North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
Susie Hopson Shelton
When Susie Hopson was diagnosed with diabetes, her doctor told her mother that the best thing she could do for her daughter — who was in the second grade at the time — was to make sure she got as much exercise as possible.
So she signed young Susie up for basketball.
It turned out to be a life-changing decision in more ways than one. Not only did it help the youngster control her diabetes, but it also sparked a passion for the sport that continues to burn just as strong to this day.
Hopson grew to be 6-foot-2, a stature that combined with the work and effort she put into developing her skills helped her become one of the best girls basketball players in NCHSAA history. In 2013, she was named one of the state organization’s “100 Female Athletes to Remember.”
Following her record-setting career at Mountain Heritage High School, she chose to play at nearby Mars Hill University because her “comfort level wasn’t there” with the bigger schools that were recruiting her. There, she set a school record by scoring 1,984 points during a career that saw her win South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 1993 while earning all-conference recognition four times.
She was the league’s Player of the Year and a Division II All-American in 1996 on the way to leading the Lions to a conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Her 19.1 points-per-game scoring average was the best in SAC history at the time of her graduation and her 21.6 average in 1996 is still the standard at Mars Hill, numbers that earned her induction into both the conference and school halls of fame.
After graduating, getting married and going into coaching, Hopson Shelton made a brief comeback with the WNBA’s Charlotte Sting during the league’s first season in 1996. But it only took one season for her to realize she was better suited for coaching than playing.
“Everybody thinks I’m a big woman, but when you get there I’m just average size,” she told Mars Hill Magazine in 2018. “The athleticism and speed of those women is phenomenal.”
In keeping with her small-town roots, Hopson Shelton has come full circle by returning to coach the girls basketball team at her alma mater Mountain Heritage, where she has won 92 percent of her games — including an undefeated season on the way to the 2A state championship in 2019.