‘Heart’ of a champion

Published 11:52 am Thursday, November 2, 2017

MURFREESBORO – Nearly 20 years ago, Tommy Forbes underwent a risky heart replacement operation that saved his life.

Today, his “ticker” beats strong and true for Chowan University.

On Saturday evening inside the J.M. Jenkins Center, Chowan returned the favor, inducting Forbes and four other proud alumni of the university into the Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame.

Forbes, a 1974 graduate who continues to serve Chowan as the public address announcer for the men’s basketball program, was joined in the 32nd group of former athletes and patrons by Wilbert Hunter and Andy Kelly (men’s basketball: 1990-92); Judy Parsons (women’s basketball: 1985-86 and 1994-97); and Julius Smith (football: 1971-73).

For Tommy Forbes, it was a special night for this Murfreesboro businessman whose life has long been intertwined with Chowan. While a student, he served as President of the Day Student Organization and his commitment to serve his alma mater has not waivered since. After graduation, he has continued to serve as a member and president of the then Braves Club, as an active and current member and donor to the Brave Hawks Club, and as a member of the Chowan University Board of Visitors, in addition to his PA duties during basketball season.

“For a university that continues a tradition for 32 years speaks volumes to the commitment of this school to honor its proud past and its exciting future,” said Forbes upon receiving his Hall of Fame plaque and ring from Chowan President Dr. Chris White and Director of Athletics Pat Mashuda.

“Each and every athlete honored here has gone on to do marvelous things in their lives,” Forbes continued. “There are now 139 people inducted into the Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame. I urge all of you to take some time one day and go to the (Chowan athletics) website and scroll through those names. Each of them have one common item that transforms their participation…support; that coming from their teammates, their coaches and their families. My family has supported me over the years as I serve Chowan as the basketball PA and for that I’m much appreciative. My wife, Lisa, knows Chowan is a love of mine. We all are a part of this great university.”

Meredith Long, Chowan’s Deputy Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator, presented Forbes as a Hall of Fame member. She said upon taking the pulse of those who knew Forbes described him as a man of great reputation, a natural businessman, compassionate, and a true family man.

“Tommy’s biggest attribute is he never puts himself first,” stressed Long. “He is role model to his two sons and to others. He’s the type of man who has never met a stranger. He bleeds Chowan blue.

“Tommy loves his family; loves Chowan University, and has given countless hours of his free time to our athletics department. If we ever needed something, Tommy is just a phone call away,” said Long, adding that Forbes’ son, Cliff, is a Chowan graduate who was a standout athlete on the golf team.

“What you don’t know is that 17 years ago Tommy was fighting for his life before receiving a heart transplant. His outlook on life is so enthusiastic. His love always shines through,” she concluded.

Hunter and Kelly both arrived at Chowan in 1990, each recruited by legendary coach Bob Burke. By the time they departed the Murfreesboro campus, this super talented duo had led Chowan to a Region X title and a spot in the 1992 NJCAA “Sweet 16” in Hutchinson, Kansas.

In their sophomore seasons, Kelly (16.5 points per game) and Hunter (16.4 ppg) led the team. Hunter went on to play at East Carolina, leading the Pirates to the NCAA tournament as the team’s best defensive player, while Kelly made it to the ACC, playing at Clemson University, who advanced to the NIT at the end of the 1994-95 season. Kelly earned Clemson’s Most Improved Player honors in his senior season.

“This is such an honor,” Hunter said, accepting his Hall of Fame accolades. “My foundation started with my parents, my grandparents and other family members and that family atmosphere continued here at Chowan. I hold such great memories while I was a student-athlete here. Ya’ll treated me first class, and I’ll never forget that. Thank ya’ll for this award.”

A current resident of Maryland, Hunter now serves as an assistant coach for the boys’ basketball team at Lackey High School

Hunter’s presenter was his sister, Katina Reid.

“My brother is my hero,” Reid said. “He excelled in all sports growing up and he continued to spread his wings as he got older. When he got to Chowan he got a chance to play for one of the best coaches ever, Bob Burke. He made Wilbert and other players the men they are today.

“Wilbert is an amazing father; he’s a man of integrity, loyalty and commitment,” Reid added. “To be recognized like this, in this Hall of Fame, is a tribute to what he has accomplished in life.”

Kelly’s high school basketball coach Carl Salmon presented his former player for induction. He spoke of Kelly’s mental toughness and work ethic as a player, and a disability most never knew about.

“Andy had a vision problem, he couldn’t see well out of one eye,” Salmon explained of a childhood injury on a school bus. “But he never told coach Burke or the coaches at Clemson. Andy went on to play, and play successfully, at the highest level of college basketball at Chowan and Clemson. He worked hard to get to that point.”

