Five enshrined

Published 10:23 am Thursday, November 15, 2012

The newest members of the Chowan University/Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame are, from left, Robin Hoey, Johnny Warren, Al Pierce, Spencer White and Jeff Whitaker. Staff Photo by Cal Bryant

MURFREESBORO– The 27th induction class into the Chowan University/Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame definitely had a Roanoke-Chowan flavor.

Of the five former Chowan athletes enshrined, two were products of local high schools – Al Pierce (Ahoskie High School) and Spencer White (Bertie High School) – while three of the inductors – Al Vaughan (formerly of Ahoskie), former Bertie High coach Jerry Smith and retired Chowan hoops coach Bob Burke – also made names for themselves locally.

Also enshrined as part of the Class of 2012 were former Chowan basketball players Robin Hoey (1977-79) and Jeff Whitaker (1987-89), and football standout Johnny Warren (1954-55).

Smith, who coached Bertie High to a state title in 1970, moved up the ladder within his profession as he led the Chowan basketball fortunes for three years. It was Smith who ushered in a new era on the court for the then Braves.

To rebuild the Braves, basically from the ground up, Smith went looking for players, an effort that led him to Burns Senior High School in Lawndale, NC from where Hoey graduated in 1977. That recruiting effort was golden as Hoey, averaging 13 points per game en route to All-Conference and All-Region recognition, helped the Braves post a 20-8 season in his freshman year. Hoey continued that success during his sophomore campaign where he was named as a NJCAA All-American.

“Robin committed himself to improving his basketball skills,” Smith said. “He soaked in everything he was told. He was a natural leader, wanting to be a team player, not an individual player. When we started winning the people began flocking to the gym and we were able to get things turned around here with players like Robin and then I turned it over to coach (Bob) Burke (also a member of the Garrison Hall of Fame) and he just ran away with this program, taking it to a higher level.”

“This is a major, major honor for me,” said Hoey upon accepting his Hall of Fame plaque. “I credit coach Smith, he just didn’t teach us about basketball, he taught us how to be men. I love this university and I thank you for this honor.”

Hoey went on to play under the legendary Gary Williams at American University in Washington, D.C.where he was a two-time All-Conference performer. He had a stint in the NBA with the Washington Bullets and in the CBA with the Albany Patrons where he played under Phil Jackson.

In 1986, Hoey joined the Metro D.C. Police Department, moving up the ladder through several departments. He currently serves as an Inspector-Field Commander for the Patrol Services Division.

Another Roanoke-Chowan area connection to this year’s Hall of Fame induction class was Al Pierce. The Colerain native came to Chowan in the fall of 1955 as a touted local football talent from Ahoskie High School where he played both offense and defense. His gridiron prowess caught the attention of Chowan’s then head coach Herb Appenzeller and Pierce helped the Braves to back-to-back successful seasons, to include a pair of bowl victories.

Pierce was inducted by legendary Ahoskie High School coach Al Vaughan, a member of the very first Chowan Hall of Fame class in 1985, and Pierce’s collegiate teammate. Vaughan and Pierce played together at Ahoskie High where they were part of two state championship teams. In their freshman year at Chowan, the Braves were ranked ninth nationally.

“Al Pierce was a key part of that 1955 team,”Vaughan recalled. “He wasn’t flashy; rather he was a hard-nosed, down in the trenches football player. He got the job done, a great blocker and great runner at fullback and a linebacker on defense where he had a terrific nose for the football. He was always around the football. He could deliver a blow.”

“This is one of the most happier occasions of my life, to be put in the Hall of Fame here at Chowan,” said Pierce. “I thank my family and my teammates for joining me for this special night. Football was my game and like Al said, I love to hit people. Over the past 50 or so years there have been a lot of great football players to come through here and are in the Hall of Fame. To have your name mentioned in the same breath with those guys is indeed an honor, one I’ll never forget.”

Following his football career, Pierce served his country in the U.S. Army and then joined the ranks of the civilian world where he experienced much success in the banking industry. He settled in the Concord area, working there for 36 years in finance, city government, and commercial banking. He also held a Real Estate license. He went into business for himself overseeing the management of a construction company and a mortgage company.

Spencer White, a four-sport athlete at Bertie High School in the 1960’s who later returned to his alma mater to coach football, wrestling and softball, continued the local theme of the Hall of Fame banquet.

“Spencer has represented Chowan in the highest regard since he enrolled here in 1965,” said Earl Cleghorn, a former coach at Temple University where White completed his college career. “He was an outstanding player and maintained a strong academic record, setting him up for success later in life. Everything worked out just fine for this country boy from Bertie County.”

“This is a great honor; nobody up here has loved football and loved Chowan College more than I have,” White said. “If it wasn’t for this school and coach Garrison and coach (Jerry) Hawkins, I believe I’d be dead today.”

White said he came to Chowan for three reasons – education (pushed by his mother); his brother (wanting to out do his sibling at something in life); and because of himself (his love of football).

“All I wanted was to play at Chowan for one year, drop out and join the Army and then go on with my life,” White recalled. “But due to coach Garrison and coach Hawkins, they took me under their wings and showed me the way…how to be a better player and how to study for class. They made me what I am today and I’m very honored and proud to stand here tonight as a member of this school’s Hall of Fame.”

