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Perhaps a select few among the some 350 in attendance for the recent 44th annual Wilson Hot Stove banquet would know if Joe Marm ever swung a baseball bat, kicked a football or shot a basketball.
Sports feats are not his claim to fame.
But among the countless celebrities at the banquet, only Marm, introduced by Wilson Hot Stove President Keith Barnes, received a standing ovation.
And with good reason.
Marm was a recipient of the United States Military’s highest decoration for valor in combat — the Medal of Honor. He is the only living recipient of the distinction in North Carolina.
Marm, now a Fremont resident, was decorated for his actions in the Battle of la Drang in the Vietnam War in November 1965. He was presented the Medal of Honor in December 1966.
The citation reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk above and beyond the call of duty. As a platoon leader in the 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Lt. Marm demonstrated indomitable courage during a combat operation.”
The last member of his platoon able to fight, Marm, with an antitank weapon, grenades and a rifle, completed the mission although severely injured.
The recuperation process was lengthy, but Marm recovered from his wounds and attained the rank of colonel upon his retirement from the U.S. Army in 1995.
A previous Hot Stove visitor, Marm is enjoying national acclaim these days. He was in Atlanta on Sunday, accepting an invitation to attend Super Bowl LIII. In last year’s Super Bowl, Marm participated in the pregame coin-toss ceremony and, at the outset of the new year, rode a float in the Rose Bowl Parade.
The banquet program was dedicated to the memory of eight sports personalities who died in 2018 — Pete Bock, Bill Davis, Woody Durham, Norma King, Walker Mabry, Gene Summerlin and Rainey Wilkerson.
Bock was the noted founder of the Coastal Plain summer collegiate baseball league — of which the Wilson Tobs are a charter member. Influenced by Bock’s guidance, the league has expanded to 16 teams. Bock was also an umpire.
Tobs President Greg Suire praised Bock as a visionary.
“He had the vision and guts to bring the CPL to this area,” Suire said.
Among Bock’s other achievements was a cameo role in the movie “Bull Durham.”
Bill Davis, previously eulogized in The Wilson Times sports section, starred in three sports at Charles L. Coon High and earned acclaim as a lineman for Duke University football teams in the 1940s. Davis officiated football at the high school and collegiate levels, earning opportunities to work in several bowl games.
Durham became legendary as the voice of University of North Carolina Tar Heels sports for some four decades. He was also an ardent supporter and promoter of the North Carolina Baseball Museum, located on the Fleming Stadium premises.
Norma King was the celebrated wife of the late Clyde King, a former Major League baseball player, coach, manager, general manager and front-office executive — most famous for his time with the New York Yankees.
Mabry will be remembered as a community fixture and an ardent Barton College baseball fan who sometimes traveled with the team. Mabry coached youth teams, was prominent in the sale of Christmas trees by the Optimist Club and involved himself in numerous fund-raising activities for Barton baseball. He was honored with a lifetime membership in the Wilson Hot Stove League and received the Willis Hackney Memorial Award.
Summerlin, who hailed from the Goldsboro area, played minor league baseball from 1949 until 1958. His daughter and two sons excelled as high school athletes. Summerlin became a Wilson fixture for many years as co-founder of Sportsville, a sporting goods store.
Wilkerson is credited with originating the name “Tobs” as the mascot for Wilson’s professional baseball team in 1939. The moniker remains intact. He pitched batting practice for the Tobs in 1941 and volunteered his services for the baseball museum.
Age, health and the weather all factored in a smaller-than-usual representation of former players in the major leagues and Negro League. No newcomers attended the latest banquet.
Taking their bow: John Donaldson of Charlotte (Kansas City/Oakland A’s, 1966-68, 1970, 1974), Billy Harris of Hampstead (Cleveland Indians, 1968; and Kansas City Royals, 1969), Jim Holt of Graham (Minnesota Twins, 1968-74; Oakland A’s, 1974-76), Monty Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia (Kansas City Royals, 1971-72), Alvin Morman of Fuquay-Varina (Houston Astros, 1996; Cleveland, 1997-98; San Francisco Giants, 1998; and Kansas City, 1999).
Richard “Dick” Such of Sanford (Washington Senators, 1970), Marion (Tim Talton of Pikeville (Kansas City A’s, 1966-67), Mike Wallace of Midland, Virginia (Philadelphia Phillies, 1973-74; New York Yankees, 1974-75; St. Louis Cardinals, 1975-76; and Texas Rangers, 1977), Floyd Wicker of Snow Camp (St. Louis Cardinals, 1968; Montreal Expos, 1969; Milwaukee Brewers, 1970-71 and Giants, 1971), Butch Davis of Garner (eight seasons with Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, Baltimore Orioles and Rangers) and Clifford Layton of Dunn (four seasons in Negro League with Indianapolis Clowns, 1951-53, and New York Black Yankees, 1954.
