The Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame unveiled five new names on its wall of honor Sunday afternoon.
Three athletes, one coach and one family of sports enthusiasts were honored with an induction ceremony in the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Afterward, the inductees crossed over to the public library where the granite wall of honor sits on the corner of Rockford and Main.
New member Bill Mabry Jr. said when he looked at the list of names ahead of his on the wall, he felt honored. These folks weren’t just great athletes, they are great people, he explained.
“I am very humbled and honored for being selected for this award,” agreed Sonni Inman Sanders, who thanked her coach and former teammates.
Sanders, a basketball standout, is the third member of her family to be inducted into the Hall.
In introducing Sanders, Hall committee member Gary Pruett pointed out, “One grandson said he was happy, but he wasn’t looking forward to hearing all these speeches again.”
When her grandchildren asked her what she would say, Sanders said, “I said well I’ll start out at age 6 bouncing the ball and work my way up to the present time. They replied, ‘Well, wake me when it’s over.’”
After hearing Pruett list her many scoring accomplishments, Sanders said, “Needless to say, if they passed the ball to me, I would shoot it.”
Hall committee member Scott Kniskern listed many accomplishments of the late Marion G. Jones, who died at age 37 from a hereditary heart condition.
Mrs. Marion Jones and daughter Laura Jones Pierce accepted the award.
Pierce related some of her father’s achievements at Mount Airy and also at Duke University.
“At that time, Dad was the only freshman ever to be on the Duke varsity team,” she said.
After a great 1941 season, Duke was selected to play Oregon State in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Then on Dec. 7, the U.S. was pulled into the second World War.
That had an impact on the Rose Bowl, noted Pierce.
“Due to fears about an attack by the Japanese on the West Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor,” she described, “the U.S. government ordered that all large public gatherings on the West Coast of the U.S. were prohibited for the rest of the war.”
On Dec. 16, just days after the bombing, Duke University offered to host the game on its own campus.
This was the first significant event moved because of the war, and the only time in the Rose Bowl’s history that the game has been held outside the state of California, according to Pierce.
At the time, Duke’s football stadium wasn’t set up to handle the kind of crowd expected for a bowl game, with only enough seating for 35,000 people.
“Bleachers were brought in from the University of North Carolina to seat an additional 20,000 people,” she said.
After the season was over, many of the members of the football squad, including Jones, followed their coach, Wallace Wade, into signing up for military service.
In introducing Coach James Holleman, city commissioner and Mount Airy baseball coach Jon Cawley related a story about “Coach” from being at a football game at Wake Forest.
Cawley said he moved to the city in 1990 and was attending this game about three years later.
This kindly gentleman started a conversation, he recalled.
“He asked me where I came from, I said I was from Mount Airy,” Cawley said. “‘Oh, have you had a chance to meet Coach?’”
Cawley was a little perplexed, “Coach?”
“He said, ‘You’re not from Mount Airy, are you?’”
Cawley said the gentleman told him, “‘That man has forgotten more about basketball than I will ever know.’ His name was Bill Guthridge, who followed Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina. That’s how well respected Coach Holleman has been.”
Since the Hall of Fame began a decade ago, Holleman has been nominated by many people. However, the committee couldn’t select him for induction.
“Our rules up until this year said that you had to be out of coaching for five years,” Cawley explained.
Since the members all agreed that, one, Holleman was a perfect candidate, and, two, he has shown no signs of retiring, the Hall committee decided to change the bylaws to allow a current coach to be selected.
“When he first coached, (Harry) Truman was president,” said Cawley. “Our president, Barack Obama, would be born nine years later.”
Holleman offered thanks to the teachers and coaches that helped turn his life around.
“John Hamilton, to me, has been a mentor,” Holleman said of the 93-year-old retired coach.
They met at a basketball camp in North Myrtle Beach, and Hamilton was impressed with the young man.
“He asked me if I’d like to come to work for him.” That’s how Holleman returned to Surry County.
Over the past 75 years, Mount Airy has had so many great student-athletes go through its doors that Holleman said he would put the Bears up against any school its size in the state.
As for his long career, Holleman said he just might keep coaching until he keels over on the basketball court or football field.
“And when that happens, Bobby,” he said to fellow inductee, Bob Moody, “make sure you cremate my body and take the ashes to Chapel Hill and spread them on Kenan Stadium so I won’t miss any game.”
Hall committee member Rondale Ratcliff said he wanted to write a nice introduction for Mabry because the former three-sport star was so reluctant to brag on himself.
In his speech, Mabry told how he came to join the wrestling program.
He said that Coach David Diamont taught him in football, basketball and baseball. He had to disappoint the coach by choosing to try wrestling over basketball.
The wrestling coaches were so eager to have the entire student body see how the team was coming along. So, the school organized the first match of the season to be held during seventh period.
Mabry said he had only been practicing with the team a week, week and a half.
When the match began, the Bears showed their skills by getting pin after pin after pin, he recalled.
When it came his turn to wrestle, Mabry said he sized up his guy, thinking he could keep the winning streak going.
As for his opponent, he said, “It turned out to be the team captain, the conference champion, the district champ from the year before. So when you look back at the record books, it says the final score of that match was 68 to Mabry.”
While he was disappointed with that loss, Mabry says now that he looks back on that time, he believes that his opponent had worked hard in practice for a long time to be that good, and he deserved to win the match.
All that hard work that athletes put into their sport is what makes victory so much sweeter, he believes.
“I’ve got one ring that brings back a lot of memories,” he told the audience. “On the side of it, it says ACC champion. … What a wonderful feeling it brings; you know what you did to earn it.”
Looking out at his family, he added, “My oldest son Will has a ring like that, too,” which Will earned as a member of Mount Airy’s 2008 state champion football team.
Seeing these generations of athletes come along is a special feeling, said Bob Moody, accepting the Granite City Award for the Moody family.
He said he meets fathers and sons who both played on youth leagues that Moody Funeral Services sponsored. The Moody family has always loved sports and feels honored to have been a part of all that these teams have accomplished over the decades.
The Hall of Fame committee selects new members based on nominations from the public. The next nomination period will come at the end of the year.