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Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame: Twenty years of playing catch-up

SALISBURY — There have been 125 inductees into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame.

Inductions started in 2001 and continued through 2019, with as few as three inductions in 2007 and 2009 and as many as the record 12 who gained entry in 2014.

The average has been 6.5 inductions per year.

There have been important voting tweaks in recent years that have made it somewhat easier to get in. Candidates are no longer required to corral an overwhelming percentage of the vote. There shouldn’t be any more three-person classes. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to agrees three is not enough.

The base for eligibility has been widened recently. For many years, active coaches, and that included assistant coaches, weren’t considered for the general election. That’s no longer the case. Hence the induction in recent years of some of the truly famous — Jim Gantt, Mike Gurley, Mitch Ellis and Carlos Dixon.

All Hall of Fame votes were once counted equally, but that’s not the case now. Now a voter awards 10 points to the candidate he or she believes to be most deserving of election, nine to the second-strongest candidate, then eight, then seven, all the way down to a single point to the 10th-most deserving. Then the points are added up. Weighted voting is a positive step. It’s unlikely any of the voters feel as strongly about their No. 10 as their No. 1.

There were, unfortunately, zero elections and inductions in 2020, as COVID-19 concerns led to the cancellation of all the scheduled spring committee meetings. Maybe there can be an expanded class in 2021. I hope that is the case, but that is something for the committee to decide.

The most obvious obstacle to overcome for the local Hall of Fame can be traced to its being founded in 2001. Eighty-plus years of Rowan athletic history already had transpired when the Hall was born.

The Hall has been climbing uphill ever since.

I can attest to that climb, as I’ve served on the committee for about 10 years. The Post sports staff always has had at least one person on the selection committee. The late Horace Billings and the late Ed Dupree, sportswriting legends, helped choose the first induction class.

The Hall of Fame committee normally consists of 15 people. The ideal committee member is a retired coach.

There’s been a lot of turnover on the committee over the years, as it’s always been an older group. Deaths, illnesses and fatigue have taken a toll, but Wilson Cherry, Scott Maddox, Howard Platt, Aaron Neely and Ralph Shatterly have served steadily and faithfully for many, many years, far longer than I have.

I am 6.7% of the committee. But the Post has the stats and the records which can help people get elected or rejected, so I understand why I get as many calls and emails as I do about the Hall. Most are not cheerful. Most are complaints. Some wonder why they’re not in the Hall. Or they wonder why one of their family members or friends or teammates is being kept out of the Hall.

There are some things I’d like to clarify about the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame.

First, it’s essential to have a nomination form on file. Those forms are available online. They’re easy to fill out, but they’re critical. Without a formal nomination, there is close to zero chance of being elected.

The reason for that is the Hall of Fame committee can’t walk into the meeting room at Hall Gym and start chatting about hundreds of candidates. Time-wise, that’s not feasible. It’s not realistic.

What the committee does is consider the folks who have officially been nominated. That’s usually 75 or 80 people, and that’s a manageable total. That roster, after some discussion, will get trimmed to about 40. That list, in turn, after more discussion, will be sliced to about 20 candidates to be considered for the final vote.

The Hall of Fame criteria: “The Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame was created in 2001 to honor individuals, living or deceased, who are native to, or have worked or performed in Rowan County. The inductees must be of good character, have made significant contributions to the dimension of sports by their participation and performance and have made a positive impact on sports locally, regionally, nationally or internationally.”

There’s nothing specific in those qualifications about age. Players who graduated from high school after 2000 have started to be considered. Four have been elected so far — two baseball draft picks and two Division I basketball players. The youngest inductee, Salisbury basketball phenom Shayla Fields, graduated from high school in 2005.

Some younger legends — K.P. Parks, Chris Smith, Javon Hargrave, Romar Morris — will no doubt have their day a few years down the road.

Quite literally, only “individuals” have been honored by the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame so far. Teams with quite a few living members might create seating-chart headaches at the induction ceremony, but I’d welcome legendary teams being saluted. That’s one of the options with many halls of fame, including Cabarrus.

