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Woody's Ramblings
Monday, May 9, 2005

By Woody Peele

Old politics impaired ECU Hall of Fame

(NOTE: A short while back, I wrote about several people I would like to see in the East Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame (View archived story in a new window). Bonesville guru Danny Whitford and I talked about the Hall, and he suggested that I write about the history of it. I was reluctant, however, since I played a major role in the founding of the Hall and didn’t want to seem to be tooting my own horn. Whitford insisted, so here it is, horn and all.)

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From a simple beginning, designed to honor some of the top athletes and coaches at East Carolina, the Athletic Hall of Fame has seen a little bit of everything, from people pushing for their favorites to downright politics.

Somehow, it has still lasted and holds a special place in my heart, since I played a role in the first 10 years of its history and still try to put in a word or two here and there.

It all started in 1973, when I read a story in my hometown paper, the Burlington Daily Times-News, that Elon College had inducted a large number of its athletes, coaches and administrators into its inaugural Hall of Fame’s class. That got me thinking.

At that time, East Carolina didn’t have a hall, and I wondered if anyone had proposed one.

Bill Cain, who would eventually become a member of the Hall, was then the assistant athletic director under Clarence Stasavich. I approached Bill with the idea and we talked about it for a while. He then took the idea to Stasavich, who assigned the project to his aide.

Bill and I met again and he asked me to contact some schools which had halls of fame and ask for their charters, how they went about choosing their honorees.

Over the next month or so, I contacted about 10 schools and received answers from about half of them.

Cain and I discussed what we liked and disliked and I drew up a preliminary plan taking the best of what we had found.

In it, we proposed that, after the initial group of inductees, no more than four people be installed in any one year. We suggested that a committee representing a historical cross-section be put together to select those deserving of enshrinement, the committee to be chaired by the school’s assistant AD.

To be selected, a person must receive at least 75 percent of the panel’s approval.
For an athlete, the person had to have graduated, or be in good standing academically, be out of school for at least five years and be a good citizen. For a non-athlete, a three-year waiting period following the cessation of coaching the sport for which he was being nominated was in place.

There were some exceptions to the rule, generally a posthumous election.

Finally, those named by the committee would have to be approved by the athletic director and the chancellor.

The proposal was given to Stasavich, who approved and sent it on to Chancellor Dr. Leo Jenkins, who also gave his nod.

The ECU Athletic Hall of Fame was then ready to fly.

From there, we put together a committee, aiming for the installation of the first class during the 1974 football season.

It didn’t take very long to put that class together. We had nearly 40 years of athletes, coaches and administrators from which to choose. Some names were quickly approved while a few others were debated before finally being selected.

The initial class was headed by the first football coach at East Carolina, Ken Beatty, who began the athletic program at the school.

Joining him was the school’s first athletic director, Dr. N.M. Jorgensen, and athletes Glenn Bass (football, baseball), Bill Cline (football), Bobby Hodges (football, basketball), Claude King, Sr. (football, basketball), Sonny Russell (basketball), Bob Sawyer (swimming) and Bill Shelton (football).

The following year, four more members were elected to the Hall. They were football All-American Dave Alexander, tennis great Maurice Everett, baseball and football star Bill Holland and diver Ken Midyette.

In voting for the Class of 1975, Cain had pushed hard for Stasavich to be among the honored, but the former football coach and AD was not among those voted in that spring.
Sadly, just one day before ECU’s historic victory over North Carolina that fall, Stas suffered a fatal heart attack.

The next year, Stas was the lone entrant into the Hall, one of the few times that only one has been installed.

During the 1980 class, the school’s first black was named, outstanding football player Carlester Crumpler.

The first woman joined the Hall the following year when basketball star Sheila Cotton was elected. At that time, Rosie Thompson, who was the school’s all-time scorer — the only player, male or female — to score over 2,000 career points, was still waiting for her five-year waiting period to expire. She was elected in 1990.

During those early years, two individuals turned down selection to the Hall, men’s basketball coach Howard Porter and the first women’s basketball coach, Nell Stallings. Porter said he felt he could not accept unless one of his star players went in first. That player was later deservedly inducted and Porter accepted his own selection.

Stallings, however, never relented, saying that she did not feel that she deserved the honor.

One of the things that bothered me was that, aside from their recognition on the field, there was no lasting place to honor those enshrined. The only other thing was a small Friday night reception in the upper lobby of the old Minges Coliseum.

It wasn’t until a number of years later, after the construction of the Ward Sports Medicine Building, that one of the inner hallways, on the second floor, was dedicated as the “Hall of Fame.” Plaques honoring all those named to the Hall hang there. A banquet is now held each Friday night prior to the public enshrinement at the next day’s football game.

In the spring of 1984, there was a dramatic change in the hall. The selection committee recommended four people for induction and forwarded their selections to the athletic director and the chancellor.

But the school’s Board of Trustees stepped in, wanting to have their voice heard. They turned down three of the selections and admitted just one athlete, Cotton Clayton.
When word of this filtered down, I contacted the Board’s athletic committee chairman, Tom Bennett, to question what was going on.

I was told that the Board felt it was their duty to “look over” the Hall of Fame. The matter would not take long and no changes would likely be made. The Board, I was told, just wanted to have a hand in it.

But when spring — and the time for new selections — rolled around, nothing had been done. Again, I questioned Bennett, only to again be told to “just wait. It wouldn’t be long.”

Not long eventually turned into a five-year gap in the selections.

Finally, in the spring of 1989, I happened to be looking through one of the East Carolina publications and saw a notice asking for nominations to the East Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.

The eligibility rules for selection had been changed. Athletes could not be inducted until they had been out of school for 10 years. Coaches and administrators had to serve at least five years in the position for which they were nominated.

No one on the existing selection committee was asked for their opinions, nor had they been told of the Board’s decision and action. We just happened to read about it in the papers.

The new committee consisted mainly of university officials such as the assistant AD, and the faculty athletic chairman — both members of the former committee — along with the president of the Pirate Club, the president of the student body, and others.

A member of the Hall — selected by the new committee — recently told me that there were few people on the selection panel who knew a great deal about the history of the athletic program, something he felt was necessary.

Over the years since the “new” Hall, I’ve continued to lobby for people I feel should be in the Hall, and I’ve seen quite a few of them inducted. As you may know, I still have a lengthy list that I’ve put before the committee, a list that will only grow as more and more people become eligible.

I will admit that I do feel a little bitterness over what has happened to the Hall and the way the original committee was dismissed without any notice or thanks. But I guess that’s just politics.

Like a child who has left home, I will always have a place in my heart for the Hall of Fame and I will continue to back it in every way that I can. I may not always agree with some selections, but I do believe that most everyone in the Hall deserves to be there.


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02/23/2007 02:43:54 PM

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