Salmon added that he hears a familiar question from time-to-time: who is the best player he ever coached.

“I don’t get into that kind of thing,” he said. “But I’ll guarantee you one thing, it’s a very short list and Andy Kelly is on it. But if I’m ever asked of a list of players who worked the hardest for me, Andy Kelly started that list and he’s the only one on it. I’ve never seen him flinch or back off when facing an opponent. Rick Barnes (then Clemson’s head coach) called Andy a fighter…pound-for-pound the toughest kid he’d ever coached.”

Kelly, who now lives in Charlotte where he is employed as a Commercial Sales Architect for Andersen Windows, said he traveled a “long road” in his life.

“It all started with my family, my mom and dad, and the sacrifices they made for me,” Kelly remarked.

“I want to thank the Hall of Fame Committee for this honor; I feel truly honored and blessed,” he added. “For me, it’s all about thanks….thanks to coach Salmon for teaching me how to shoot a basketball; thanks to the Fork Union coach for showing me how to see the whole floor, even with only one good eye; thanks to coach Burke who instilled the mental toughness in me; and at Clemson, coach Barnes, who helped me with my conditioning. Thank you to all who’ve helped show me the way.”

Parsons, a native of Franklin, VA, experienced a rarity at Chowan. She initially enrolled in 1985, at a time when the school was still a junior college, but spent only one year where she was a member of the basketball team. She returned nearly 10 years later, still with three years of athletic eligibility. From 1994-97, she amassed 27 double-doubles (10 or more points and rebounds in as single game).

“Even though I dropped out of Chowan after my first year, I never lost my love for this university and love for playing basketball,” said Parsons. “I was able to finish what I started. Upon coming back the second time, I was the old lady of the team….so old (29) that I was often responsible for driving the second (team) van for our away games.”

She thanked her family for all their support over the years.

“I thank the (Hall of Fame) committee and Chowan University for this honor,” Parsons closed.

She was presented for induction by her brother, Brian Parsons.

“Judy had such a huge impact on my life,” he stated. “Her first love was basketball. At 14 years old she was voted the best player on her team….she was playing on the boys team at that time. She was always one of the hardest working and toughest players I’ve seen. She was my idol then and still is to this day.”

He added that her “second career” at Chowan was amazing, on a team with women 10 years younger. Brian said he wondered if she could handle that.

“Act 2 of her athletic career was amazing…she did hold her own, and 27 double-doubles speaks to that,” he said. “But Judy is also a Hall of Fame wife, a Hall of Fame mother, and a Hall of Fame sister who I love very much.”

Smith arrived in Murfreesboro in 1971 from Cincinnati, Ohio. While his play was limited due to injury as a freshman, Smith still rushed for 572 yards and was an Honorable Mention All-Conference selection. One year later, as the featured back, he rushed for 957 yards and scored nine TD’s – earning him All Coastal Conference honors, All Region 10 honors, and Coastal Conference Offensive Back of the Year honors.

He earned a scholarship to play for the University of Cincinnati. After that he served in the military for 24 years, retiring in 2009 as a US Army Lieutenant Colonel. His active duty included assignments Germany, Japan, and other global positions. During Desert Shield/Storm he received the Bronze Star for outstanding Psychological Operations logistic support.

After retiring from active duty service, he served from 2009-2015 as a GG-14 Logistics Management Specialist for the Department of Defense, Defense Intelligence Agency. He also supported the Army Intelligence operations in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2013-2014.

In accepting his induction into Chowan’s Sports Hall of Fame, Smith spoke about how his life was full of “bus rides.”

“The first was a 28-hour journey from Cincinnati, Ohio to Murfreesboro, North Carolina,” he recalled. “My life since has been a journey. Those bus doors would open and I would climb in and those bus rides have taken me all over the world.

“The best thing about those bus rides is that they have brought me back here to Chowan,” Smith continued. “This is a special, special place in my heart and I’m so honored and humbled to receive this award.”

Smith was presented for induction by now retired Chowan baseball and football coach Jerry Hawkins.

“Julius was the type of player that if you told him to run through a wall, he would try his best to do that,” said Hawkins. “Just look at the awards he won in his sophomore year and you’ll see what I mean.”

Hawkins also praised Smith’s service to his country.

“He served for nearly 30 years; first for 24 years of active duty and then, after retiring from that, he returned, working for the Department of Defense as a Logistics Management Specialist.”

The Jim Garrison Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1985, honoring the university’s outstanding athletes, coaches, and patrons.

Joyce Garrison, the widow of Chowan’s legendary coach and athletic director, was recognized as a special guest at Saturday evening’s event.

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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