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2024 Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame Class Announced

In recognition of their achievements in sports in Catawba County, the Hickory Metro Sports Commission is proud to announce five new members and a team of distinction to the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame (CCSHOF) for the class of 2024.

This year’s inductees include former Newton-Conover High School wrestling coach Edward (Eddy) Clark, longtime area baseball umpire and football referee William (Bill) Cline, Hickory High and NC State track athlete Ryan Hill, former Lenoir-Rhyne University and Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) baseball coach Frank Pait, and former Newton-Conover baseball player and wrestler and longtime auto racing and football analyst Dr. Jerry Punch.

The CCSHOF also selected this year’s “Team of Distinction for 2024, the 1978 Maiden High School Football Team.

“The committee is extremely honored to recognize this year’s outstanding class of individuals and team,” said Frank Snider, chairman of the CCSHOF committee. There was a very competitive pool of candidates to choose from and we feel the group chosen covers a broad spectrum of sports in Catawba County. An official and umpire, a long-distance track champion, a sportscaster and analyst recognized as one the best in the country, a college baseball coach who left an indelible mark in the county and a state champion wrestling coach make up a great group of inductees. We hope the public will come out to honor these men.”

A native of Avery County, Clark was the head wrestling coach at Newton-Conover from 1999 until his retirement following the 2022-23 high school wrestling season. Clark led the Red Devils to four state championships in dual-team wrestling (2013, 2014, 2016 and 2023), as well as three consecutive runner-up finishes (2007-2009). Including his time at West Rowan and Mitchell, Clark’s teams posted an 868-127 record in dual meets. At the state individual tournament, Clark coached 79 state placers, including 17 state individual championships. His teams won 11 West Region championships. Clark was selected as the North Carolina 2A state coach of the year five times and was the National Wrestling Coach’s Association coach of the year in 2023.

Honored posthumously, Cline had a stellar career as baseball umpire from 1967 to 2010, earning top assignments from youth baseball through the collegiate level. During his career, he was an umpire for the North Carolina Little League State Championship, officiated five North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) championship, 21 American Legion State Championship, five South Atlantic Conference tournaments and 15 NC Junior College regionals. Cline was also a high school football official from 1969 to 2002, which include five state semifinal assignments.

A dominant long-distance runner, Hill overwhelmed the 3A class in both NCHSAA boys’ cross country and outdoor track meets during his career with the Red Tornadoes. He won three straight individual state cross country championships from 2005 to 2007, as well as three state titles in the 3200 meter run (2006 to 2008) and the 1600 meter run in 2007. At NC State, Hill was a 10-time All-American combined in indoor and outdoor track, as well as cross county. He also won seven ACC championship and currently holds the school record in the mile, 1500 meters, 3000 meters and 5000 meters. In 2013, Hill was the South Regional and ACC Indoor Track Athlete of the Year, and the 2012 South Region Track Athlete of the year. He was a 2012 U.S. Olympic Trial qualifier.

Pait had outstanding success with Lenoir-Rhyne, but it was his role in developing baseball programs that truly stood out. Overall, Pait has a record of 562-346-1 over 19 seasons. He is the all-time winningest coach at LRU at 291-239-1 with South Atlantic Conference tournament titles in 2000 and 2001, as well as a regular season championship with the Bears. Pait began the program at CVCC in 2009 and brought immediate success to the program, winning three conference championships (2012-2014), and led the Red Hawks to the NJCAA World Series in 2012, when they finished fifth in the nation. In 2019, Pait started the program at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Just three years later, he capped his time with the Cobras by taking them to the 2022 NJCAA World Series.

Dr. Punch was a three-sport athlete at Newton-Conover High, where he graduated with honors before pursuing his medical degree at Wake Forest. However, he is best known for his work in the field of auto racing, which began at local tracks, including Hickory Motor Speedway, where he worked as the Public Address announcer. Punch went on to national recognition as a pit reporter for ABC and ESPN. His 27 Indianapolis 500 live telecasts are the most in that race’s history. Joining ESPN in 1984, he served as the lead reporter for NASCAR Sprint Cup events and was the host of the Nationwide (Busch) Series telecasts. A backup quarterback at NC State in college, Punch has also brought his knowledge to the sidelines as a reporter to football telecasts for ESPN. Awards for Punch include an Emmy for the Indy 500 broadcast in 1989, the ACE award for ESPN’s NASCAR SpeedWorld, the Lindsey Nelson Broadcasting award, and in 2023, the NC Motor Sports Association and NASCAR honored Punch with the Jim Hunter Memorial Media Award.

The 1978 Blue Devils football from Maiden went 12-1-1 overall, which culminated in with a 38-14 win over Tabor City to win the NCHSAA 2A state championship. The achievement brought the first state championship in high school football to Catawba County. For his leadership, Tom Brown was the 2A coach of the year, and David Ikard received all-state honors as a defensive lineman.

As part of the CCSHOF induction ceremony, the HMSC will once again recognize the top male and female scholar-athletes from each of the public and private schools throughout Catawba County. The top male and female scholar-athletes will each receive a $1,500.00 check to go towards a scholarship in their name to their college or university of their choice.

The induction ceremony will take place on Monday, May 13th at the Highland Recreation Center. Tickets for the event are $35 and can be purchased beginning April 1st at Highland Rec. as well as at any of the area high schools.