Sandhills Community College President Dr. John Dempsey recently spoke about a time about 10 years ago when a colleague, Dr. Susanne Adams, approached him with a proposal to bring athletic programs back to the school after a 27 year hiatus.
The occasion was a dinner to induct the college's fourth Hall of Fame class that included Adams, tennis player Gordon Dean, baseball player Wayne Pyrtle, golfer Dick Von Tacky and the 2014 NJCAA Men's National Championship golf team.
Special recognition was also given to current Hall of Fame members and the 2012 NJCAA National Champion men's basketball team.
"My first reaction was not positive, but Susanne persisted," Dempsey said of the overture from Adams, who spent 22 years in teaching and administrative positions at Sandhills before becoming the president at Brunswick Community College in 2011. "None of it would have happened without Dr. Susanne Adams. I also made a brilliant decision to hire Aaron Denton as athletic director."
The Spartan era of sports programs at Sandhills began in 1966 ended in 1981. One of the big issues in resuming athletics was how to pay for it. In her remarks, Adams credited many others at the college for helping make the case. She thanked the faculty for giving their all to help athletes.
"The Board had the foresight to know this is where we had to go," she told the audience. "Athletics builds character and camaraderie for a lifetime. Athletics was the right thing to do for our county and service area."
Each of the induction ceremonies has celebrated the accomplishments of individuals and teams from both the Spartan and Flyer eras of athletics at the college.
"My name is Gordon Dean and I'm a Spartan was the way the next inductee introduced himself. Coached by 2013 inductee Ruth Bondurant, he told about moving to Southern Pines in the fourth grade. His mother bought him his first tennis racket with S & H Green Stamps.
Dean was the number one singles player for the Spartans both years and is regarded by Spartan coaches and administrators as the best tennis player to suit up for Sandhills. He went on to become the No. 1 singles player at UNC-Wilmington (1974-76) where he earned NAIA All-District team honors.
A tennis teacher at five clubs over a period of 10 years, he eventually went into retail. He has been married to his wife Kathy for 23 years. Both are motorcycle enthusiasts.
Wayne Pyrtle was inducted as a baseball player. He went on to build an impressive resume after college as a softball player and golfer.
A first-team all-state selection at Burlington Williams High School, he was a fifth round selection of the Washington Senators (now Texas Rangers), but decided to enroll at Sandhills where he earned All-Tar Heel Conference honors as a first baseman.
While at Pembroke State earning his four-year degree, Pyrtle helped lead the baseball team to the NAIA World Series. Later he was a part of five National Slow Pitch Championship teams, earned All-American honors seven times and was inducted into the N.C. Softball Hall of Fame in 1999. As a golfer he qualified for the Champions Tour and he went on to compete in seven events.
Pyrtle said that he took his family wherever he went. He and his wife have been married for 41 years. They were accompanied at the induction by children and grandchildren, including a son Jay who introduced him.
One of the most decorated Sandhills athletes is Dick Von Tacky who was unable to attend his induction. He was an NJCAA All-American at Sandhills and earned a scholarship to the University of Tennessee where he was a captain of the team. In 1980 he made the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur at CCNC and with that an invitation to the Masters in Augusta.
Von Tacky was also a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team that beat the British team. He won the 1993 Pennsylvania State PGA Championship.
The 2014 Sandhills men's golf team that overcame a four-stroke deficit going into the final round to win the NJCAA Division III National Championship by 15 strokes was presented by assistant coach Stewart Heilman. Head coach Gus Ulrich and assistant coach Rob Pilewski were unable to attend.
Heilman told about the celebratory jump by team members into the same chilly Lake Chautauqua in upstate New York they fished in during their spare time that week.
"They came together," he said.
Nick Thompson, Ediz Kemaloglu and Cody Roberts each shot final round 70's to help fuel the comeback. Thompson was the medalist with a 3-under par score for 72 holes of 285. Kemaloglu was third individually at 288. Both earned first team All-American honors.
Roberts finished eighth and was a second team All-American. Alex Austin and Caleb Chavis also contributed scores that counted over the four days to help Sandhills win its second national title of the Flyer era.
"Sandhills was a wonderful place to go to college," said Thompson who went on to play for two years at East Carolina. "I can't say enough about my teammates."
Kemaloglu continued his college career at Bethune-Cookman. Austin is a senior on the St. Andrews University team.
Also honored was the 2012 men's basketball team on the fifth anniversary of winning the NJCAA Division III National Championship in Loch Sheldrake, New York. Members in attendance from the team that was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013 were head coach Mike Apple, assistant coach Byron Gaddy, tournament MVP Daquain Towns, Louis Craft, Tramaine Pride, Chris Morrison, T.J. Gill and Mike Dorsey.
Dr. Dempsey brought back memories of two of the pivotal moments in the title run. One was the 3.4 second coast-to-coast run up the court by Towns to make the buzzer-beating shot that won the first round game against Brookdale CC. Dempsey called that the single-most exciting moment of his sports watching life.
The other was a blocked shot by Craft that preserved the semi-final win over Bronx CC. The Flyers defeated Cedar Valley CC of Lancaster, Texas in the championship game.
At a shoot-a-round earlier in the day in Heins Gymnasium for a game that evening against Johnston Community College, Apple told his players they would be meeting some of the members of the championship team that played in a gym half the size of the current one with no locker room, conference room or other amenities the current team has.
"I told my guys they have these things pretty much because of what the 2012 team accomplished," he said. "They were a remarkable group of men that came together to play basketball together and it became so much more."
Six members of the team went on to continue their careers at four-year colleges. Craft played for two years at Fayetteville State and has played professional basketball in four countries abroad. He called the experience at Sandhills one he will remember for the rest of his life.
Adams and many of the other hall of fame induction attendees watched the current Flyers score a record 150 points in the victory over Johnston CC. On display at the year and a half old gymnasium are the two national championship banners as well as others for the accomplishments of the sports programs that include volleyball and women's golf.
"I can't believe how far Sandhills athletics has come," she said.