This is the third class of inductees for the Hall of Fame. The induction banquet is at 6 p.m. on April 17 in the University Center Annex at UNC Pembroke.
"This is truly an outstanding class," said Abdul Ghaffar, chair of the hall's board of directors. "As always it got tense in the board room, but when all was said and done, we selected a group with phenomenal credentials.
"There so many great players, coaches and contributors in the history of sports in Robeson County," he said. "The good news is there are many more great nominees for us to consider in future years."
One new member is particularly noteworthy, Ghaffar said.
"The Hall of Fame board had not heard of the late Taft Wright, who was truly one of the great baseball players of his day," Ghaffar said. "We owe Lumberton residents, Ed Glover Jr. and N.A. Thompson III, who compiled his remarkable nomination, a debt of gratitude.
"Wright's inclusion speaks volumes about our remarkable county and its people and its history. His story is remarkable."
The new class includes:
Taft Wright's career in professional baseball began in 1933 and ended in 1949. With 11 years in the major leagues with three teams, he had a career batting average of .311. He led the league with a .350 average in his rookie season with the Washington Senators, but the title went to Jimmy Foxx who had more at-bats. 'Taffy,' as he was known, was listed on MVP ballots: 1941 - finished 25th in voting, batted .322: 1942 - finished 23rd in voting, batted .333; and 1947 - 31st, batted .324. Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said Wright was one of the toughest outs in the league. Born in Tabor City, Wright moved to Lumberton as a child and is buried in Meadowbrook Cemetery.
Kelvin Sampson was head coach at Montana Tech, Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana. At OU, he was named the AP Coach of the Year in 1994 and had one Final Four appearance. He is an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association. Sampson was a two-sport star at UNC Pembroke and joined his father, Ned, in the University's Hall of Fame. He will join his father again in the county hall.
Jim Thomas played basketball at Pembroke High School and Catawba College. An attorney, he founded Thomas Properties Group, a large Los Angeles-based commercial real estate company. He was called by the Los Angeles Times "one of Southern California's most influential developers and civic leaders." He owned the Sacramento Kings of the NBA. As managing-general partner, he built the Kings from a perennial cellar dweller into a winner. Thomas founded the Thomas Family Center for Entrepreneurship at UNCP and funded a distinguished professorship in entrepreneurship there and a scholarship to honor is parents.
Tim Worley is arguably the best athlete ever in Robeson County. A big, fast running back, he played for Lumberton High School, the University of Georgia, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears. He was the seventh pick in the 1989 NFL draft. In 1988, Worley was offensive Player of the Year in the SEC and a Kodak all-American. He still holds the 100-meter record on the Lumberton track.
Pat Townsend Willoughby was the dominant female basketball player in Robeson County for four years. Tall and fast, she helped Littlefield High School to two county championships. Willoughby was twice named all state. After graduating from UNCP in 1976, she coached for 10 years, nine at Lumberton High School. She and husband, Paul (also an outstanding football player and coach at Lumberton), own six McDonald's Restaurants. Son, Rex, played golf at UNCP and on the Hooters tour. They continue to support UNCP and Robeson County athletics. The Press Box in UNCP's Grace P. Johnson Football Stadium is named for them. They also contributed generously to several other scholarships.
Lenwood Graham was all-conference three times and, in his senior year, an all-state basketball selection for Maxton High School. He was MVP of the 1974 state championship game with 38 points. Graham tied the game at the buzzer with a running half-court shot. Playing both ways in football, he was all-conference three times, all state and all American in 1974. In track, he was a member of the 4x100m state championship relay team in 1974. Graham ran track and played basketball at UNCP. He was twice all-district and all-Carolinas Conference in basketball. He is in the UNCP Athletic Hall of Fame.
Dick Taylor was an all-American runner at The University of North Carolina in 1949 and three times all conference. He is in the Track Hall of Fame and the Penn Relays Wall of Fame. The indoor track at UNC is named for him, as is the annual Carolina Classic Meet. Taylor has been on the boards of the UNC Alumni Association and Educational Foundation among others. UNCP's track is also named for Taylor and his wife, Lenore. For Taylor, a lifetime of philanthropy parallels a life of civic engagement and athletic competition. He has more than 250 gold medals from the local senior games and 20 State Games medals.