This week, the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame inducts 10 new members. Established in 1963, the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame contains 319 members, counting the class of 2015.
The inductees met the media Thursday afternoon in Daniel Auditorium at the N.C. Museum of History, which houses the Sports Hall of Fame. Bob Harris, longtime “Voice of the Duke Blue Devils” and also a N.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductee, emceed the event.
The press conference gave this year’s honorees an opportunity to pose for cameras and make dry runs on the acceptance speeches they’ll give Friday evening during the annual induction ceremony at the Raleigh Convention Center.
Joe and Jeff Bostic, Greensboro natives who played for Clemson University before enjoying successful NFL careers, are the first pair of brothers earning induction into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in the same year. Jeff played 14 years with Washington Redskins, going to four Super Bowls and winning three in the process.
“All those things that we were able to accomplish as a team pale in comparison to having your home state recognize you,” Jeff Bostic says.
Charlotte Smith and Andrea Stinson, both college basketball standouts with UNC and N.C. State, respectively, are the only women entering the hall this year. Stinson was ACC Player of the Year in 1990 and a two-time All-American, and she posted the highest scoring average in a single season at 23.6. Smith, a native of Shelby, was named National College Player of the Year in 1995 by ESPN and, more famously, sank the game-winning basket for the Tar Heels in the 1994 NCAA Basketball Championship.
“I grew up in a basketball family with [former NC State standout] David Thompson, Alvin Gentry and Dereck Whittenburg, so there was a lot of basketball blood in our family,” Smith says. “Every Sunday, we would go to our grandmother’s house and compete until sundown. That ignited my love and passion for the game of basketball.”
The other basketball-related inductee is John Clougherty, who officiated NCAA Division I men’s college basketball for 30 years and will retire as coordinator of ACC men’s basketball officials after the 2015-16 season.
Cloughtery shared how his career as a basketball referee began rather inauspiciously when he was teaching at Wake Forest University and refereeing Demon Deacons scrimmages on the side. Dissatisfied with the quality of ACC officiating, Jack McCloskey, then the head coach of Wake Forest, goaded the ACC’s supervisor of officials during a visit to add Cloughtery to the conference’s list of officials.
“[McCloskey] says, ‘I have a guy who referees our scrimmages who is better than half the guys you’re sending,’” Clougherty recalls. “Jack dares him to put me on the supplemental roster for the ACC.”
The other honorees include Jerry McGee, the longtime football coach and athletics administrator, Freddie Combs, a native of Manns Harbor and eventual two-sport standout for the N.C. State’s football and baseball teams, and Gene Littles, an NAIA All-America basketball player for High Point University in 1969 who went on to play pro ball in the ABA for six seasons.
Perhaps this year’s most high-profile inductee is Rick Hendrick, the famous NASCAR owner, who will attend tonight’s ceremony but did not appear at Thursday’s media conference.
Lenox Rawlings, the award-winning former sportswriter with the Winston-Salem Journal, is the latest journalist to make into the hall.
“When you’re in the newspaper business, you don’t think about being in a hall of fame, or even what’s going to happen five or 10 years from now,” Rawlings says. “You deal with that day, one day at a time. It’s still somewhat bewildering where all those days went to. But it wound up here, and I’m very grateful.”
A common theme for many of the honorees was the presence and influence of strong, renowned coaches in their careers. Littles played for legendary basketball coaches Larry Brown, Bones McKinney and Hubie Brown during his ABA playing career. He recalled the story of how McKinney told him as a rookie that if he wasn’t the first player back on defense, he wouldn’t play. He also said that Larry Brown once sat him for two games because he didn’t hustle while subbing into a game, a lesson Littles says he only needed to be taught once. Littles eventually became a head coach himself at North Carolina A&T and in the NBA, including the Charlotte Hornets.
Littles gave Hubie Brown the nod as the most prepared coach he ever played for. “I’d be sitting on the bench, and [Hubie] would come by after a timeout and ask, ‘What did you think about that play I just diagramed?’ I said, ‘It’d be a good one if it worked.’”
Like the vast majority of N.C. Sports Hall of Famers, all of this year’s inductees besides Rawlings gained notoriety in basketball, football, baseball and motorsports. It’s an obvious offshoot of the state’s cultural and collegiate makeup, and all these new members deserve their honor.
However, the hall’s focus on the state’s major sports, including golf, causes worthy athletes in other areas to be overlooked. There’s not a single boxer in the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame, despite the fact both Ray Mercer and James “Bonecrusher” Smith are former heavyweight champions.
Only two soccer figures—Anson Dorrance and Carla Overbeck—are in the hall despite the state’s long collegiate soccer history. Meanwhile, the credentials of former Tar Heel legends Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly are unassailable—the only question is the sufficiency of their North Carolina ties. However, that isn’t the case with Eddie Pope, the Greensboro native who was an All-American at UNC before playing over a decade in Major League Soccer and being named to the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005. He earned 82 caps over 11 years with the U.S. Men’s National Team and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011.
Hopefully, these and other overlooked athletes won’t have to wait until the afterlife for the Old North State to immortalize their sporting contributions.