Highlights: Donaldson was starting second baseman for expansion Seattle Pilots (1969), member of 1974 World Series champion Oakland A’’s, and was the A’s second baseman when Jim “Catfish” Hunter pitched a perfect game against Minnesota Twins in 1968.
Harris was inducted into the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Hall of Fame in 2010. Holt led the American League with 43 pinch hits in 1975. Layton played with hall-of-famers Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige and Hank Aaron. Montgomery not only won his pitching debut with the Royals but launched his career with 14 consecutive scoreless innings.
Morman pitched in two World Series games for the Indians in 1997 and did not allow a hit or earned run in five postseason games. Such, who starred at Elon University, was selected No. 16 among the top 50 best MLB pitching coaches of all-time. Talton was involved in the only triple play in Kansas City A’s history in 1966. In major league debut at age 22, Wallace pitched a complete game as the Phillies defeated the Mets, 7-1.
Wicker was the first Brewers player in team history to record a walk-off hit as his first hit on Sept. 4, 1970. He starred at third base for the 1961 East Carolina College team that won the NAIA national championship. Butch Davis starred at East Carolina and remains in professional baseball as the pitching coach for the Orioles’ Triple-A team in Norfolk, Virginia.
WHAT THEY SAID
Speaking in behalf of the Wilson Tobs, President Greg Suire said: he cherished the peace and tranquility of Fleming Stadium, home of the Tobs.
“We only exist for one reason, and that’s you,” Suire remarked. “We love the sport of baseball and, moreover, we love the people of Wilson.”
In regard to the Tobs being recipients of the Willis Hackney Memorial Award, general manager Mike Bell responded in a prepared statement: “It is a great honor to be acknowledged for the efforts we put forward to contribute and preserve the game of baseball in the Wilson community.”
The statement hailed the 2019 banquet as “another great success” and added: “Thank you North Carolina Baseball Museum for your dedication.”
New University of Mount Olive head coach Rob Watt, the successor to long-time head coach Carl Lancaster, commented: “I’m replacing a legend. It’s not my job to fill his shoes but to cultivate a winning tradition. I spent 15 years with him as his assistant, and my time with him was incredibly blessed.”
Watt’s first team will consist of 22 returnees and 21 newcomers.
“The outlook is good,” he declared. “We should have a lot of offense and a clean defense. There are question marks. We have big expectations to fill, but I have a great group with which to get it done.”
Athletic Officer Bob Walston divulged that American Legion baseball, with 52 consecutive years, is the third oldest continual program in Wilson behind Barton College and Fike High.
Walston also thanked Wilson insurance agent Chuck Finklea, presented the Hot Stove’s Lifetime Achievement Award, for his “avid support of American Legion baseball long before I was involved.”
Representing the Carolina Mudcats, Gregory Young said: “We have always been proud of being a part of Eastern North Carolina baseball since 1991.”
The professional Mudcats of the Class A Carolina League will be affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second year.
The Mudcats logo has long been among the most appealing in sports, and Young revealed two alternate logos have been designed for 2019.
From a 2-8 start, the Wilson Christian Academy baseball team charged to its third North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A championship in the last five years.
The Chargers of head coach Ty Bissett also reigned in 2014 and 2015.
In a loosely played but drama-packed 2018 title game, Wilson Christian overcame Alamance Christian, 7-6.
Bissett cited a sensational late-inning catch in center field by Adrian DeHart, the play of eighth-grade shortstop Dylan Farmer and effective pitching from seventh-grader Hunter Lewis as huge factors in winning the championship game. WCA finished with a 13-10 record.
The Wilson City Little League All-Stars seized the North Carolina Little League Ages 8-9 state championship.
The group celebrated back-to-back titles, claiming Ages 7-8 supremacy the previous year.
“We have unfinished business for the upcoming year,” Troy Blaser of the Wilson Department of Parks and Recreation informed the audience.
Somewhat overlooked among the award winners was veteran radio sports broadcaster Tony Riggsbee, a fixture at Wilson Hot Stove events the last 20 years.
Rigsbee was saluted with the Red Barrett Memorial Achievement Award.
Long a sports broadcaster for Raleigh and Durham radio stations, Rigsbee has been the Triple-A Durham Bulls announcer for the last 17 years. He was the official scorer at Durham High and refined those skills with the Bulls.
Rigsbee regularly visits the Arizona League and the Arizona Fall League and announces spring training games for the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers.
“He sounds like a baseball man,” declared the Hot Stove’s Barnes.
Folks, a lot went on during a program — that included stopping for a Parker’s Barbecue meal — of 2 hours, 20 minutes.
That length may have been a record for brevity.