Wolfpack celebrates inaugural hall of fame class

acarter@newsobserver.comOctober 6, 2012 

— Pam Valvano-Strasser walked into Reynolds Coliseum once more on Friday night.

She looked at all the N.C. State red seats, the rafters that once held men’s basketball championship banners and around at a crowd at N.C. State’s inaugural athletic hall of fame ceremony that included Chris Corchiani and other players her husband, Jim Valvano, had once coached before his death from cancer in 1993.

“I’m filled up with so much emotion,” Valvano-Strasser said. “Seeing all his ex-players. The thing that got me the most was going inside and seeing his chair with all the memorabilia. But then it was empty. It just made me sad.”

There were many emotions, most of them celebratory at Reynolds, where N.C. State inducted its first 10-member hall of fame class. Along with Valvano, the charismatic coach who led the Wolfpack to the 1983 national championship, the school also inducted Everett Case and David Thompson.

Case, who built the Wolfpack into a national power in the late 1940s and early 50s, is credited by historians with bringing major college basketball to the south, and with making the ACC the nation’s foremost basketball conference. Thompson, meanwhile, is considered the greatest ACC player in history.

More than an hour before the ceremony began, Thompson walked through a backdoor into Reynolds – one he said he used many times on his way to practices back when he played from 1971 to ’75. He turned a corner into a room that soon filled with most of the hall of fame class.

Thompson was talking to reporters when Roman Gabriel, the former quarterback who also played baseball and basketball during his years at N.C. State, walked in.

“Hey David,” said Gabriel, a two-way standout who played for the Wolfpack from 1958-61. “Tell them how I took you one-on-one.”

Thompson smiled.

“Yeah, me and Roman used to go play basketball,” he said. “We used to do some fundraising camps and stuff like that. He can really play.”

Thompson later thought about his recruiting visit to N.C. State, and the moment when he first walked into Reynolds. It was 1970, and the Wolfpack were playing against an ACC opponent.

Thompson doesn’t remember which one. He remembers the noise. The atmosphere.

“The crowd was fantastic,” he said. “You know, Reynolds is so tight. The fans are right there on the court. It was really loud – I saw the noise meter there and it went all the way up to the top. I felt like it’d be a great place to play.”

It was fitting that Reynolds hosted the ceremony. This is where Case coached and Thompson played and where Valvano created belief that anything was possible. It’s where Kay Yow arrived in 1974 as the women’s basketball coach and where she remained nearly 30 years later, after she was inducted into the basketball hall of fame in 2002.

Like Valvano, Yow lost a battle with cancer. She died in 2009. One of her former players represented her at the ceremony on Friday night. It was her sister, Susan Yow, the first women’s basketball all-American in school history.

“The only thing that would be better is if she was alive to be here,” said Debbie Yow, the N.C. State athletic director and another of the Yow sisters. “I’m really delighted Susan was going to be the person to accept on her behalf. So that’s special. It’s special to me.”

The festivities at Reynolds were a long time coming for Debbie Yow. Not long after she became N.C. State’s athletic director in 2010, she envisioned a Wolfpack sports hall of fame.

At long last, it became reality on Friday.

“The idea of N.C. State having an athletic hall of fame is a no-brainer,” she said. “We could have, and probably should have had this begun 30 years ago. But we didn’t. And tonight is a big night, because we finally are beginning.”

A video that played at the start of the ceremony announced that the hall of fame would be housed in Reynolds after it’s renovated. Plans call for a new entryway, with a lot of glass to allow natural light. The basketball court will be moved south, and the seating capacity reduced to 6,000. New bathrooms and air conditioning will be installed.

A crowd of about 1,000 cheered the announcement, and gave a standing ovation to each inductee.

In addition to Gabriel, N.C. State football greats Ted Brown and Jim Ritcher were inducted. Ritcher, a two-time All-American, spent 16 seasons in the NFL and played in four Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills.

Brown, who ran for 4,602 yards during his four years at N.C. State remains the ACC’s all-time leading rusher. Asked if a favorite moment from his college years came to mind, Brown smiled.

“There’s too many to count,” he said. “Too many to count. You can’t be the leading rusher in North Carolina State history and not have a lot of good moments. But I believe that I had the most fun in a game at Clemson.”

He described the orange-clad crowd there, the painted Tiger paws lining the road to the stadium.

“And we happened to put one on them,” Brown said with a laugh. “How good is that?”

Other inductees included women’s basketball player Dr. Genia Beasley, the leading scorer and rebounder in school history; men’s soccer player Tab Ramos, a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame who played on three U.S. World Cup teams and Julie Shea Sutton, who starred at Cardinal Gibbons High in Raleigh before becoming a 12-time All-American in track and cross country at N.C. State.

The ceremony honored each inductee with a five-minute video that the documented accomplishments and memories. The videos chronicled everything from Case’s contributions to ACC basketball to Valvano’s contributions toward cancer research.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski appeared in Valvano’s tribute, and said Valvano remains one of the most difficult strategists he’d ever coached against. Afterward, Valvano-Strasser appeared on stage and embraced Debbie Yow for several moments.

“It’s an honor for me to be a part of this whole thing,” she had said earlier. “I think [Valvano] would be very proud, and as somebody had said, if he were here tonight, he’d be up on the stage, talking to everybody and making everybody laugh. Because that’s what he did.”

All seven living members of the inaugural class attended the ceremony. For the three deceased sat chairs filled with memorabilia: pink shoes and a jersey and the 1991 ACC championship trophy in the chair for Kay Yow; Dixie Classic programs and Dixie Classic and Southern Conference championship trophies in the chair for Case and a glass slipper and the 1983 national championship trophy in the chair for Valvano.

Carter: 919-829-8944

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