Sports obituary: A.L. Brown’s Sherrill could shoot with the best

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 26, 2021

By Mike London

KANNAPOLIS — Earl Lentz, a Catawba College Hall of Famer who passed away in 2015, was in his first season as A.L. Brown’s head basketball coach in 1964-65.

Lentz coached a senior guard that year, Ronnie Lee Sherrill, that he often said was the best shooter he ever had. That takes in quite a few athletes, as Lentz was at the helm of the Wonders for more than a decade.

In 1966-67 and 1967-68, Lentz coached powerful championship teams that included legends and Cabarrus County Hall of Famers Dan Dayvault and Vernon Long, but when it came to pure shooting, Sherrill always stayed at the top of the coach’s list.

Sherrill died on Dec. 17 at 74. He was retired from Dan River Mills, a massive textiles giant at one time, where he had been a plant manager.

In retirement, Sherrill played golf and spent time with his family. He was unassuming, friendly, modest, and as the years passed, fewer people recalled the glory days, and it’s not like he was going to boast about it. Many who knew him were unaware of his feats for the green and white.

In his high school days, Sherrill was a class officer, a stellar student and a terrific baseball player. Lentz had a chance to coach Sherrill some on baseball fields, as well, but it was as a basketball playmaker and scorer that he made his mark.

As a sophomore in the 1962-63 basketball season, Sherrill was All-South Piedmont Conference, which was a highly unusual feat for a sophomore. As a junior, he repeated his all-conference honors. As a senior in the 1964-65 season, he lit up gyms with a combination of driving layups and jump shots.

Seasons were shorter then, so there are Wonders who no have no doubt scored more points than Sherrill over the course of a season, but it’s possible Sherrill set a school record for points per game in the 22-game season of 1965, a generation before the 3-point shot.

With the 3-pointer, Sherrill’s 25-point games would have mushroomed into 30s. His greatest games would have become 40s.

The 1964-65 season came right before the first trickle of integration at A.L. Brown. The Wonders had athletes such as Broadus Hamilton, Lynn Dayvault, Mokey Correll and Marty Payne. The Wonders won some of their early non-conference games against small schools such as Odell by 50 points. The Wonders broke the 80-point barrier more than once.

The Wonders were 9-0 in non-conference action, but things would get much tougher when play started in the SPC, a seven-team aggregation competing as part of the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association. Boyden and Lexington were still part of the NCHSAA in 1965, so the SPC membership was seven schools — A.L. Brown, South Rowan, Concord, Statesville, Asheboro, Albemarle and Thomasville.

Statesville and Albemarle, WNCHSAA runner-up in 1964 and led by 6-foot-4 future MLB outfielder Tommy Smith, had exceptional teams. Only the top four would make the postseason.

The SPC opener for the Wonders didn’t roll around until mid-January. Sherrill scored 27 in that one as the Wonders moved to 10-0 by whipping rival Concord.

The Wonders got past Asheboro for an 11-0 start, but they lost a thriller to Albemarle, 57-56, despite 28 points by Sherrill.

On the night of Jan. 25, the Wonders looked beaten at Thomasville, but then Sherrill got hot. He poured in 35 and led a 70-64 comeback victory. That was a career high for him, although he would soon top it.

A 57-51 upset loss to South Rowan — South held Sherrill to 20 — hurt the Wonders.

Sherrill bounced back from that disappointment the next week with his career best, a 37-point effort that carried the Wonders to  a 66-58 victory against the Blue Comets of Asheboro.

Losses to Albemarle and Statesville — the Greyhounds limited Sherrill to 14 and the Wonders to 37 — knocked A.L. Brown down to 5-6 in the SPC, and the Wonders had to win their rematch with South Rowan just to make the postseason. South bottled up Sherrill in the first half, but he scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half for the 68-56 win that pushed the Wonders into fourth place and earned them a berth in the Piedmont Tournament held in Statesville.

That’s where Sherrill played his final game for the Wonders. He scored 23 in an 80-71 loss to Monroe. The Wonders finished 15-7.

The world was changing fast. Some of Sherrill’s teammates were headed to military service and Vietnam.

He got to keep playing basketball for a while. He headed to Brevard College, a junior college in those days, and he made a lot more buckets for the Tornadoes.

A co-captain and sparkplug in the 1966-67 season, Sherrill was Brevard’s leading scorer and a unanimous pick for the Western Carolinas Junior College all-conference team.

In the conference tournament held in Forest City, Sherrill sparked Brevard to a third-place finish and was honored with the sportsmanship trophy.

Sherrill finished his education at Catawba College.

In the 1970s, suiting up for North Kannapolis Baptist, he was a legend in the local church leagues.

Sherrill’s survivors include his brother, Eddie, son Jon, and daughter Leigh Ann.

Sherrill’s nephew, Garrett Sherrill, was one of A.L. Brown’s top multi-sport athletes in this century. Garrett was a baseball star at Appalachian State and a draft pick by the Milwaukee Brewers.