After earning his degree from Temple, White picked up the passion for coaching. He was asked to stay on to help coach the 1969 Temple Freshman football squad where he helped the team to a perfect 6-0 record.

He returned to his home state, first spending five seasons at Northern Nash High School and accumulated a 40-17 overall record as the football coach. He also served as the wrestling coach and amassed a 42-15 record over five years. He had stints at Southern Nash,Columbia, and Perquimans County high schools before settling in at his alma mater, Bertie County High, in 1989. There his football (107-47 overall), wrestling (64-27) and softball (90-38) teams combined for several conference championships until he retired in 1995.

White, who resides in Windsor, is active in the Greens Cross Baptist Church community where he serves as a deacon, is the head usher and chairs the Building and Grounds Committee and Lay Renewal Weekend Committee.

Warren, a Rocky Mount native, was also part of Chowan’s ultra successful football teams of the mid 1950’s. An All-State performer in high school,Warren initially took his talents to East Carolina University but after one season with the Pirates he made his way to Chowan College. In his first season with the then-Braves, Warren ran for 1,009 yards, a new program single-season record. He also accounted for 14 touchdowns in that same season. He was named to the NJCAA All-State Team in both his freshman and sophomore seasons at Chowan.

Coach Appenzeller inducted his former pupil into the Garrison Hall of Fame, calling his teams of the mid-50’s among the best group of talent he ever coached.

“That group of men wanted to prove to the world that Chowan College was real,” Appenzeller said. “They played with that kind of spirit and I was lucky enough to be their coach. Johnny Warren was really special. He had the speed and he, like his teammates, was on a mission to prove himself.”

“It was an honor and privilege to play for coach Appenzeller; I remember him not only as a great coach, but a great man who taught us so many great lessons in life,” Warren said. “He had a major influence on my life, teaching the value of teamwork and the spirit of winning.

“I would like to thank my teammates, especially my offensive linemen,” he continued. “I also need to thank the faculty here at that time, giving me the opportunity to learn. My years here were two of the best in my life and I will cherish them forever. The values I learned here were vital as I matured into adulthood.”

When his Chowan career ended,Warren joined the Army followed by a long successful career in banking before his retirement in 1998 as Vice President with Centura Bank.

He has contributed to the civic and religious life of his Rocky Mount community as a member of the Rocky Mount Optimist Club. In 2009 he was named to the George Whitfield Hall of Fame and is a lifetime member of Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church.

Whitaker was part of two of the most successful teams in Chowan basketball history. A product of North Edgecombe High School, he played two seasons with the Braves where the club won 53 times against only 13 losses. During his freshman year he was the starting point guard and helped take his team to the Sweet Sixteen of the NJCAA in Hutchinson, Kansas. He led the team in assists and steals and served as a team captain in his sophomore season.

Hall of Fame coach Burke had the honor of adding the name of his former standout player to the list of those noteworthy athletes who have proudly worn the famed blue-and-white and are now enshrined in the hall.

“When I first met Jeff, at a time when he was still in high school and attending our summer basketball camp, I wasn’t originally convinced that he could play at Chowan,” Burke said. “At that time, with all the success we were enjoying, we had the luxury of picking who we wanted. But Jeff kept working hard, he wanted to play here and I noted that desire and we took him in. He believed in himself and his play once he got here to Chowan made believers out of everyone else with this program, included yours truly.”

Mixed in with a group of 12 players that eventually left Chowan to play at the Division 1 level, Burke said Whitaker’s unassuming style was often overlooked.

“But he went on to play as the starting point guard and was the team captain at East Carolina University,” Burke noted. “He went on with life when athletics was over and has made something of himself. I’m proud of Jeff and his many, many accomplishments.”

“Thank you for this prestigious honor,” Whitaker said upon accepting his Hall of Fame plaque. “I thank my family and friends for traveling here today and supporting me on this special day. I grew up in a competitive family and we worked hard to sharpen our competitive edge each and every day.”

Whitaker credited his now late high school basketball coach, Warren Jones, for recognizing his willingness to do whatever it took to become a better athlete and help the team.

“Coach Jones knew my potential and knew I could perform at a higher level,” Whitaker said. “It was a privilege to attend and play here at Chowan, a powerhouse in junior college basketball back then. I must admit that after observing coach Burke’s intensity of coaching and his knowledge of basketball, I seriously thought he was going to erupt. But coach Burke has a big heart and he cares about his players. Chowan was the right place for me and coach Burke was the right man to help me develop my full potential, both on and off the court. Chowan was my home away from home; I met a lot of great people and developed lifetime friendships.”

Whitaker received his B.S. in Criminal Justice from ECU and after graduation was hired by the Pitt County Juvenile Detention Center as a youth counselor. He spent seven years in that position before accepting a full-time position with Belk as a loss prevention officer. Whitaker now serves as the Loss Prevention Manager for Belk in Raleigh, where he now resides.

“My congratulations to the inductees into the Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame,” said Chowan President Dr. Chris White. “When I look at this list of names and read these bios, I can’t decide if I’m more impressed with the accomplishments you experienced on the field of play or what you’ve done with your life since you were a student-athlete. You have been very successful, not only bringing honor to yourselves and your families, but you brought honor to your alma mater.”

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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