Take the 1940 J.C. Price Red Devils football team, for instance. That team won a state championship and shut out every opponent it faced. The coach of that team, S.W. Lancaster, was in the first Hall of Fame class, but it’s unlikely any of those players ever will be. So maybe you honor that special team as a group. All those Red Devils are most likely gone from this world, but some would have families here.

Maybe that’s also what you do with the 1955 Salisbury American Legion baseball team. Coach Joe Ferebee is in and ace pitcher Tom Eaton is in, but inducting the team would take care of everyone, while there are still some survivors left to enjoy the recognition. That World Series train trip to Minnesota was made 65 years ago, so those players are in their 80s now. We’re running out of time to thank them.

The unbeaten 1969 East Rowan football team? Sure. Head coach W.A. Cline is in, assistant Aaron Neely is in and all-time great receiver Johnny Yarbrough is in. Some others, such as C.M. Yates and Willie Lowe may be elected as individuals, but it hasn’t happened yet. So maybe you consider the induction of that entire immortal team. Those players would be in their late 60s now.

“Worked or performed in Rowan County” has led to Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame induction for some coaching fixtures at Catawba and Livingstone, but it has not included Catawba or Livingstone athletes who came from out of the county for a four-year college stay and then moved on. Even Dwight Durante and Ben Coates are not in the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame always has taken the position that Catawba and Livingstone already have their own halls of fame.

The Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame also has never considered Kannapolis athletes, although some of them certainly would be native to Rowan County.

No Jesse Carson High athletes have been inducted yet, but the time for Cougars to be nominated will be coming in the next few years. Several Carson coaches — Chris Cauble, Brooke Stouder, Kelan Rogers — already have the numbers to be well qualified.

While 125 members of the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame makes it sound like the doors are swinging wide open for everyone, it’s a far more exclusive club than many realize.

Twenty of those 125 who have been honored fall into the general category of “contributors.” These are administrators, broadcasters, sportswriters, photographers, youth coaches, officials, etc. They have been honored either with the Horace Billings Lifetime Achievement Award or the Fred Evans Community Service Award. Some of those folks, such as Jack Taylor and Beth Miller, obviously could have been inducted for what they did on fields or courts.

Thirty of the 125 Hall members were inducted primarily, in my estimation, for their accomplishments as coaches. Some of those 30 played sports for Rowan high schools and many played quite well, but coaching is what got them into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame.

While 30 sounds like a coaching overload, it’s not.

To offer an example, the five baseball coaches who have been inducted so far include the three giants of Rowan County American Legion baseball — Ferebee, Gantt and Jim DeHart.

The other two are Bill Kesler, second on the all-time wins list for Rowan high school coaches, and Bill Wilhelm, a Rowan native who led Clemson to 1,161 wins, 17 ACC regular-season championships and six College World Series appearances.

There hasn’t been a single female coach elected to the Hall yet. Come to think of it, only two coaches elected to the Hall achieved fame through coaching girls — Jesse Watson and Bill Peeler.

There are a number of coaches who are Rowan County natives and who already have been honored by halls that deal with the entire state. That list includes Frank Barger, Homer Thompson and Harvey Brooks. Their families should make sure they’re nominated so they can be considered for election in their home county, as well.

While fans get riled at times about coaches who aren’t in, most of the debate rages over players.

I don’t think anyone has been upset about any of the 75 players who have been inducted. I’ve never gotten an email that said someone shouldn’t have made it in.

The problem is you can also make a great case for another 200 who could be in, but aren’t in yet.

Salisbury’s Lisa Staton was UNC’s first track and field All-American. Not in yet.

Salisbury’s Sappia Venn and Eric Saunders would have to be the county’s greatest soccer player and male tennis player. Not in yet.

South Rowan’s Ernest Wiggins was a record-setter at App State and world-class sprinter. Not in yet.

South Rowan’s Jeff Kerr was named to East Carolina’s all-time football team in 2013. Not in yet.

South Rowan pitcher Brian Smith made the all-decade team for UNC Wilmington baseball and reached the majors. Not in yet.

