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A Salute to the Class of 2020

By Rick Strunk, 05/20/20, 10:00AM EDT


The pandemic which has gripped the world for the last few months has certainly impacted almost every facet of life.

RALEIGH— The pandemic which has gripped the world for the last few months has certainly impacted almost every facet of life.

             As the medical emergency continued, thousands of events across the globe were cancelled or postponed, and as it stretched into the spring it became evident that students of a variety of ages were going to miss out on a lot of treasured school experiences.

            That especially impacted high school seniors in the class of 2020, who not only had their schools closed and learning moved online, but they lost out on the opportunity to participate in sports, with the spring seasons completely wiped out after a few events. They also missed such events as proms, and then the traditional graduation exercises that culminate those years in school as they head off to college or other new phases of life.

            High school seniors had many things they had looked forward to either changed or eliminated, and that also relates to the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

            Of course, the pandemic impacted all the events around the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for 2020, always highlighted by the banquet honoring some of the greatest names in our state’s sports history, and that induction class will now join during ceremonies in 2021.

            But another casualty was the NCSHOF Salute to Student-Athletes Program, which has become an important part of the activities in just a few short years. The program recognizes high school students from across the state and exposes them to the many positive lessons to be learned from North Carolina’s outstanding sports heritage.

            The two-day event includes a special reception and attendance at ceremonies where the newest class of inductees to the Hall of Fame are inducted at the Raleigh Convention Center.  The following day, the student-athletes tour the state’s hall of fame exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of History and participate in a seminar involving some of North Carolina’s most celebrated sports figures.

            A total of 219 student-athletes from all over North Carolina and their chaperones were among the participants in the 2019 Salute To Student-Athletes Program. There were 31 different schools from 21 different counties across the state represented by the student-athletes who attended.

            Many of the student-athletes who are selected by their schools or school systems to attend the NCSHOF activities are seniors who have been leaders on and off the field or court, and the special opportunity to interact with Hall of Fame members is priceless. 

            But all those schools and students who had been making plans to attend this year’s ceremonies saw those plans eliminated.

            We thought it would be interesting to call upon our new NCSHOF inductees to share a few words of encouragement and insight with members of the class of 2020.

            Long-time Raleigh News and Observer prep sports writer Tim Stevens, a NCSHOF inductee, has an interesting perspective:

            “The best post-game speech I ever heard of was New Bern football coach Bob Curlings after his Bears beat Charlotte Independence for the state 4-A football title in 2007. New Bern had lost to Independence in the state finals three times and Independence had won seven consecutive state titles. The Bears knocked off Independence, 28-17, stopping one of the state's most dominating programs.

            “In the height of the excitement of capturing the state title, Curlings' first words to his state champions were inspired. From that moment on, he said, each player should strive to making sure that winning a state high school football championship was not the greatest accomplishment of his life.

            “This year's high school graduating class is not the first group to face an atypical final year. Many high school seniors in the 1940s left for basic training within days of graduating and knew they would be in combat within months. Classes in the 1960s knew that the jungles of Vietnam awaited many of them. Many classes have graduated during depressions or other extraordinary social upheavals.


            “As this year's seniors graduate, they would be wise to consider Coach Curlings' message with one alteration. The seniors should strive to make sure that their senior high school year is not the most remarkable thing to happen in their lives.”


            Now let’s hear from some of our other North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame inductees as they salute this year’s seniors:

            “To the Class of 2020– do not despair, as truly the best times are ahead for all of us if we take the right attitude into what is next!  This is not the way anyone anticipated the spring of your senior year to end.  As you wake up each day moving forward, greet the day believing you can get 1% better each day! That competitive spirit you used to tackle all the challenges of high school will serve you well moving forward.  I'm a believer in ‘Next and Every’ and use those words to motivate me to be ready, stay ready and keep a positive outlook.  Congrats on your graduation and best of luck into the future!”

                                                                                    —Debbie Antonelli   


            "They say tough times don't last, tough people do, and I have a feeling the class of 2020 is one of the most resilient classes we have seen yet. Congratulations on such a huge accomplishment, continue pushing towards your dreams and remember to never give up and always believe."

                                                                                    — Muggsy Bogues 


            "Congratulations on your graduation. We know this isn't the end that you had hoped for for your senior year. You've likely had to overcome some adversity to graduate and it's made you even stronger. Great leaders turn crisis into positives. Keep working and good things will come. Congratulations again and good luck as you move on to your next chapter."

                                                                                    —Mack Brown


            “As you go forward on your path, explore, discover, and seek your dreams. Hard work and persistence make your dreams a reality. I wish you the best in your endeavors and know that you can be and are the best— congratulations on your achievements!”

                                                                                    —Dr. Charles Kernodle


            “Congratulations to the graduating seniors of the Class of 2020. You have had an experience unlike any senior class in my lifetime. What doesn't break you down makes you stronger, and you have experienced all the emotions.

            “I'm sorry that you have had the special senior events taken away from you. I know that your senior athletic seasons didn't turn out the way you wanted but hopefully you will grow and have other great memories to cherish. Best of luck in the future for success in whatever endeavor you choose.”

                                                                                    —Mac Morris


        “Your senior year of high school is one of the most meaningful years of your life. Although your year has been cut short by the corona virus, remember all the good times that you have had, and most especially remember the bonds you have had with your teammates and friends.  Many of them will last a lifetime.”

                                                                                    —Bobby Purcell


        “I would like to congratulate each of you on the many amazing accomplishments over your high school years. There are always ups and downs, wins and losses, with lessons learned in each case.

            “I know that many have missed proms, banquets, and graduation ceremonies that you were all looking forward to. Remember that the most important things are not things but people—your friends, teachers, teammates, administrators.   

            “The fact that matters is that by missing the fun things, you have provided a safer environment to continue all of these special relationships! Best of luck as you make your next career decisions!”

                                                                                    —Judy Rose


        “Congratulations, Seniors!  Remember to dream big, and go out in the world and make an impact on people’s lives.  Love one another and remember— it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.  God bless you!”

                                                                                    —Donnell Woolford 


The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class in 1963, celebrates excellence and extraordinary achievement in athletics. The Hall of Fame is designed for the inspiration and enjoyment of all North Carolinians through popular exhibits and educational displays. The NCSHOF museum, including an outstanding collection of sports memorabilia, is located in a 3,500-square feet section of the third floor of the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.