By CHRIS HOBBS
HICKORY – The Catawba County Sports Hall of Famers are a close-knit group.
When the fraternity grew by five on Monday night at the Highland Recreation Center, nearly 50 of the 89 members – or someone from their family – came to honor a five-person class of inductees.
The Hall of Fame — in its 19th year — added the next inductees after featured speaker Sparky Woods, a special assistant on Mack Brown’s football staff at North Carolina, spoke briefly to a crowd about 300 about his 43 years in coaching.
The class of 2019:
Henry, a former three-sport star at Maiden High who is now in his 30th year as a college football coach, said his success began in Catawba County and more specifically with what he learned growing up in a two-bedroom house on Prison Camp Road in Maiden.
“I loved to compete and win,” Henry said. “I hated to lose.”
After a standout football career at Maiden, he set records at Catawba College before becoming a coach at Bandys High, Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, North Carolina A&T, Ohio University, Wake Forest, Catawba, North Carolina and now at Western Carolina (defensive backs, special teams coordinator).
Henry played some Arena League Football before getting into coaching and recalled the days when, although he knew his parents would transport him to baseball practice at Maiden, he couldn’t wait for the ride.
He said he would grab his bicycle and head to the practice field.
“I wanted to get my baseball cuts in,” he said.
Henry’s parents, Mary and Charles, were in attendance, and he said coming home to Catawba County is special.
“I always come back to this area because I know there’s a gem (student-athlete) somewhere,” Henry said.
Lawing, a standout athlete in the mid-1970s at St. Stephens High, is coaching football at Georgia State University.
He told a story about having a choice as a seventh-grader to play sports at Hickory or St. Stephens, and he decided to stay with his baseball buddies and fulfill a dream of playing for Indians coach Harry Frye.
Growing up, Lawing said, he always felt he had the toughest coaches and each of them prepared him for well.
When Lawing came to St. Stephens, he played for Frye in baseball and for Ed Tallman in football and recalled the busted lip he got playing junior varsity basketball for coach Marty Curtis.
Lawing told the crowd of his memories of being a baseball player in the old Southern District 7 2A.
“Playing in the old SD-7, I got a chance to play versus great coaches,” he said.
Lawing was a catcher for the Indians and played in one of the best baseball games in Greater Hickory area history – a 1-0 win by St. Stephens over Bandys in the 1975 SD-7 baseball race.
In those days, only one team advanced to the state tournament. The SD-7 had two divisions that year, and the Indians and Trojans battled it out at Foard for the league title and lone playoff bid.
After the first Trojans hitter got on base in the opening inning, Lawing threw him out at second and Bandys did not have another baserunner.
Lawing’s football coaching career includes stops at Appalachian State and South Carolina (two tenures, his first with Woods as head coach), Michigan State, UNC, Florida and Florida State.
Thirty players coached by Lawing have been NFL draft picks, including seven first-rounders.
The late Mackorell was the first Catawba County player to play in the NFL (1935 New York Giants).
He played at Hickory High and later at Davidson, and his 17 letters won at HHS (1927-1931) remains a school best.
Mackorell set Davidson rushing records in 1934 and was named an All-American, and the Wildcats’ 1933 baseball team won a Big Five title.
He also played pro baseball in the 1930s for the Hickory Rebels.
Petree grew up about five miles from Hickory Motor Speedway, saying he was hooked on working in motorsports by what he saw there.
He was a part of a small group of Newton-based teens in love with racing as teens, joining with Jimmy Newsome and Dale Jarrett.
He and Newsome built a car that Jarrett eventually drove at HMS – though Petree wasn’t thrilled by the idea that he would not be the driver – and the rest is history.
Petree, now Vice President of Competition for Richard Childress Racing, eventually became a driver in the Grand National Series and the NASCAR Truck Series.
Helped by a phone call to Junior Johnson by Ned Jarrett in which Ned Jarrett encouraged Johnson to hire Petree as a tire changer for a NASCAR crew, Petree said that helped open the door to his dream.
