Local sports greats were honored at the 31st Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools High School Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on Friday, May 9 at the Benton Convention Center.
Randy Pope, Charles “Chip” Reed, Marcus Sutton, Erik Walker and Jack Westmoreland were enshrined in the Hall, which is administered by the Winston-Salem Sportsmen Club. Two hundred and fifty former athletes, former and current coaches and boosters are currently in the Hall. Each was chosen after a detailed nomination process. The name of each Hall inductee is prominently displayed at the Sportsmen Club’s headquarters in the building at the corner of North Cherry St. and Sixth Street.
After receiving praise from County Commissioner Bill Whiteheart and Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory, the inductees received medals and plaques. Each honoree chose someone who played a significant role in his life to drape the medals around their necks during the ceremony.
During acceptance speeches, they thanked their families, friends and coaches.
Pope, who coached the West Forsyth Baseball Team to 18 conference championships, gave a special shout-out to his assistant coaches.
“I did not get here alone; I’ve had so much support along the way,” he said.
Sutton, who was honored for his amazing track and field career at North Forsyth High School, thanked his cousin, Linell Johnson, a former track athlete who encouraged him to keep going after a rough start in the sport.
“I showed up in a pair of football cleats and, quite frankly, I sucked,” Sutton said. “I didn’t understand any of the sport. I was trying to find something I was good at.”
At first, his leaps didn’t even make it into the pit in the long jump, evoking laughs from spectators. With Johnson’s help and the support of family, friends and coaches, he eventually excelled, winning local and state meets and placing second in the National Scholastic Championships in 1989.
“I went from not making it to the pit to being a national runner to being able to attend college for free and get an education for free,” he said about his athletic scholarship to the University of South Carolina.
Sutton now inspires youth to follow in his footsteps as the coach for the Winston-Salem Road Runners Track Club.
A former Glenn High School wresting star, Reed finished his high school career with an amazing 127 wins and only 21 loses.
“Wrestling was my entire life in high school and college; everyday was another opportunity to practice. I eventually stopped wrestling. I found that all though the various wrestling moves had limited application in the real world, I did find the coaching and perseverance required to succeed in sports were also required to succeed in life,” said Reed, an Army Ranger who received a Bronze Star for his actions in combat in Afghanistan.
For 78-year-old Westmoreland, high school was so long ago that most people haven’t even heard of the sport in which he excelled – six man football.
“Earlier, someone asked me, ‘What was six man football? We had more people on the line than you had on the whole team,’” he said.
Two thousand students in smaller rural Forsyth County schools – like the now defunct Rural Hall High School that Westmoreland attended – played six man football from 1947-1956, Westmoreland said.
He said the sport had a loyal following and fans regularly packed the stands. When Westmoreland played defensive back at the 1951 State Championship, 1,500 fans cheered from the bleachers. The Hall of Fame honor was the first award he’d received for his football feats since high school.
The most poignant moment of the evening was the presentation to the family of Walker, who died in 2006 in a canoeing accident. The former West Forsyth baseball standout went on to UNC-Charlotte before fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing the Big Leagues. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006. He died after playing just one summer for the team.
His parents, Peggy Smith and Larry Walker, accepted his award. They said that though he’s received other posthumous honors, the local recognition was especially moving.
“This means the world,” said Smith.