05/20/05 — Whitfield enshrined in N.C. Hall of Fame

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Whitfield enshrined in N.C. Hall of Fame

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on May 20, 2005 1:47 PM

RALEIGH -- Until Thursday afternoon, local baseball legend George Whitfield had never visited the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

He walked around the winding, exhibit in a third-floor corner of the N.C. Museum of Natural History in downtown Raleigh -- looking at relics that run the gamut from Roman Gabriel's hip pads to Jim Valvano's practice sweat suit.

All the big names are there -- Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Michael Jordan, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Dale Earnhardt ... the list goes on.

Occasionally, the 68-year-old Whitfield glanced up at the pictures and names of the 200-plus inductees that cascade in hanging rows from the ceiling of the museum. A father figure, friend and fellow Goldsboro native, Clyde King, is among them.

"This is just amazing," Whitfield said.

Thursday, the N.C. Hall added six more names. Whitfield, joined by Woody Durham and Add Penfield (broadcasting), Anson Dorrance (women's soccer), Elvin Bethea (football) and Peter Fogarassy (swimming), made up the 2005 and 42nd induction class.

"I was in shock when I first walked in to this place. I hope when my grandsons get older, I get a chance to bring them here," Whitfield said. "Not just to see their granddaddy's picture, but also to learn about the others."

The 2005 class was presented with sport coats with a patch commemorating their induction on Thursday afternoon during the press conference. In the evening, a dinner banquet was held at the North Raleigh Hilton.

His coaching record is nothing short of dazzling. Whitfield's combined record among his high school and American Legion teams in Goldsboro and Hamlet was an eye-popping 954-286. That's better than a 75-percent clip during a 43-season stretch.

Whitfield brought home eight state titles (four American Legion), while in Richmond County and coached two state runner-up Legion teams in Goldsboro in 1964 and 1967.

He served as Mount Olive College's athletics director for three years, started the baseball program at Pitt Community College, then spent five years as a volunteer assistant under former East Carolina coach Keith LeClair.

"Those were some of the more enjoyable years I ever had," Whitfield said of his time with LeClair, who is battling Lou Gehrig's disease. "I thank him so much for letting me be a part of that program."

Sure, he's clearly proud of these numbers and accomplishments, but to Whitfield -- the focus remains on the youth.

In March, Whitfield's nationally-acclaimed baseball clinic reached its 33rd year. The Goldsboro-based camp, featuring collegiate and professional coaches, assists hundreds of young people every spring.

"I'm most proud of all the kids I've had the opportunity to coach. I've been very blessed," Whitfield said.

The clinic and Whitfield's love for the game doesn't show any signs of slowing. Earlier this year, he purchased the former Eastern Carolina Athletic Park in Wayne County as it is now called the George Whitfield Sports Complex. He hopes to continue and increase the amount of district, state and national tournaments held at the complex.

"I hope we can continue to build at the complex and get people around the state to come and play tournaments ... continue to teach kids to play ball," Whitfield said. "As long as I have my health, I hope I can continue to enjoy the clinic and the sports complex."

Overall, Whitfield is pleased with the modern state of high school and youth athletics. However, he has strong feelings toward what he considers an increase in negativity from parents.

"First off, I think Charlie Adams and the NCHSAA have done a great job in North Carolina with high school sports," he said. "One thing that does bother is I've noticed in 8,9,10-year-old games that parents are fussing at umpires more and yelling at kids when they don't get a hit.

"That's my biggest complaint right now."

No gripes or complaints could be found on Thursday.

"It's wonderful to meet people you haven't ever met. These are great people, and I'm pleased to be inducted with them," Whitfield said.