When Ned Jarrett made the call, encouraging the hire, Petree had never changed a tire in a NASCAR race.
His career includes being a crew chief in 25 NASCAR victories, and he was crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. for two of his NASCAR titles.
Petree also has extensive TV broadcast experience alongside Dale Jarrett and Dr. Jerry Punch, a trio of Newton-Conover High graduates who worked together for eight years on national TV.
“I’m just a guy from Newton, N.C.,” Petree told the crowd.
He told a short story of the time his mom and dad sat him down and asked him just exactly what his future might hold, and he told them it would be in racing.
“You’d better wake up, buddy,” he said his mom told him. “That ain’t a way to make a living.”
Petree, working his way through the ranks, made enough money in racing to eventually own a NASCAR team that, he said, employed about 100.
Punch was first a standout athlete at Newton-Conover and star baseball player at N.C. State before a career in NASCAR primarily working with sponsorships and marketing.
Seven of Punch’s baseball teammates from the 1968 Wolfpack team that made N.C. State’s first College World Series appearance – including former big-league pitcher Mike Caldwell – attended his induction ceremony. Two flew in from Texas to be at the ceremony.
Punch also played softball for the legendary Howard’s Furniture/Western Steer teams, praising the late Richard Howard and his son, Rick (who attended), for making family a priority when those teams were in their heyday.
“If everybody had one friend (in life) like Rick Howard, this earth would be a better place,” Punch said.
Punch, who grew up on 27th Street in Newton, said his time in NASCAR has been impactful, but his time as an N.C. State baseball player has and will stick with him for life.
He played on a freshman team in Raleigh in 1967 and the 1968 Wolfpack had a 23-player roster with three of those players from Catawba County.
“All we cared about,” he said, “was playing baseball.”
N.C. State beat Wake Forest to win the regular-season title and advance to the regionals in Gastonia, where the Wolfpack eventually beat top-ranked Florida State 4-1 to earn a trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
Punch said he was one of five players on the flight to Omaha who had never flown, and that the baseball program at N.C. State, at that time, had no travel budget.
Team of Distinction: 1996 Hickory High football
Head coach David Elder’s 1996 Hickory High football team that went 16-0 and won a state 3A title was honored.
The team was Elder’s third at HHS, dominating after his first team went 4-7 and his second team went 10-3.
The Red Tornadoes outscored opponents 767-99, posted seven shutouts and their closest win margin was 19 points against Freedom.
Elder was named the N.C. Associated Press Coach of the Year and 11 seniors from that team went on to play in college and 20 overall eventually played college athletics.
The team rushed for 5,833 yards and beat Jamestown Ragsdale 42-0 in the state 3A title game.
“We were (almost always) running downhill,” Elder said, citing the overwhelming size advantage of one side of HHS’ offensive line.
CATAWBA COUNTY SCHOLAR ATHLETICS OF EXCELLENCE
Female scholarship winner ($1,000)– Zoe Huffman, Maiden, 4.0 grade point average, four state tennis titles, going to UNC-Wilmington.
Male scholarship winner ($1,000) – Bryce Stober, Hickory, football and baseball, going to LRU on baseball scholarship.
Bandys – Sarah McAllister, Benjamin Joseph
Bunker Hill – Crystany White, Thaxton Isenhour
Challenger – Carah Watson, Riley Wilson
Fred T. Foard – Emily Campbell, Cooper Butts
Hickory Christian – Addy Sigmon, Gabriel Walker
Hickory – Mason Paradine, Bryce Stober
Maiden – Zoe Huffman, Montrell Stinson
Newton-Conover – Tamiya Artis, Spencer Harris
St. Stephens – Nina Turcanu, Blake Baker
Tabernacle Christian – Alanna Dixon, Chandler Hooks
Tri-City Christian – Hanna Freitag, Doehyung Kim
University Christian – Anna Catherine Pritchard, Tate Eckerd