West Rowan’s Jeff Hutchinson set track and field marks 40 years ago that still stand statewide. Not in yet.

West Rowan softball’s Devon Williams was a two-time state tournament MVP. Not in yet.

East Rowan’s Maggie Rich is the school’s all-time scoring leader for basketball … girls or boys. Not in yet.

East Rowan’s Jason Foster was a baseball All-American and was elected to Wingate’s Hall of Fame. Not in yet.

East Rowan’s Spencer Steedley played pro ball for many years and was an all-conference college player at Charlotte as a pitcher …. and as a hitter. Not in yet.

North Rowan Shrine Bowler Jeff Chambers had a brilliant football and track career at Western Carolina. Not in yet.

North Rowan jumper Andre Tillman was a Gatorade athlete of the year and a three-time AAU national champion. Not in yet.

We could go on and on here. You probably can name 25 Hall-worthy players, plus five tremendous coaches, from every school that aren’t in yet.

What about Steve Yang? He’s coached world championship softball teams.

Even after two decades of inductions, you could make a list of those who are not in that’s nearly as strong as the list of those who are.

That doesn’t mean the Hall of Fame committee has fallen asleep. All it means is that with an induction rate of 6.5 per year, the Hall of Fame will never catch up no matter who’s voting and no matter how hard it tries.

I can’t speak with any certainty about what’s going on in the head or heart of any of the other committee members, but the clearest path to the Hall of Fame has come through doing outstanding things in the college or pro ranks. Those athletes consistently have been rewarded with induction over athletes who were fantastic in high school but had limited post-high school success.

An example would be Bobby Parnell, who didn’t have an amazing high school baseball career at East Rowan but was a draft pick out of college. He reached the major leagues and performed admirably once he got there. He’s in the Hall, one of the first to be elected from the decade of the 2000s. There are numerous East baseball players who had high school and Legion careers that overwhelmed Parnell’s, but they peaked before he did.

I don’t think anyone would rate Andre Godfrey among the best high school basketball players at North Rowan, but he grew physically, blossomed late and then tore it up at Catawba, where he was one of the all-time scoring leaders. Godfrey is in the Hall, while many legends of North basketball are not.

I’ll use Terry Beattie as one final example. I’ll mention him because the Hall of Fame committee’s list of nominations is in alphabetical order and Beattie is usually the first name on the list.

Beattie was about as good a high school athlete as is possible to be at Boyden High from 1969-71— Shrine Bowl star on a great football team, starter on a great basketball team, winner of numerous WNCHSAA individual track and field sprint championships. He was a key man on championship teams in all three sports. But he didn’t have great college success and has not yet been inducted.

Not saying that’s right or wrong. Just saying that’s how it always has been with the committee, no matter who’s been serving on it.

Maybe more emphasis should be placed on what athletes did while they were performing for Rowan County high schools than what they did after they moved on.

That’s something to debate, something to think about.

There’s no shortage of football players in the Hall. Twenty-eight of the 74 athletes who have been inducted were elected primarily for what they did on football fields. Some were equally gifted in basketball or baseball, but if they chose college football I counted them as a football player.

Twenty-six of those 28 Hall of Fame football players enjoyed college success. Many were stars. The other two came along at a time when there weren’t a lot of options for Black athletes other than the military or the work force.

The 15 male athletes who have been inducted primarily for hoops all played college basketball. Bobby Jackson made the NBA. Nine other inductees played Division I. The remaining five were outstanding at small colleges.

Of the 14 baseball players who have been inducted, five played in the majors and six more played pro ball in the minors. Then there’s Eaton, who still owns most of the record book for local American Legion pitchers, and there’s Frank McRae, who went 5-for-5 in a college national championship game for Wake Forest. George Knox goes back far enough that his baseball days were impacted by service in World War II.

Football, basketball and baseball account for 57 of the 64 males who have been inducted for their performance as athletes.

There are only four track and field athletes, all of whom starred in college or were national-level performers in high school.

There are just two golfers, and there’s William Brady, who was a world-class Paralympian.

Obviously, there’s some work for the committee to do here as far as servicing the sports world outside of the baseball/football/basketball mainstream.

