NC Sports Hall of Fame welcomes newest members

The 12-member class was highlighted by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and David Love III

Don Fish, executive director of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, speaks during a ceremony honoring the 12 newest inductees last Friday at the Raleigh Convention Center. (Brett Friedlander / North State Journal)

RALEIGH — Mother’s Day is coming up on Sunday, but at the 56th North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame induction celebration last weekend, it was a group of fathers that took center stage.

No fewer than six of them were represented by their children or grandchildren upon becoming the shrine’s newest members in a ceremony held Friday at the Raleigh Convention Center.

In addition to Ernie Barnes, Willie Bradshaw, Steve Gabriel, Neill McGeachy and Thell Overman, all of whom were recognized posthumously, Gene Corrigan was unable to travel while recovering from a stroke. Corrigan’s presenter and son, Boo, is the new athletic director at NC State, while McGeachy’s son, Neil III, didn’t just walk in his dad’s footsteps, he actually wore a pair of his shoes to the event.

The most recognizable father of them all wasn’t part of the prestigious Class of 2019. The late Dale Earnhardt Sr. has been in the Hall for 15 years now. His presence was still felt, however, with the induction of his son Dale Jr. — the star attraction in a group of honorees that also included golfer Davis Love III, football coach Rod Broadway, former UNC quarterback Paul Miller, groundbreaking basketball referee Dee Kantner and outdoorsman Eddie Bridges.

Kantner, one of the first female referees hired by the NBA, was especially excited to be included in the same category as the NASCAR legend and second-generation Hall of Famer, as well as a PGA champion who twice served as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.

“My mother is a huge Dale Earnhardt Sr. fan,” Kantner said at a media event Thursday. “I got a picture with him years ago in Charlotte and she didn’t even see my face. When I found out I was being inducted and the group included Davis Love III and Dale Earnhardt Jr., now it means something.”

While Earnhardt and Love are the best-known members of this year’s class, their celebrity shouldn’t diminish the accomplishments of their fellow Hall of Famers. According to Don Fish, outgoing executive director of the state shrine, the incoming group of 12 new inductees is “the most diverse ever.”

In addition to the racer, the golfer, the female basketball ref, the football players, coaches and administrator, their ranks also include an artist (Barnes), a sports marketer (McGeachy), a conservationist (Bridges) and the first wrestler to be enshrined (Gabriel).

Bridges, for one, was happy to see the Hall branch out.

“I think people forget that the men, women and children who hunt and fish in North Carolina have raised $3.2 million every year for the state economy,” said the 86-year-old Morganton native, who spent most of his adult life working on behalf of fishermen and hunters as a member of the state Wildlife Resources Commission. “They’ve discovered that we are an important group of people, and I am proud about that.”

Here is a closer look at the newest Hall of Famers:

Barnes: A standout lineman at Durham’s Hillside High School, NC Central and the professional ranks with the Baltimore Colts, New York Titans, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos, Barnes is best known as an artist whose work often dealt with sports subjects, earning him the title of “America’s Best Painter of Sports.”

Bradshaw: Like Barnes, Bradshaw was also a product of Durham’s Hillside High who made his greatest contributions as athletic director for the Durham City School System, then as the president of the N.C. High School Athletic Directors Association and the state coaches association. He was the first African American to hold each of those positions.

Bridges: He developed lifetime hunting and fishing licenses in North Carolina, which have since raised $110 million. He currently runs the North Carolina Wildlife Habitat Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports conservation efforts around the state.

Broadway: The recently retired coach who led NC A&T, NC Central and Grambling to Historically Black College and University national championships, he was also a standout defensive lineman during his playing days at UNC.

Corrigan: An innovative Duke graduate who spent 10 years as commissioner of the ACC, in addition to serving as president of the NCAA and athletic director at Washington and Lee, Virginia and Notre Dame.

Earnhardt Jr: Racing’s most famous son, Earnhardt carried on the tradition of his late father by winning 26 Cup races, including two Daytona 500s. His name and outgoing personality helped him earn NASCAR’s most popular driver award 15 times during his career.

Gabriel: An accomplished football player and wrestler in his own right, the wrestling program he started at Appalachian High School in Boone never lost a match in its 13-year history, going an incredible 140-0. He later ran a successful program at Appalachian State.

Kantner: In addition to her work in the NBA, Kantner has worked every NCAA Women’s Tournament since 1992, including 22 Final Fours.

Love III: Love has won 21 times on the PGA Tour, including his lone major championship in 1997 and his most recent title four years ago at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro at the age of 51. Before turning pro, he was a three-time All-American at UNC.

Miller: The former UNC quarterback led the ACC in total offense in 1971 while guiding coach Bill Dooley’s Tar Heels to nine wins and a trip to the Gator Bowl. Before his arrival in Chapel Hill, Miller was a three-sport athlete at Ayden High School.

McGeachy: A savvy sports marketer who wore a number of hats during his distinguished career, McGeachy coached basketball at Duke, was the longtime athletic director at his alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne, and is a member of the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.

Overman: A soft-spoken coach who won more than 1,000 games in three different sports during a remarkable 42-year career. Of those victories, 278 games were in football and 541 in baseball, mostly at Wallace-Rose Hill High.