Hall of Fame: Ten inducted into Salisbury-Rowan Sports HOF

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 15, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — The Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame grew a bit larger and more distinguished on Saturday with the addition of 10 new members.

Inducted were Ronnie Gallagher, Wilson Cherry, Fred Campbell, Eric Saunders, Mark Sturgis Jr., Chris Smith, Allen Simmons, Howard Barnhardt, Maggie Rich Hatch and Janetta Heggins-Andrews.

Ceremonies were conducted at the Salisbury Civic Center.
Memories were shared with the audience, everything from Rich’s late father, Curtis, tutoring her in driveway basketball, to Cherry’s mother dishing out scriptures and fried chicken and occasionally wielding a shotgun as long as she was.

Besides speeches which brought just the right mixture of laughter and applause, there was food and fellowship.
This was the second-largest class to be inducted, as the Hall of Fame committee, which began its task in 2001, continues to chip away at the long list of deserving nominees. Two years — 2020 and 2021 — were lost to the pandemic.

Several of Saturday’s inductees could have been welcomed into the Hall of Fame decades ago, but all agreed, better late than never.

Dale Snyder served as master of ceremonies and immediately became the tallest host ever. Steve Clark and Jason Parks of Salisbury Parks and Recreation organized the event. Hall of Fame committee co-chairman Dennis Davidson provided the welcome.

It’s clear that Rowan County will never run out of athletes and coaches worthy of induction. While this is the 21st class, the local Hall of Fame is still inducting college All-Americas, professional athletes and record-breakers.

The 10 newcomers raise the total membership of the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame to 148, but it’s still an exclusive club.

Twenty-four of those 148 were elected as contributors to Rowan County athletics in ways other than scoring touchdowns, throwing down dunks or hitting home runs. That group includes administrators, Special Olympics coaches, Little League coaches, broadcasters, writers, photographers, officials and a philanthropist. Those men and women have been honored with either the Fred M. Evans Community Service Award or the Horace Billings Lifetime Achievement Award.

Thirty-one more have been elected to the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame primarily for the guidance they provided as college or high school coaches.

Subtracting 24 and 31 from 148, that leaves 93 men and women who have been elected for what they accomplished as athletes. When you’re talking about the history of Rowan County sports, 93 is not a huge number.

Thirty-four of those 93 have been elected mostly for what they did on football fields. Of those 34, 32 experienced success at the college level. Many played professionally. The two exceptions among those 34 were J.C. Price Red Devils who dominated high school games during segregation. Their playing days came in the 1940s or early 1950s when college opportunities were scarce for Black athletes, so they joined the work force and started families.

Football leads by a wide margin as the primary sport for Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame inductees. Three of Saturday’s inductees entered because of their gridiron exploits.

A posthumous inductee, Chris Smith, who passed away at 31 last April, was represented at the podium by his mother, Sherry Smith.

Chris Smith needs little introduction. He is famous. He becomes the seventh NFL player in the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame.

While he had his moments in basketball and track and field at West Rowan, Smith always will be one of the first to come to mind whenever the West football dynasty that racked up 46 consecutive victories, the nation’s longest streak at the time, is discussed.

Coach Scott Young’s Falcons were undefeated in Smith’s junior and senior seasons and won the first two of their three straight 3A state championships.

An All-State defensive end and the Shrine Bowl defensive MVP, Smith chose Arkansas for college football. He was a contributor for two seasons and a standout for the Razorbacks his last two seasons. He was second team All-Southeastern Conference as a senior. He was a draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014 and played in 72 NFL games.

“Everyone knows what NFL stands for — Not For Long,” Smith’s mother said. “But Chris had an eight-year NFL career because a lot of family, friends, teachers and coaches walked that journey with him.”

Simmons, a 1973 West graduate, also was a key component of a memorable winning streak by the Falcons, but his streak came with the Falcons’ basketball program. West won 24 straight games in 1972-73, Simmons’ senior season. The Falcons were perfect between an opening-night loss to A.L. Brown and a setback against Shelby in the WNCHSAA playoffs. At the time, 24 in a row was the school record.

“That was a championship team because we had balanced scoring and because we were a great defensive team,” Simmons said.

