Gunnings, Gary Adams, Bruce Bolick, Henry Jones and Deanna Tate inducted on Monday night in Gastonia

GASTONIA — Not often does a basketball icon like Earvin "Magic" Johnson give so much credit to any particular person for his extraordinary success in sports and business.

But that's exactly what Johnson did in a video celebrating the late Dr. Thomas Gunnings of Gastonia at Monday's 2018 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame banquet at the Gastonia Conference Center.

"Thank you for honoring my friend and my mentor," Johnson said in a video that showed on four different screens. "This is a guy who took me aside at 17 years old and helped me navigate playing basketball at Michigan State and learning about life. He helped me so much and that's why I love him so much."

Johnson, 58, spent two seasons at Michigan State before embarking on a 13-year NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers during which he was a 12-time All-Star, five-time NBA champion and three-time MVP while spending 10 seasons as a teammate of Gastonia's James Worthy. Johnson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

Now president of basketball operations for the Lakers, Johnson also has been a successful businessman that includes him being part-owner of major league baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers.

"I'm so proud of Dr. Gunnings and happy to call him my friend," Johnson continued in the video. "I know he's not with us but I'm sure he's looking down on this. I'm so excited for him because I'm like a son to him."

Gunnings, who died in 2010, became the first African-American faculty member in Michigan State history in 1970 and was designated by the school as professor emeritus upon his retirement in 1999.

Gunnings also was one of five inductees in the 2018 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame Class. The others were Bessemer City's Gary Adams, Mount Holly's Bruce Bolick, Cherryville's Henry Jones and Gastonia's Deanna Tate.

 

Gunnings' NFL flavor

Gunnings, who played football at old Highland High and at Winston-Salem State, was represented by another professional standout that he mentored in Carolina Panthers All-Pro wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, and by his grandson, current Panthers offensive lineman Taylor Moton.

Muhammad credits Gunnings for helping him onto his path to the NFL.

"We just heard from Magic Johnson about how impactful Dr. Gunnings was," Muhammad said. "And I want to add to that. Dr. Gunnings wasn't just a professor. He was like a dad and he helped me get my life back on track."

Muhammad also found it quite ironic that the two NFL products from Lansing, Mich., were second-round picks of the Panthers 21 years apart; Muhammad was chosen in 1996 and Moton in 2017.

"I can call it ironic but we all know God doesn't make any mistakes," Muhammad said.

Moton, who attended a voluntary Panthers' camp earlier on Monday, is preparing for his second NFL season.

"I'm a stand in for my grandfather but nobody can stand in for him — ever," Moton said. "My grandfather gave me an example to follow. He said you have two options — You can go through the motions or you can have a purpose in life.

"Obviously, he chose the latter."

Moton, who played at Western Michigan, credited his grandfather for creating his interest in football.

"I normally don't get emotional but this is one of the most emotional days of my life," Moton said. "I love my grandfather to death. And I miss him every day."

 

Muschamp's Carolinas

Featured speaker Will Muschamp, the head football coach at South Carolina, shared several jokes and punchlines with a room full of mostly North Carolinians.

"It's an honor to be here and an honor to be the coach at the 'real Carolina,'" Muschamp said.

When there was some reaction from the crowd, he offered, "I wanted to loosen ya'll up a bit."

Muschamp had already confirmed he had North Carolina ties; His father Larry Muschamp played football for North Carolina, his mother Sally Muschamp attended Duke and one of his two brothers Mike Muschamp played football for Duke.

 

Bessemer City-bred

Gary Adams' inductor, Fred Ward, Adams' brother-in-law, made a good point when he noted that he'd been told to be brief in his introduction.

"With the lifetime of achievements he's had, it's hard," Ward said of Adams, who had 1,259 coaching victories and 21 state championships entering this spring season as Crescent High's softball coach.

Adams said his Bessemer City High teachers were his influences, including 2007 GCSHOF inductee Jackson "Ace" Parker.

Parker coached football, basketball and baseball for the Yellow Jackets to 346 victories from 1955 to 1972, including teams Adams played on.

"There's no doubt that coach Parker impacted me the most," said Adams, a 1965 Bessemer City High graduate. "I thought he had the life coaching three sports. But after coaching two sports for 20 years, I found out it wasn't nearly as easy as he made it look."

 

Bolick's familiar ties

Bruce Bolick's career in baseball will continue again this season when he returns as Lincoln County Cardinals American Legion Post 455 coach.

"I'm happy to say this will be my 49th year of coaching," Bolick said.