There’s a small army of track athletes who deserve consideration for induction.

Rowan also boasts a dozen legendary golfers.

There’s also a major need for the breakthrough representatives from a number of other sports — soccer, wrestling, tennis, swimming. There are outstanding candidates who already own a place in the state record books, but some have yet to be nominated for their local Hall.

As far as women, only 12 have been inducted, so females make up just 9.6% of the Hall inductees. That’s not ideal.

One female track and field athlete has been inducted, as well as two tennis greats. The rest of the ladies are mostly famous because of basketball.

Many more women could be nominated and should be nominated. The sports of softball, volleyball, tennis, swimming, golf and soccer should be recognized in the years ahead.

While the Hall has quite a few issues and challenges to overcome, I believe it always has been color-blind.

A committee that included only three Black members in 2018, elected seven candidates, five of whom were Black.

That was encouraging.

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The Hall breakdown by sports:

Football players (28)

Ellis Alexander, Boyden (UNC)

Kendall Alley, North (Clemson)

Tommy Barnhardt, South (UNC, NFL)

Billy Ray Barnes, Landis (Wake Forest, NFL)

Jerry Barger, Boyden (Duke)

Johnny Branch, Boyden (UNC)

James Bridges, Price (Livingstone)

Fred Cooke, Boyden (Wake Forest)

David Drechsler, West (UNC, NFL)

Jim Edmiston, Boyden (Lenoir-Rhyne)

Mitch Ellis, North (Catawba)

Justus Everett, Boyden (NC State)

Oatten Fisher, Price (NC A&T, NCCU, pro)

Steve Gilmore, Price

Jimmy Heggins, North (Fla. State)

Kenny Holt, Price/Boyden (Florida A&M)

Romus Jefferies, Dunbar (Livingstone)

Eddie Kesler, Boyden (UNC)

Ernest McCray, Price

Darrell Misenheimer, East (Clemson)

Shannon Myers, North (Lenoir-Rhyne, pro)

Ken Owen, Boyden (Georgia Tech)

Greg Poole, South (UNC)

Robert Pulliam, Boyden (Tennessee)

Chris Sifford, North (Lenoir-Rhyne)

James Teal, Boyden (Purdue, NFL)

Jimmy Thompson, Price (Benedict, pro)

Johnny Yarbrough, East (Tennessee)

Baseball players (14)

Randy Benson, East (Legion, Pfeiffer, pro)

Vern Benson, Granite Quarry (Catawba, MLB)

Brian Boltz, East (Legion, Catawba, pro)

Coe Brier, Salisbury (Legion, Clemson, pro)

Tom Eaton, Boyden (Legion, Pfeiffer)

Cal Hayes Jr., East (Legion, pro)

Don Heglar, West (Legion, pro)

Jeff Holshouser, North (UNC Charlotte, pro)

Clyde Kluttz, Boyden (Catawba, MLB)

George Knox, Aggrey (NC A&T)

Frank McRae, Boyden (Wake Forest)

Barry Moore, West (MLB)

Bobby Parnell, East (Charleston Southern, MLB)

Jay Ritchie, Granite Quarry (MLB)

Men’s basketball players (15)

Woodrow Boler, Salisbury (James Madison, Catawba)

James Brown, Boyden/Price (Catawba)

Carlos Dixon, South (Virginia Tech, pro)

Joel Fleming, West (Western Carolina)

Darryl Gibson, South (App State)

Andre Godfrey, North (Catawba)

Bobby Jackson, Salisbury (Minnesota, NBA)

Donald Jenkins, Salisbury (Chattanooga, Ole Miss)

Ralph Kitley, North (Wake Forest)

Lonnie Kluttz, Dunbar  (JC Smith, NC A&T)

Charles Lynn, Price/Boyden (Catawba)

Donte Minter, West (Virginia/App. State, pro)

Bobby Phillips, Salisbury (Western Carolina, pro)

Scooter Sherrill, West (NC State, pro)

Antione Sifford, North (NC Central)

Men’s track and field athletes (4)

Emmanuel Barnes, North (NC State)