While Simmons was an explosive high school basketball player, a one-step dunker, he excelled even more in football.

He was a receiver and a record-setting kick returner for Catawba College. He ranks third in program history with 3,890 all-purpose yards. He set a school record with 27 yards per reception in 1976 and is a member of the Catawba Sports Hall of Fame.

Simmons answered a call to the ministry in 1984. Football warriors often pay a heavy toll physically. His knees have been replaced and he has screws in his back, but he continues to serve his congregation in Statesville.

Barnhardt, a 1959 graduate of Landis High went on to a terrific football career at Lenoir-Rhyne in the early 1960s when the Bears were a power in NAIA. L-R was 23-8-1 during Barnhardt’s college career. He made two all-conference teams as the Bears’ center and was team captain and a second team NAIA All-America as a senior.

Barnhardt, 82, was grateful for the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame recognition that came 21 years after his entry into the Lenoir-Rhyne Sports Hall of Fame, but health concerns prevented him from making the trip from Florida.

The 6-foot-8 Campbell is the 17th male to be inducted into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall for his deeds as a basketball player.

Campbell starred during glory days for Salisbury High, as Coach Sam Gealy’s Hornets put together back-to-back 30-2 seasons in 1986-87 and 1987-88.

Campbell was MVP of the 1987 2A state championship game. He was Rowan County Player of the Year and 2A Player of the Year for North Carolina in 1988 and was chosen for the East-West All-Star Game.

A prolific scorer at Salisbury (1,150 points) and in the junior college ranks in Midland, Texas, Campbell became a defensive stopper as a forward for coach Rick Barnes at Providence College. Barnes convinced Campbell that what the Friars needed most was a rebounder/defender, and Campbell embraced a new role. Competing in many nationally televised games in the Big East, Campbell’s defense frustrated some of the nation’s best forwards.

There were lot of three-hour study halls with the priests and nuns at Providence, so Campbell’s degree in education was well-earned. He coached basketball briefly at A.L. Brown under Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Famer Ricky Holt, but he has spent most of his working years in the corporate world — with Duke Power, Phillip Morris and R.J.Reynolds.

The son of a great North Rowan running back, Mark Sturgis Jr. scored five touchdowns in a single game for the Cavaliers against South Iredell in 2003, but he enters the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame mostly for his achievements as a jumper in the world of track and field. He is the sixth male track and field athlete to be inducted.

Competing at West Rowan and North Rowan, Sturgis was a two-time triple jump state champion in high school and a four-time high school All-American. He placed third in the Adidas Outdoor Nationals in 2003.

At Appalachian State, there were more records and more championships as well as Scholar-Athlete recognition. Competing for the Mountaineers, Sturgis won six Southern Conference championships in the jumps.

In 2006, he was App State’s track and field MVP, set a Holmes Convention Center record with an effort of 50 feet, 3 inches and was named Most Oustanding Performer at the Southern Conference Indoor Meet.

His impact was great enough during his college career that he was named to the Southern Conference 100-year Anniversary team for track and field.

Saunders became a groundbreaker on Saturday as the first male tennis player to be inducted into the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame.
He is only the third to be inducted for tennis. The other two were female perennial state champs — Julianne Treme and Susan Saunders Langford, who is Eric’s sister.

Saunders would get votes as the county’s best at his sport. He was 115-3 for Salisbury High in the early 1990s, won three individual state titles and led the Hornets to team championships. He played at a high level in college at N.C. State and UNC and was a nationally ranked collegian.

“People think of tennis as people taking leisurely swings, but it’s a hard, draining, challenging sport when it’s played at a high level,” Saunders said. “It takes countless hours of practice to play at a high level. It is not as easy sport to play.”

Heggins-Andrews brought along two celebrities, her husband Shawn Andrews, who started 57 NFL games on the offensive line for the Philadelphia Eagles, and their son, JaShawn “JJ” Andrews, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who is ranked as a top 10 basketball player nationally in the Class of 2026.

Heggins-Andrews, the Rowan County Female Athlete of the Year for the 1997-98 school year, was an exceptional high school athlete in three sports, shining as a track hurdler and volleyball hitter, but it was scoring 1,700 points for North Rowan and South Rowan basketball teams that lifted her into the Hall of Fame. She played in the East-West All-Star Game and had a solid Division I playing career at Western Carolina.

