pounds, and that’s why he’s having so much success. He’s always had an unbelievable work ethic.” Gillispie also made the trip to Yankee Stadium in mid-November to watch Syracuse play Notre Dame. That one didn’t go well at all for Syracuse, but Neal was one of the few bright spots with 74 rushing yards on 18 carries. “That wasn’t a good day for Syracuse, but it was a good day for me as a baseball man to get to see Yankee Stadium, to see all the monuments,” Gillispie said. “I had a chance to stand next to the plaque for Jackie Robinson. I had pictures made.” Now Gillispie is planning to make the trip to Orlando on Dec. 28 for the Camping World Bowl that will pit Syracuse (9-3) against West Virginia (8-3). “I went to a couple of bowl games about 20 years ago when my nephew (Nathan Gillispie) was a lineman for Clemson,” Gillispie said. West Virginia’s star quarterback Will Grier won’t be playing in the bowl game, as he’s chosen to prepare for the NFL draft, but it’s still a marquee game. Players will rack up nice gifts in Orlando. Neal and each of his teammates will receive a $400 Best Buy gift certificate, a watch and a personalized backpack. Gillispie is thrilled for his grandson and is confident that his football future can extend into the pro ranks. “I’m just really proud of him,” Gillispie said. “He’s the nicest kid, still as humble as can be.” *Thanks to Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette for assistance on this story.