George Whitfield’s world isn’t round. It’s shaped more like a baseball diamond. And it is in that setting the 5-foot-9 Whitfield reached giant stature.
He produced a glittering coaching record for more than four decades, helped thousands of kids, and still promotes the sport with unbridled fervor. His American Legion teams and high school squads at Goldsboro, Hamlet and Richmond County carved a 954-286 mark that included eight state championships and 15 conference titles. Ninety of those players received college scholarships and three — Franklin Stubbs, Alvin Morman and Brian Moehler — reached the Big Leagues.
These are hall of fame numbers and a major reason Whitfield went into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame tonight, standing up.
“He was enthusiastic, made the game fun and had a knack for getting a hundred percent out of you,’’ said Jim Bryan, who pitched for Whitfield at Goldsboro, starred at Guilford College and went on to play professionally.
“After losses,” Bryan added. “He made us run sprints.”
Whitfield also treated his players to occasional victory dinners. But on one trip to the Triangle area, he made the mistake of promising his boys a meal at the Angus Barn if they beat Durham, which they did. “I thought it was a hamburger place,’’ Whitfield lamented. “The bill was about $330. It was my whole monthly salary.”
Whitfield, who has been enshrined in seven different halls of fame, also coached collegiately. He started the baseball program at Pitt Community College and served on the staffs at Mississippi State and East Carolina.
But Whitfield’s world didn’t always sparkle. His mother died when he was 18 months old. His father died when he was 12. By his own admission, the early teen years were a troublesome time.
Noted Kinston High coach Amos Sexton came to the rescue, inviting Whitfield to live with his family. In that stable home environment, Whitfield gained a new lease on life.
He developed into a three-sport athlete at Kinston; went on to play baseball and basketball at Lees McRae Junior College; and completed his under-graduate degree at East Carolina.
“I don’t know where I would be [without Sexton’s help],” Whitfield said. “I sure wouldn’t be here. God has always put somebody there for me at every place in my life.”
Inspired by Sexton and another standout Kinston coach, Frank Mock, Whitfield chose to follow in his mentors’ footsteps. He went to Goldsboro in 1959, taught school and coached three sports for a $750 supplement. But he was at his best on the baseball field, shifting outfielders, guiding pitchers, exhorting hitters.
Now a 68-year old father of two children, Whitfield remains one of the “Boys of Summer.” He still conducts the popular baseball clinic he started 33 years ago and has made available to several hundred under-privileged youth. He also has the phone numbers and addresses of all the boys who played for him, many of whom are at tonight’s induction ceremony.
Robert Taylor, a former Goldsboro player and currently a successful California real estate agent, recently wrote a note, thanking Whitfield for never giving up on him during a difficult period during his high school career. That’s coaching, Hall of Fame style.
by A.J. Carr
May 19, 2005
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