The 2019 North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame class might be one of the most unique to date.
Friday’s 12 inductees were introduced at a press conference on Thursday in downtown Raleigh, and it includes, as always, championship football and basketball coaches. But it also includes a legendary NASCAR driver (Dale Earnhardt, Jr.), a groundbreaking basketball official (Dee Kantner) and two firsts — a wrestling coach (the late Steve Gabriel) and a representative of the North Carolina wildlife commission (Eddie Bridges).
The NC Sports Hall of Fame, which was established in 1963 and has 351 members, will induct the 12 members — eight living, four posthumous — during the 56th annual ceremony at 7 p.m. on Friday at the Raleigh Convention Center.
The new class includes three members with ties to N.C. Central: The late Ernie Barnes and Willie Bradshaw, and Rod Broadway, who retired from coaching two years ago with five national titles, including two at NCCU.
“I’m not an individual type guy,” Broadway said. “Every opportunity I get honored like this, it’s because a lot of guys helped me and did a lot of great things around me. So this is for a lot of people, but this a great honor to me here.”
Bridges played football and ran track at Elon, but he’s most known through the state for service to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission the last 43 years.
“I think people forget that the men, women and children who hunt and fish in North Carolina have raised 3.2 million dollars every year for the state economy,” Bridges said. “They’ve discovered that we are an important group of people and I am proud about that.”
Gabriel started a wrestling program at Appalachian High School in 1952 and when the school closed 13 years later, the had a perfect record of 140-0 with 54 state champions. He then went to coach wrestling at Appalachian State for nine years.
Kantner talked about a unique hobby she has outside of officiating - bee keeping. She wouldn’t consider herself an expert yet (the bee sting on her foot backs that up), but she is big in the world of officiating. Born in Reading, Penn., before relocating to North Carolina in 1984, Kantner has been the supervisor of officials in the WNBA for 14 years and has officiated every NCAA Final Four since 1992, with the exception of the five years she was moonlighting in the NBA calling games.
She said the Hall of Fame induction was “nerve-wracking,” adding she felt strange not having the shield of her referee uniform. Kantner joked that officials are often seen as a “necessary evil” so to be recognized for her body of work is humbling.
“It’s also very real,” Kantner said. “Like, how long have I been doing this?”
Kantner said she was a fan of two inductees who weren’t able to make it to the press conference. Earnhardt and golfer Davis Love III will be in town for the ceremony on Friday, so Kantner will have to wait a day to meet the two inductees she followed the most.
“My mother is a huge Dale Earnhardt, Sr. fan,” Kantner beamed. “I got a picture with him years ago in Charlotte and she didn’t even see my face. When I found out I was being inducted and the group included Davis Love III and Dale Earnhardt (Jr.), now it means something.”
The induction also meant a lot of Ayden’s Paul Miller, who encouraged all in attendance to try some local barbecue the next time they are in the tiny town located 10 miles outside of Greenville. Miller, who was a three-sport athlete at Ayden High, never lost a high school game in football (12-0 junior varsity, 40-0 varsity) and his basketball teams went 78-4 before he moved on to North Carolina to play quarterback for Bill Dooley.
“I was blessed,” Miller said. “I came in the right two cycles at Ayden and Carolina. There were better athletes than me at Ayden and at Carolina than I ever was. Just the right time.”
He also followed in the footsteps of his high school coaches; Stuart Tripp and Bob Murphrey, who are both in the NC Sports Hall of Fame, and Dooley, who was inducted in 1995.
“Those were my coaches,” Miller said. “Those were my influences.”
NC Sports Hall of Fame class of 2019
Ernie Barnes: Durham native played football at then-North Carolina College and majored in art. Became known as “America’s Best Painter of Sports.”
Willie Bradshaw: Former Durham Hillside High athlete served as the athletic director for the Durham City School system. Former president of the NC High School Athletic Directors Association and the NC Coaches Association.
Eddie Bridges: Developed lifetime hunting and fishing licenses in North Carolina, which have since raised $110 million. Former chairman of the Game and Fish Committee of North Carolina’s Wildlife Resources Commission.
Rod Broadway: The former UNC defensive lineman coached for 39 years and is the only coach to win a national black college championship at three different schools.
Gene Corrigan: Served as athletic director at Washington and Lee, Virginia and Notre Dame before becoming ACC commissioner from 1987-97.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr: The Kannapolis native has won the Daytona 500 twice, with 26 Cup victories. Was voted by fans as the most popular driver on the NASCAR circuit 15 times.
Steve Gabriel: Founded the wrestling program at Appalachian High School in Boone. Those teams went 140-0 in 13 years. Served as wrestling coach at Appalachian State and is in the ASU Athletic Hall of Fame and National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Dee Kantner: Basketball official has been selected for every NCAA women’s tournament since 1992, including 22 Final Fours. Officiated in the NBA for five seasons.
Davis Love III: Three-time all-American at UNC. Has 21 wins on the PGA tour, including the 1997 PGA Championship. He captained the U.S. Ryder Cup teams twice and entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2017.
Paul Miller: Three-sport athlete at Ayden High played quarterback at UNC under Bill Dooley. Led the ACC in total offense in 1971, as the Heels went 9-3 and went to the Gator Bowl. Was all-ACC and all-academic ACC.
Neil McGeachy: A member of the Lenoir-Rhyne Hall of Fame. Served as Lenoir-Rhyne athletic director from 2002-16. Member of the North Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.
Thell Overman:Three-sport athlete at Guilford College. Football record as a head coach was 278-73-6 and 541-118 in baseball at John Graham (four years) and Wallace-Rose Hill (34 years).