So it was no surprise honorary inductor Larry Hartsell, who was Bolick's neighbor growing up in Lucia's River Bend neighborhood, noted that Bolick's induction ceremony was so close to one of the first baseball fields where Bolick began making a name for himself.

"It is only fitting that this banquet is being held a stone's throw from the old Smyre Field and Teener League baseball where (1968 GCSHOF inductee) Russ Bergmann coached Bruce," said Hartsell, who was unable to attend due to health reasons.

Bolick played for Gastonia's 1960 national Teener League champion and later played college and professional baseball at Sims Legion Park, which was about a mile away from the Gastonia Conference Center.

Added inductor Mike Harrill, a former player and coach for Bolick at East Lincoln High: "It's still hard for me after all of these years to call him 'Bruce.' I still call him 'Coach.'"

 

Jones's coaching connections

After being inducted by one of his many players who got into coaching (Gardner-Webb head baseball coach Rusty Stroupe), Henry Jones says he was blessed by having great assistant coaches during his record-setting tenure at Cherryville High.

"I was in great hands with those guys," Jones said of assistants Bobby Reynolds, Shannon Bowyer, Dewey Fitch, Scott Heavner and Mike Grayson, who all were in attendance at Monday's banquet. "All I had to do was drive the bus and get the team to the game."

Jones led Ironmen baseball teams to a county-record 542-207 record with six state titles, 11 conference championships and 24 playoff berths in 32 seasons from 1974 to 2005.

Stroupe, who last week won his 800th college game as a head coach, credited Jones with creating the "Cherryville mystique" that remains to this day.

"He could make you believe you could win just because it says 'Cherryville' on the front of the jersey," Stroupe said.

 

True basketball pioneer

Gastonia's Deanna Tate was recruited to Maryland by pioneering Terrapins' coach Chris Weller, who in 1975 became that school's first assistant athletic director for women's sports.

"I had the opportunity to coach a lot of great women athletes and leaders in women's sports because of Title IX" in 1972, Weller said. "And Deanna was one of those type players and people."

Tate helped Weller's teams to three ACC titles, one NCAA Final Four and one NCAA Elite Eight before later becoming a Maryland assistant and in the 1997-98 season the first Gaston County women's professional basketball player.

"It's just a special honor and I'm so happy my college coach was here to share it with me," said Tate, who was one of 13 children in her family.

 

Golf tournament

The team of Kent Cherry, Bryant Cherry, Jonathan Cherry and Charles Winters took top honors at Monday morning's best-ball Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame golf tournament at Cramer Mountain Country Club with an aggregate score of 54.

The second-place team of Frank Helton, Lee Dedmon, Ken Howell and 2018 GCSHOF inductee Henry Jones shot a 58 and the third-place team of Adam Poe, Nick Wood, Mark Hodges and Jonathan Hovis shot a 59.

Other superlative winners were closest to the pin on No. 2 (Jonathan Hovis), No. 8 (Mark Hodges), No. 12 (Jonathan Cherry), No. 15 (John Whitaker) and No. 17 (Tom Haus) and longest drive on No. 18 (Adam Poe).

 

Notes

There were several guests at Monday's banquet, among them high school football coaches Steve Gardner (Hunter Huss), Jamar McKoy (Hunter Huss), Adam Hodge (South Point), Mickey Lineberger (South Point), Jim Biggerstaff (South Point) and Sam Greiner (formerly Harding and now Hickory Ridge), high school football standouts Tony Davis (Hunter Huss), Prince Bemah (Hunter Huss), Marcus Mauney (Hunter Huss), Zo Wallace (Hunter Huss), Phillip Davis (South Point), Matthew Robinson (South Point), Larry Dowdy (South Point), Braheam Murphy (Harding), Quavaris Crouch (Harding), Jovaughn Gwyn (Harding), Cameren Lowery (Ashbrook and Mallard Creek) and Jordan Davis (Georgia), Cherryville High coaches Scott Harrill and Scott Heavner, college baseball coaches Kermit Smith (Appalachian State), Rusty Stroupe (Gardner-Webb) and Jerry Bryson (Gardner-Webb), former North Carolina basketball player and longtime Gaston County Schools administrator Lee Dedmon, former Bessemer City High and Gardner-Webb football coach Woody Fish and current South Carolina football assistant coach Bobby Bentley....

The former Hall of Fame inductees in attendance were Larry Rhodes (1979), Jim Biggerstaff (2007), Don Saine (2007), Gayle Waldrop Fulbright (2008), Joe Ladd (2010), Harold Stowe (2010), Doug Hoffman (2011), Guy Eaker (2012), Phil Tate (2015) and Bobby Reynolds (2017).

 

Richard Walker: 704-869-1841; twitter.com/jrwalk22