In her speech, Heggins-Andrews set a record for most “thank yous,” but there was a good reason. A lot of family members, teachers and coaches helped her reach a high level.

Heggins-Andrews and Hatch raise the number of females elected to the Salisbury-Rowan Hall of Fame to 15, with 10 of those 15 elected primarily for basketball.
Hatch also was an exceptional volleyball player and was the Rowan County Female Athlete of the Year for the 2002-03 school year. She was North Piedmont Conference Basketball Player of the Year in 2004. She was the first East Rowan girl to score 40 points in a game and set school records for points in a season (607) and a career (1,917) that still stand. She played in the North Carolina-South Carolina and East-West All-Star games.

Now a teacher in Johnston County, Hatch played Division I basketball at Campbell, made all-academic teams and won the 2008 Easley Award at Campbell the student-athlete with the highest grade point average.
She is so highly thought of at Campbell that her college coach, Wanda Watkins, made the trip to Salisbury to see her inducted.

Cherry is the Fred M. Evans Community Service Award honoree. The award is given in memory of Evans, an educator, coach and mentor who passed away in 2015.
A graduate of Salisbury High and Catawba, Cherry was given opportunities by men such as Tom Harrell, Sam Moir and Jimmy Hurley and has been an integral part of the Rowan community for decades.
His sports contributions include 30 years as the public address announcer for Livingstone College basketball and football. He has served as a sports reporter and as Livingstone’s sports information director and he was a familiar voice alongside his late friend Howard Platt on high school football broadcasts for many years.
Cherry is a Livingstone Hall of Famer and is the longest tenured member of the Salisbury-Rowan Sports Hall of Fame committee.

Gallagher, a North Davidson High graduate (Class of 1974) who died in 2013, received the Horace Billings Lifetime Achivement Award. Billings was the sports editor of the Salisbury Post for 50 years.
Gallagher was represented by his widow, Joan, and sons Jack and Mackie.
Mackie, who now supplies the public address voice for the Charlotte Knights and 49ers, took the podium for an emotional speech about his father, who died when he was 15.

Gallager grew up in the 1980s with a love for sports and the dream of being a sportswriter. He fulfilled it — and then some. He worked for newspapers in Lexington and Davie County before being hired by the Salisbury Post in 1996.
He had a flair for writing and the bigger-than-life personality to go with it. Post sports headlines went from conversative sizes to “WORLD WAR ENDS!” sizes under his watch.

Gallager was a 7-footer when it came to personality. He was named as the Post’s sports editor on May 31, 1997, and the rest is history. He led the Post’s sports department until his death on a Football Friday in August 2013.

He was distressed about his hair loss for a while and would suddenly dart out of an arena when it was time for the national anthem and men were removing their caps.
But, in time, he embraced baldness, completing shaving his head, darkening his reddish mustache and taking on the persona of “The Ronz.”

“Sort of like the Fonz, from ‘Happy Days'” Mackie explained.

Mackie told tales that had people in stitches, including Gallagher finding his old Superman Halloween costume in a closet and lending it to West Rowan running back K.P. Parks for a memorable football edition cover.

“K.P.’s muscles filled out the costume a little better than my dad did,” Mackie admitted.

Mackie’s father could be eccentric. There was the giant mural he commissioned an artist draw on the walls of his man-cave basement, featuring greats of the ACC such as Christian Laettner. Scooter Sherrill, Gallagher’s favorite ACC player, personally signed his likeness on the Gallagher wall.

Gallagher filled his vehicle with quarters, destined for newspaper racks all over the Piedmont.

“It took forever for us to drive anywhere because we had to stop at every gas station on the way,” Mackie said. “He had to buy every paper — Lexington, Greensboro, High Point, Burlington — to check out what the competition was doing.”

Gallagher would extract the sports section from each purchase and would carefully place the rest of the pages on top of the rack for the next person. He didn’t have much use for the news of the day. He was sports 24/7.

“I remember when we were on vaction and a complete stranger walked up and asked him if he was Ronnie Gallagher from the Salisbury Post,” Mackie said. “That thrilled him. He loved that everyone knew the Ronz.”