After a one-year hiatus from inducting new members, the Greater Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame welcomed three new individual members, inducted a former Granite Bear championship team, and honored a local couple with the latest edition of the Granite City Award.
Former athletic standouts Nicholas John and Jim Sessoms, longtime coach Clarence Cropps and the 1968 Mount Airy High School football team, represented by player Lue Vaughn, were all inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. Bob and Shirley Perkins, longtime fans and patrons of the Bears’ athletic teams for more than 50 years, were presented with the Granite City Award. The inductees were the first class to join the Hall of Fame since 2016. Last year, the Hall of Fame held a reunion of all its current members, but didn’t induct anyone new.
Vaughn, who had an entire team to represent, spent the most time on the podium speaking of his experiences with the 1968 Bears, who went 10-1-2 that season and won a share of the NCHSAA 3A state championship. The team was coached by Alex Gibbs, who went on to spend 44 years as a college and NFL position coach and won two Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos. Two of his assistants on the team were Jerry Hollingsworth, who later became MAHS head coach and is already in the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame, and Dave Diamont, who went on to greater fame at rival East Surry, and a spot in the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame.
“He said state champions are made, not born,” said Vaughn, who had played on Bears teams in 1966 and 1967 that had gone 8-3 and won the conference title, but lost in the state playoffs. Gibbs challenged his team to do even better in ‘68, putting question marks beside the year on a list of Mount Airy’s year-by-year results.
After losing an early-season game to a 4A school where the Bears felt they had outplayed their opponent, they went on a roll and outscored their five conference foes 191-0, then won three playoff games while allowing just a single touchdown.
The deceased members of the team were recognized, and then those who were in attendance, including coaches Hollingsworth and Diamont, were all given a plaque honoring their achievement.
John and Cropps were the first two to speak. John, who won five state titles in tennis at Mount Airy, talked about his experiences with the Bears and his subsequent career in tennis, both at Winston-Salem State and at other stops along the way. His journey in tennis has allowed him at different times to work with two of the greatest players ever, former world No. 1-ranked players Ivan Lendl and Serena Williams. John joked that he initially didn’t realize he was warming up Lendl, whose greatest seasons occurred before John was born.
Cropps spoke about how his circumstances didn’t allow him to compete in sports when he attended North Surry High School, but that he was able to make up for that as an adult, taking up running on his own and even competing, very competitively, in the 1983 Boston Marathon. Later on, he coached youth in the Meter Master Track Club from 1985-1995 and then started working at Mount Airy High School, expressing his gratitude that the the school system allowed him to coach. He still serves as the school’s head cross country and girls’ track and field coach, and led the boys to their first state title in 2016 before passing the reins of that program.
Sessoms, like Vaughn, played on a championship team at Mount Airy. He actually played on two, helping the 1960 and 1961 Bears to back-to-back perfect 25-0 seasons. He described the 1959 team as having had a bad year, when it went 22-4 and lost in the state playoffs. Sessoms said that the players decided “we weren’t losing in the state playoffs again.” The Bears never lost again, playoffs or otherwise, until after he was gone. After earning All-State honors at MAHS, Sessoms went on to Catawba College, where he played for his former high school coach and had a good career with the Indians.
The Perkins’ were the last ones to take the stage, where they were recognized for their years of support for the program, including a great deal of financial support and attending more than 500 football and 1,000 basketball games. The couple simply enjoyed watching kids grow and develop, and their interest over the years has helped countless Granite Bear student-athletes to success both on and off the field.
Mount Airy City Manager Barbara Jones presented the awards to the inductees, with the Mount Airy High School Band welcoming the guests with music. The MAHS Chorus sang the national anthem, and the North Surry AFJROTC graciously provided the color guard.
Following the induction, there was a ceremony on the lawn at City Hall, where the new names on the Hall of Fame monument were unveiled, and a reception followed.