Annual Whitfield induction ceremony takes unusual, fitting twist
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 12, 2009 1:46 PM
George Whitfield never saw this coming.
Toward the end of his annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday evening, Whitfield took time to thank everyone for coming and was close to calling it a night.
Until East Carolina head baseball coach and long-time friend Billy Godwin came walking down the aisle.
"Hold on George," said Godwin, who held up his hand.
Godwin strolled to the podium and asked Whitfield to join him.
"For years, I've always asked George who makes the decision for honoring all these people each year," said Godwin. "George told me he's the only member of the committee and his decision is final."
The comment drew laughter from the audience.
Whitfield stood silently.
"So, George, since you told me that, I decided that we should induct you into the George Whitfield Hall of Fame," said Godwin. "We wanted to honor you for everything you've done to help every boy and girl over the years."
Shocked and humbled, Whitfield listened as his accomplishments were read to the crowd by one of Godwin's assistants at ECU. Whitfield notched almost 1,000 career victories during his tenure as baseball coach at Richmond Senior and Hamlet, a then-perennial power on the American Legion scene.
Whitfield is one of six Wayne Countians to be enshrined in the N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame and is a former recipient of the Governor's Long Leaf Pine.
"He is undoubtedly one of the most influential people in North Carolina sports," which was engraved on the plaque.
Whitfield's surprise -- and fitting -- induction capped a celebratory night that also included another crowd-pleasing announcement. Former New York Yankee great and Goldsboro native Clyde King received the 2008 Governor's Long Leaf Pine.
"He's been my friend for 50 years and we just finalized this four days ago," said Whitfield. "I can't think of anyone who deserves it more than Clyde, who is a true gentleman."
A member of Whitfield's Hall of Fame, King wasn't the only person recognized for his achievements. Goldsboro High alum Michael Winbush was also inducted into the Hall.
"I'm very happy to receive such a prestigious award like this," said Winbush, who started the football program at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem. "I'm in an elite group. I am estactic and proud to be part of this group of men."
Whitfield presented plaques and medals to the teams which won N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball championships in 2008. He honor the Wayne County 9U Babe Ruth team which won the Southeast Regional; and the Mount Olive College team for taking the NCAA Division II national championship.
"This was a great college baseball team that had a lot of camaraderie," said Whitfield. "This year has been a great year for baseball in North Carolina."
Although he couldn't attend the banquet, MOC baseball coach Carl Lancaster received the third annual Walter Rabb Award, which is presented to the outstanding baseball coach in North Carolina for 2008. North Carolina coach Mike Fox won the first two Rabb Awards.
Whitfield also heaped praise on the Purpose Driven Baseball Team, which spent its summer touring three cities in the Czech Republic. The group of young men not only took the game of baseball overseas, but also took time to spread the message about God and how players can impress Him daily with their work ethic on and off the athletic field.
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