RALEIGH — Joe West has seen and heard just about everything there is the see and hear during his 40 years as a Major League Baseball umpire.
And yet, last weekend at the Raleigh Convention Center, he still managed to experience something new.
A standing ovation.
“You don’t get too many applauses where I work,” West said at a press conference prior to his induction as one of the newest members of the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s nice to be in friendly confines, where I’m not the most hated person here.”
A native of Greenville who played college football at both East Carolina and Elon before becoming one of the most colorful characters on the baseball diamond, West was among the 15 standouts from seven different sports honored Friday as part of the Hall’s Class of 2018.
The others were golfer Donna Andrews, baseball players Scott Bankhead, Hal “Skinny” Brown, Frank “Jakie” May and Chris Cammack, baseball coach Mike Martin, football player Wes Chesson, football coaches Bill Hayes and Jack Holley, basketball coach Paul Jones, basketball player and champion surfer Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick, speedskater Joey Cheek, tennis player Laura DuPont, and administrator Fred Whitfield.
While each of the new inductees sports an impressive resume worthy of recognition, at least a few were taken by surprise when informed of their selection.
Cheek, for example, said it was hard to imagine himself as Hall of Fame material during his formative years as an inline skater at a now-defunct Greensboro roller rink.
“I think it’s safe to say that amongst my middle school and high school classmates in Greensboro, I don’t know if I’d be the last pick to be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, but I’m certain I’d be somewhere in the lower third,” the 2006 Olympic gold medalist in the 500 meters said. “Because the sport I grew up racing, inline skating, was definitely not a scholastic sport or a collegiate sport. But as we always tell people, if you’ve ever been to North Carolina, if you put wheels on it, we’ll race it.”
In contrast to Cheek, who never dreamed about the possibility of becoming a Hall of Famer in his home state until he achieved his Olympic success in Turin, Italy, legendary football coach Bill Hayes spent his entire career striving toward that lofty goal.
“I used to tell my players, you’ve got to visualize the whole game in your mind the night before the game. You’ve got to visualize yourself making the big play,” said Hayes, who won 195 games over a 27-year career in which he became the winningest coach ever at both Winston-Salem State and NC A&T before moving into sports administration.
“Well, guess what? I have visualized stepping onto this podium since I was a real small kid,” Hayes said. “I’m not too proud to say that I spent a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of years working without compromise to be where I am now.”
That drive and dedication is a quality each of the new Hall of Famers, whether they set out to become one or not, share.
And their accomplishments speak for themselves.
On Saturday, a day after the induction ceremony, Gastonia’s Martin became the all-time winningest coach in college baseball when his Florida State Seminoles beat Clemson 3-2 in 13 innings for his 1,976th career victory.
He is one of two coaches in this year’s class to have more wins than anyone else in his field. Holley, who was honored posthumously, won 412 games over 46 years primarily at Wallace-Rose Hill and Tabor City, the most in state high school history.
On the baseball diamond, Wendell native May once struck out Babe Ruth twice in a World Series game while pitching for the Chicago Cubs in 1932. Greensboro’s Brown was a knuckleballer who threw 36 consecutive scoreless innings for the Baltimore Orioles in 1961, a franchise record that still stands. Bankhead, from Raleigh, went 20-0 in his final two seasons at UNC before becoming a first-round draft pick with the Kansas City Royals while Fayetteville’s Cammack led NC State to the 1968 College World Series and whose .429 batting average a year later is still a Wolfpack school record.
DuPont, who grew up in Charlotte, is the first female to win a national championship at UNC, when she earned the first of her three singles titles in 1970. Also a former Tar Heel, Andrews won six LPGA events, including a major in which she helped rekindle the tradition of jumping into the pond on the 18th hole after winning what was then known as the Dinah Shore Invitational.
Edenton’s Wes Chesson was the ACC’s all-time leading receiver with 164 catches at the time of his graduation from Duke in 1970; Jones won 662 games, 18 conference championships and two state titles as the basketball coach at Grainger and Kinston high schools; and Whitfield was a basketball star at Campbell, where he is in the school’s Hall of Fame. He went on to become CEO of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets and a champion of underprivileged youngsters in Charlotte.
Perhaps the most impressive member of the group is Morehead City’s Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick, who earned her induction for her performance in two sports.
She starred both on the basketball court at West Carteret High and South Carolina, and on the waves as the first surfer to gain entry into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. She also holds the distinction of being the first athlete from Carteret County to be selected to the shrine.
“I feel like I have been raised by a lot of Hall of Fame caliber people,” Ballou Fitzpatrick said. “I’m lucky with being the combination of a national surfing champion, too, so I’m hoping that I’m kind of the gateway to other people from Carteret County getting a chance to be recognized.”