Stepping Up: They were among the greatest

Published 8:35 pm Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A while back, I wrote a piece about two outstanding athletes from yesteryear with connections to this area.

Galen Elliot, of Washington, was one of the nation’s finest track athletes as a middle- and long-distance runner for UNC.

Jack “Spratt” Cobb, three-time All Southern Conference, three-time All American, and national Player of the Year his senior season as a basketball player at UNC, lived in Washington Park in the 1950s.

There have been other standouts from or with connections to our area, of course. Dominique Wilkins, one of the greatest high school, college, and professional basketball players of all times, wore the Pam Pack navy and white (no gray).

Jimmy Gurkin and Scott Irby, both of Washington, earned All-America honors in golf at Campbell, and the Camels won the NAIA national championship in 1970. Gurkin was so honored in ’69 and Irby in ’70.

Pack Hindsley, MD, a retired urologist here, was an All-Southern Conference football player at Davidson, and was inducted into his alma mater’s athletic Hall of Fame.

Billy Gilgo, a former classmate and teammate of mine, was inducted into The Citadel’s Football Hall of Fame.

Rodney Knowles was a two-time All-Southern Conference basketball player at Davidson in the late 60s. Unfortunately for the Pam Pack, his family moved from Washington to Greenville in his high school years. Rodney went on to play professionally.

One of the greatest Duke athletes of all time, Eric Tipton, earned All-Southern Conference and All-America honors in football in 1938. His football forte was his punting, although he was an outstanding runner and defensive back as well. On a snowy day against Pitt in ’38, Tipton punted 20 times, 14 of them inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. One succession of kicks traveled 52, 50, 60, 47, 48, 56, 45, 53, 42, and 41 yards, respectively.

Duke won that day, 7-0, before 52,000 people, the most ever in the South.

Tipton played major-league baseball six years, with the Phillies and the Reds. He was a professional football player as well, and among the several Halls of Fame into which he was inducted is the National Football League.

And just what is his connection to our area? Well, now. His daughter and son-in-law, Carol and Larry Ahlman, live in Cypress Landing. And, of great importance, Larry was the outstanding bass in our “Men ‘n a Chord” barbershop quartet! Now, is that a pertinent fact, or what?

Vic Bubas: Outstanding basketball player at NC State, who was brought there from Indiana by the legendary Everett Case, brought the Wolfpack into national prominence.

Vic went on to become a highly successful coach at Duke, taking the Blue Devils to two final fours. He later served as commissioner of the then newly formed Sun Belt Conference. Vic, nearly 90, resides now in Virginia.

His connection to this area? There are, or were numerous lads from here, who knew Vic when he was camp director at Camp Mishemokwa in the mountains of our state, located near Bat Cave. E.S. Johnson was the owner of the camp. Mr. Johnson, at one time or another, served as coach and principal at Washington High School, and also as superintendent of city schools. And I knew Vic Bubas.

Than there was Dick Cherry. All-State in football and basketball, Dick went on to greatness at East Carolina College, where he was All-Carolinas Conference in football three years. One of the greatest athletes ever at WHS, Dick later coached football at his alma mater. Dick is in both the WHS and ECU Sports Halls of Fame.

Here then are a few sports luminaries with ties to our area. It is not an all-inclusive list by any means.

Perhaps there are others who come to mind, as you meander down the path of sports nostalgia.