Sunday, October 22, 2017

Another nifty night

Not that Phil Rapp ever needs a bodyguard — he's a strapping individual in his own right — but he may have found what he was looking for while emceeing the 16h Annual Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Banquet last night at the 119 West Third Event Center (otherwise known, in simpler days, as the J. Smith Young YMCA).

There in the crowd of spectators, as a guest of inductee Bruce Hayes — and recognized by an inspired Rapp — was former world heavyweight champion James 'Bonecrusher' Smith.

Yikes. The man who once fought Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes and dropped Tim Witherspoon in a single round, and held the WBA heavyweight title from 1986 to 1987, still looks like he could do some serious damage at age 64.

Perhaps thankfully, Smith is now an ordained minister who is committed to helping youth steer clear of crime and drugs. He founded the non-profit Champion for Kids, Inc. in 2004 and now supports programs designed to help people in need.

It would be easy to suggest that Smith was the big draw last night that brought an overflow crowd of about 150 people to the banquet, except that it was never advertised that Smith would be there. I prefer to think the large turnout (usually, about 100 people or so show up for these things) was because this was a strong class of inductees.

How could it not be with David Fritts, everybody's favorite professional bass fisherman, on hand? Fritts, in his folksy manner, told how his father tried to get him to be serious about the family tire business. That is, until Fritts won the Bassmaster Classic in 1993, launching him to a lucrative career in outdoors sales and sponsorship. "I guess you might be able to make a living at this," Fritts recalled his father telling him.

Two boxers — Hayes and Jimmy Hester — were inducted. A lot of people know Hayes as a sponsor of NASCAR modified racing at Winston-Salem's Bowman Gray Stadium, but few might know that he was also a Golden Gloves boxer who won more than 100 amateur bouts.

Hester, an early protegee of Hayes, had a promising future as a boxer, but died in Vietnam on Christmas Eve in 1968, in a helicopter mishap, at the age of 22.

Chelsea Leonard Martin was perhaps the most dominant softball pitcher in Davidson County in an area — and an era — rich with softball talent. She hurled Central Davidson to three consecutive 2-A state titles in 2007-2009. In a fitting moment that somehow seemed to complete the circle, Chelsea thanked North Davidson softball coach Mike Lambros for submitting her name to the Hall of Fame board for consideration. Lambros recently passed away a few weeks ago after fighting pancreatic cancer.

Debbie Pope is the cheerleader coach at Ledford and as such, she is constantly bumping into the debate of whether or not cheerleaders are athletes. She knows occasionally there is resistance. She told the story of when she was informed she would be inducted into the county Hall of Fame, her initial response was disbelief. "That's not going to happen. Are you out of your mind?" she asked. Nope. Not at all. Under Pope's guidance, Ledford's cheerleading squad has a gym full of banners, including five national titles.

Jimmy Snyder is regarded as one  of the best basketball players to come through Lexington who later signed a four-year grant-in-aid to play for Wake Forest. A 6-foot-6 post player who averaged 17 points per game, Snyder still holds the Lexington school record of 37 points scored in a single game in 1962.

Billy Epley is a familiar face on the county sports scene, doing much of the grunt work behind the scenes while also coaching youth programs. For his service he was recognized as the board's "Unsung Hero."

The Davidson County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony is often inspiring, sometimes moving and occasionally humorous. That's because these people are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are teachers, coaches and role models. And they are us.

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