‘I was a terrible baseball player’: Rowan native Phil Kirk inducted into hall of fame in Goldsboro

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2019

Editor’s note: Rowan County native Phil Kirk, a former state senator, chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education, and former chief of staff for Govs. Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin and U.S. Sen. Jim Broyhill, wrote this article related to his Jan. 11 induction into the George Whitfield Baseball Clinic Hall of Fame in Goldsboro.

By Phillip J. Kirk

For the Salisbury Post

While I have been blessed with many tremendous honors over the past half-century, none has come as a bigger surprise than a call from George Whitfield in Goldsboro to ask if I would accept induction into the George Whitfield Baseball Clinic Hall of Fame.

I chuckled and told him that I was a terrible baseball player as well as in other sports. He responded that he sometimes inducted persons for public service accomplishments among the 20 or so who have been honored each year. There are nearly 500 men and women who are members of the Hall of Fame.

I have also enjoyed an annual major league baseball spring training trip with friends Don Brady, Porter Thompson and Ed Bodoh, all of the Triad, to the Tampa area for the past nine years. I enjoy, too, 10 to 12 Durham Bulls baseball games and N.C. State University baseball games each year.

After I recovered from shock, I did recall several aspects of my career that involved sports in a small way — even in baseball. Ron, my younger and only brother, and I tried out for the Salisbury Optimist Little League baseball team around 1956. He made the team; I didn’t.

However, I was chosen as the bat boy for the team.

I was concerned about how my father, P.J. “Jeter” Kirk, might feel about my not making the team, since he had played professional baseball in the minor leagues. He thought he was about to be called up to the majors but was drafted to serve in World War II, where he injured his knee and his career as a left-handed first baseman ended.

I also told George that I had worked as a sports reporter for the Salisbury Post while attending Catawba College and then while teaching journalism in the Salisbury City Schools and serving in the N.C. State Senate.

In addition, I did sports writing in high school and did public address announcing for basketball games at East Rowan High.

Upon some additional thinking, I remembered that as the publisher of the North Carolina magazine for 16 years, I participated in the formation of the North Carolina Golf Panel, which annually selects the Top 100 Golf Courses in our state. I remain a member of the panel.

The ceremony was held last Friday night at Wayne Community College in Goldsboro with more than 400 (the largest attendance in history). I can’t claim that my surprise induction accounted for the crowd since the inductees are not announced until that night.

I was honored to have my friend Martin Lancaster come from Falls Church, Virginia, as my guest. He is former congressman from eastern North Carolina, former president of the N.C. Community College System, former N.C. House member and a Democrat!

Also I was pleased that Bob Southerland, a friend from Kiwanis, was present, in addition to others I had met over the years.

It was a fun evening, and despite the large number of inductees, special musical selections originated by the Platters in the ’50s and ’60s, barbecue and fried chicken from Wilbur’s, recitation of the “Casey at the Bat” poem and prayer using baseball as the theme, and recognition of three state high school championship teams, the program was completed at 9:15 p.m.

I would add the inductees were allowed to speak briefly until one talked for 45 minutes several years ago, resulting in no comments from the inductees. Thank goodness!

While in line for the good food, I was approached by a man who asked if I happened to be Phil Kirk, and I responded that it depended on why he wanted to know. He said that he heard me speak in 1970 at Boys State held on the campus of Wake Forest University.

I didn’t ask him what he remembered about the speech since I didn’t remember what I talked about, but I did remember I delivered the speech from the pulpit in Wait Chapel. He also recalled that Jim Holshouser and Jim Hunt, who were preparing to run for governor and lieutenant governor, also spoke.

This year’s inductees included a four-star general; successful coaches at the high school, collegiate and professional levels; the CEO of Mt. Olive Pickles, Bill Bryan; and WRAL sports announcer Jeff Gravley. The only three I knew were Bryan, Jeff and Dr. Don Andrews, former school superintendent and coach.

Those inducted previously are invited back each year, and Wolfpack Club Executive Director Bobby Purcell was there. I reported on other well-known inductees in past newsletters so won’t repeat them, except to say that the late Vern Benson, a family friend from Granite Quarry, and Jim Gantt, current baseball coach at Catawba College and Rowan American Legion coach, are in the Hall of Fame.

On the next day, a couple of hundred boys attended baseball clinics to learn the fundamentals of baseball. Many college coaches and representatives of major league baseball teams conducted the clinics.

I was not asked to teach any fundamentals or skills.

One other point is I owe a debt of gratitude to Herman Porter for inviting me to give a speech on “The Nine Governors I Have Known” and then the revised “Ten Governors I Have Known” to the Goldsboro Golden K (Kiwanis) Club.

That is where I learned to know George Whitfield. What an outstanding person who believes in the positive impact sports — especially baseball — can have on high school youth.

He said his daughter told him it was time for him to stop having these annual events, and he told her he would when she stopped smoking. He implied this would not happen.

While I wish she would quit smoking, I would hate to miss going to future Baseball Clinic Hall of Fame events.



Hall of Famer
Here are the words inscribed on Phil Kirk’s recent baseball hall of fame plaque in Goldsboro. The bullet points were added to assist in the reading:
George Whitfield’s Baseball Clinic proudly salutes Phillip J. Kirk
• Serves as chairman emeritus of State Board of Education
• Former chief of staff for Govs. Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin and U.S. Sen. Jim Broyhill
• Former secretary of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services
• CEO/president emeritus of North Carolina Chamber
• Publisher of North Carolina magazine and originator of the N.C. Golf Panel
• Former vice chairman of the State Board of Community Colleges
 • Other previous jobs include Salisbury Post sportswriter, journalism teacher, radio announcer, public address announcer for numerous sports, vice president of Catawba College, nursing home executive, energy sales, consultant and professional speaker.
• Clients include North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities,  National Search and Education Consulting, and North Carolina Community College Trustees Association.
• Elected to N.C. Senate at age 25, the youngest in history at the time
• Current civic and religious activities include president-elect of Kiwanis Club of  Raleigh, trustee at Meredith College, panelist on “NC Spin,” N.C. State Wolfpack Club, and moderator, deacon, Sunday school teacher and class president at Ridge Road Baptist Church
• Served on more than 150 boards and commissions and as the leader of many of them. Chaired the working committees for the two largest bond issues in N.C. history ($6 billion) for public schools, UNC system, community colleges and highways
• Has won many honors including the North Carolina Award for Public Service and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from three governors
• A graduate and trustee of Catawba College, he was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree and was inducted into the Catawba College Business Hall of Fame.
• He has won numerous statewide awards for his work in education, public service, tourism and politics.