RALEIGH — Mount Airy native Gary O’ Neal was inducted in the USSSA Hall of Fame as a coach honoree on Jan. 19 in Raleigh.
O’Neal is a 1964 graduate of North Surry High School and an Appalachian State University graduate. He has a degree in health and physical education. O’Neal also spent time in the service and has coached softball for 30 years.
O’Neal said, “I am extremely honored to receive this recognition and give most of the credit to the great players on the teams I’ve coached. I want to share this with the people in Mount Airy and surrounding areas because that is where my sports career began.”
He said a highlight of the ceremony was when fellow ball player Johnny McCraw was inducted along with him. It was important because O’Neal went to school with McCraw’s father at North Surry, he said.
O’Neal said he decided to begin coaching softball when his wife, who worked for the Hanes Corporation at the time, urged him to give it a try. O’Neal took the challenge and began coaching a Hanes ladies softball team.
Since then, O’Neal has coached several ladies softball teams. He and his teams have won three World tournaments and finished in the top five, three times. He and his teams also won three Atlantic Coast National tournaments and 11 State Championships.
O’Neal said the sport of softball picked him and he went with it.
“I’m going to keep at it,” O’Neal said.
He now coaches the women’s team, Piedmont Players, whose home base is in Winston-Salem. He and his wife, Marian, travel to the games together and she keeps the books for him.
Though, Winston-Salem is the Piedmont Players home base, they travel to compete throughout the United States.
Some other teams that O’Neal has coached includes: Piedmont Airlines and Forysth Technical Community College.
The North Carolina division of the US Specialty Sports Association opened its Hall of Fame branch in 1996. The USSSA originally was founded as the United States Slow-Pitch Softball Association in 1968.
O’Neal said the teams are very competitive and he enjoys it. He said he personally scouts players from ages 18 to 36.