Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame: Ten will be inducted in August

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 18, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Twenty-one years had passed since Howard Barnhardt had traveled to Hickory for his induction into the Lenoir-Rhyne Hall of Fame, so any hopes he had of being recognized and inducted by his home county had disappeared long ago.

So the 82-year-old Barnhardt, who now lives in Babson Park, Fla., was genuinely shocked when he got a call with the unexpected news that he had not been forgotten in Rowan County. The Landis High legend is one of 10 in the Class of 2023 who will be inducted into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame on August 12.

“I’m 600 miles away and I can’t sit in a car for that kind of drive, so I don’t know that I can get up there,” Barnhardt said. “But what a wonderful honor.”

Barnhardt had been nominated years ago and had stayed on the local ballot for more than a decade without being elected, but times change, the electorate has changed, and some voting rules have changed.

There’s been considerable turnover on the Hall of Fame committee roster since COVID. There have been deaths and retirements.

New voting rules now guarantee the election of two men or women whose high school careers ended 50 or more years ago. That tweak in the voting format was instrumental in the breakthrough for Barnhardt, who still has fond memories of the Landis Yellow Jackets battling to scoreless ties on the gridiron with rivals A.L. Brown and China Grove in the 1950s.

At Lenoir-Rhyne, Barnhardt was the center for teams that competed for football national championships at the NAIA level. He was All-Carolinas Conference multiple times and was a team captain for the Bears and a second-team All-America in 1963.

The Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame committee is still electing college All-Americas, even though this will be the 21st class of inductees.

The hall was founded in 2001 by great men such as Ed Dupree and Horace Billings, but no classes were elected in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The hall made a comeback in 2022 with an extra-large class.

Allen Simmons is the other athlete to be elected from that “50 years ago” ballot. He was the youngster on that ballot. A member of West Rowan’s Class of 1973, he starred in football and basketball for the Falcons. He made his mark in college football for the Catawba Indians with 3,890 all-purpose yards. He was one of the top kickoff and punt returners in program history and is in the Catawba Sports Hall of Fame.

Chris Smith, who died in April at 31, will be inducted posthumously. A member of the Class of 2010 at West, Smith was a three-sport athlete who is remembered mostly for his football exploits.

Smith was one of the key performers during West Rowan’s 46-game winning streak and was Defensive MVP of the 2009 Shrine Bowl. He stood out collegiately at Arkansas and was second-team All-Southeastern Conference as a senior. He played in 72 NFL games and gave back to his home county at every opportunity.

Barnhardt, Simmons and Smith raise the number of Hall of Fame inductees elected mostly for what they did as football players to 34. Football leads by a wide margin as the primary sport for Salisbury-Rowan inductees.

Second on that list is men’s basketball. Seventeen men have been elected to the local hall for their deeds as basketball players. The 17th is newly elected Fred Campbell, a member of Salisbury’s Class of 1988.

Campbell played for coach Sam Gealy in a stellar era for the Hornets, as they went 30-2 in back-to-back seasons. Campbell was MVP of the 1987 2A state championship game and was the 2A Player of the Year for North Carolina in 1988.

A prolific scorer at Salisbury and in junior college ball in Texas, Campbell became a defensive stopper as a forward for Providence College. Competing in many nationally televised games in the Big East, his defensive effort frustrated some of the nation’s best players.

Mark Sturgis Jr. who graduated from North Rowan in 2004, was a fine football back, but he will enter the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame mostly for his accomplishments in the world of track and field. He is the sixth male track and field performer to be elected by the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame committee.

Sturgis soared to impressive marks as a triple jumper. He won two state titles in high school and won three Southern Conference championships at Appalachian State. He received a huge accolade in 2021 when he was named to the 100th anniversary team for Southern Conference track and field.

Eric Saunders (Salisbury, Class of 1993) will enter the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame as a groundbreaker. He is the first male to be elected for tennis. Two women’s tennis players, including Eric’s sister Susan, have previously been inducted.

Saunders’ high school record for the Hornets of 115-3 and his three individual state championships speak for themselves. He also played at a high level in college at N.C. State and UNC.

Janetta Heggins Andrews (South Rowan, Class of 1999) and Maggie Rich Hatch (East Rowan, Class of 2004) are members of the Hall of Fame Class of 2023. Both were exceptional multi-sport athletes in high school — Heggins in track and volleyball and Rich in volleyball, but both were elected primarily for their skills on basketball courts.

Rich, the Rowan County Female Athlete of the Year for the 2003-04 school year, scored 1,917 points for the Mustangs and is the school record-holder. Heggins scored 1,701 points.

Both played Division I college basketball. Andrews played for Western Carolina, while Hatch played for Campbell.

Their election raises the number of ladies elected to the Hall of Fame as athletes to 15. Ten of those 15 were elected mostly for basketball, with two from track and field, two from tennis and one from softball.

Twenty-four Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famers have been elected as “contributors” to Rowan sports. They have been honored with the Horace Billings Lifetime Achivement Award or the Fred M. Evans Community Service Award.

The Billings Award winner for this year is sportswriter Ronnie Gallagher, who died in 2013. The induction of Gallagher — his widow, Joan, and sons, Jack and Mackie, will be on hand to accept the award — will come nearly 10 years after his unexpected death shook the Rowan sports community. A 1974 North Davidson graduate who had been working in Davie County, Gallagher began his career at the Salisbury Post in 1996 and served as sports editor from May 31, 1997, until his death.

The Evans Award winner is Wilson Cherry, a familiar name and voice for Rowan sports fans. A Livingstone Hall of Famer for his years of meritorious service to that college, Cherry has served as director of public relations and sports information and as public address announcer for Livingstone football. He was the partner for the late Howard Platt for many years on popular football radio broadcasts and he always has been one of the most knowledgeable members of the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame committee.

The 10 newcomers will raise the total membership of the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame to 148.

There have been 31 coaches elected over the years, but no one from the coaching world was elected this year from any sport. There also were no baseball electees, so the number of athletes inducted for their accomplishments on the diamond, remains at 15.