Reginald Barnes, North (NC State)

Brian Ellis, North (Arizona State)

Andre Steele, Salisbury

Golfers (2)

Dean Sheetz

Harry Welch

Paralympians (1)

William Brady, East

Women’s basketball players (8)

Carol Almond, Salisbury (Appalachian State)

Tracy Connor-Riddick, South (Wake Forest)

Stephanie Cross, North (Maryland)

Shayla Fields, Salisbury (NC State, pro)

Wendy Hampton Wilson, West (Florida State)

Sadie Hawkins Rice, Price

Lola Jones, North (Bluefield State)

Cristy Earnhardt McKinney, East (NC State)

Women’s track and field athletes (1)

Latasha Pharr, North (Alabama)

Women’s tennis players (2)

Susan Saunders Langford, Salisbury (N.C. State)

Julianne Treme, Salisbury (Elon)

Athletes, by era

Pre-1965  — Barnes, Barger, V. Benson, Branch, Bridges, Cooke, Eaton, Edmiston, Fisher, Gilmore, Hawkins, Heglar, Jefferies, Kesler, C. Kluttz, L. Kluttz, Knox, McCray, McRae, Moore, Owen, Ritchie, Sheetz, Thompson, Welch (25)

Late 1960s — Alexander, R. Benson, Brown, Everett, Gibson, Holt, Lynn, Pulliam, Teal, Yarbrough (10)

1970s — Alley, Almond, Boler, Brier, Drechsler, Earnhardt, Heggins, Misenheimer, Poole (9)

1980s —  E. Barnes, R. Barnes, Barnhardt, Boltz, Brady, Godfrey, Holshouser, Jenkins, Jones, Kitley, Saunders, A. Sifford, C. Sifford (13)

1990s — Connor, Cross, Dixon, B. Ellis, M. Ellis, Fleming, Hampton, Jackson, Myers, Pharr, Phillips, Sherrill, A. Steele, Treme (14)

2000s — Fields, Hayes, Minter, Parnell (4)

Coaches (30)

Walt Baker, basketball (North)

Reid Bradshaw, football (South)

WA Cline, football (East)

Jim DeHart, baseball (Catawba, Legion)

Joe Ferebee, baseball (Boyden, Legion, Pfeiffer)

Jim Gantt, baseball (Catawba. Legion)

Sam Gealy, basketball (North, Salisbury)

Mike Gurley, basketball (West)

Charles Hellard, basketball (Salisbury, West)

Bob Hundley, basketball (North)

Fletcher Jones, football (Livingstone)

Bill Kesler, baseball (North)

Gordon Kirkland, football (Boyden, Catawba)

SW Lancaster, football (Price)

Buddy Lowery, wrestling (Davie)

Bill Ludwig, football (Boyden)

Sam Moir, basketball (Catawba)

Dutch Meyer, wrestling (Catawba)

Aaron Neely, track and field (Salisbury)

Bill Peeler, girls basketball (Davie)

James Pemberton, basketball (Dunbar)

Bob Pharr, basketball (Boyden/Salisbury, Catawba)

Ralph Shatterly, wrestling (North/West)

Robert Steele, track and field (North)

Pete Stout, football (Boyden/Salisbury)

Larry Thomason, football (North)

Jack Turney, wrestling (Boyden)

Jesse Watson, girls basketball (East)

Bill Wilhelm, baseball (Clemson)

Scott Young, football (West)

Contributors (20)

James Barringer, photographer

Horace Billings, sportswriter

Jesse Corry, official

Ed Dupree, sportswriter, youth coach

Ralph Ellis, long-time coach

David Freeze, runner/writer

Jimmy Hurley, philanthropist

Floyd Kerr, youth director

Lope Linder, long-time coach

Mike London, sportswriter

Scott Maddox, long-time coach

Beth Miller, administrator

Bob Miller, official

Ted Oglesby, Special Olympics

Howard Platt, broadcaster

Fred Ponder, long-time coach

Bob Rathbun, broadcaster

Doug Rice, broadcaster

Kenno Shoaf, youth director

Jack Taylor, youth coach

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