Sports obituary: McNeely starred in early days of West Rowan

Published 12:01 am Sunday, April 2, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY— Gary Norris McNeely died Tuesday, two days after reaching his 80th birthday.

In his college playing days at Belmont Abbey, quite a few of future West Rowan boys basketball coach Mike Gurley’s games were officiated by McNeely, a West Rowan graduate.

A lot of people may remember McNeely officiating their games. He had a long career with flags and whistles, working football games as well as basketball.

Before he was an official, McNeely was one of the standout multi-sport athletes who helped West Rowan get off the ground in football, baseball and basketball. West’s baseball and basketball teams were successful right out of the gate.

McNeely always will be an important part of a storied basketball program. He was a key player on the program’s first championship team in 1959-60, and late in the 1960-61 season, he became the first to reach 1,000 career points in the uniform of the Falcons.

McNeely was born in Iredell County. His high school athletic career began with the Mount Ulla Hornets.

He competed for Oscar Stradley, a legendary coach who had come from Iredell County to pilot Mount Ulla’s boys and girls basketball teams and baseball teams to a long run of championships.

As a freshman in the 1957-58 basketball season, McNeely was a reserve on a Mount Ulla team led by Larry Poteat. McNeely scored 56 points in 20 games.

McNeely’s sophomore year was the last one for Mount Ulla High. McNeely moved into the starting lineup, averaged 10.5 points, scored 272 points, and teamed with his brother, Hal McNeely, Gary Howell, Jackie Meadows and John Beaver on a 20-6 championship team. That team put together a 13-game winning streak and went 10-0 in the Rowan County League, taking the regular-season title and the conference tournament.

McNeely had a 23-point game as a sophomore against Celeste Henkel, an Iredell school.

The 1959-60 school year brought the consolidation of Mount Ulla, Cleveland and Woodleaf into a brand new school — West Rowan.

The first West Rowan boys basketball team was coached by Paul Maultsby and was led by four Mount Ulla boys — the McNeelys, Meadows and Beaver. They were joined in the starting lineup by Loy Sigmon.

That was an outstanding team — 19-2 and North Piedmont Conference champs with a 15-1 record. West opened that season by beating Boyden and North Rowan. The Falcons won their first 13 a before losing the rematch with North Rowan. West scored an unheard of 86 points in a trouncing of Mooresville.

The second loss ended West’s season. That was a 68-63 setback to Concord in the WNCHSAA’s Piedmont championship game. McNeely scored 28 in that loss to the Spiders. He had a 30-point game a few days earlier against East Rowan. McNeely averaged 14.5 points as a junior, scoring 304 points in 21 games. That boosted his career points total of 632.

Playing for a new coach, Bob Flynn, as a senior in the 1960-61 season, McNeely was the leading scorer for the Falcons with 426 points. He averaged 18.5 points per game for another winning team (13-10 and 10-6 in the NPC). McNeely scored a career-high 31 points in wins against Landis and Winecoff.

He reached 1,000 career points in a 66-51 victory against Winecoff in the opening round of the NPC Tournament. McNeely led West to a thrilling win against Troutman in the semifinals, but West’s season and McNeely’s basketball career ended with a 45-43 loss to North Rowan in the tournament championship game.

He finished with 1,058 career points.

In 1963, McNeely joined Southern Bell’s installation and repair department, working out of Statesville. He worked for Southern Bell for 20 years, retired, and then went to work for Ansco/FirstSouth before retiring for a second time in 2018.

McNeely got involved in officiating around 1967 and was chosen to officiate big games during his career. He was the back judge for the North-South Senior All-Star Football Game played in Raleigh in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, Dianne, and a large family.

Services were held for McNeely on Friday at Back Creek Presbyterian Church.