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Art Shoemaker: First Team All the Way

By Richard Walker

Anyone in Gaston County who first meets Belmont’s Art Shoemaker walks away feeling good about a new relationship and can feel his passion for local athletics and community affairs that date to his childhood in the 1950s.

Art Shoemaker (middle) with his wife Millie (left0 and daughter Shannon (right)

A lifelong sports fan, Shoemaker played for Cramerton’s basketball team and was a manager for the school’s football team.

But it wasn’t until he fulfilled his duties with the National Guard that Shoemaker first found his life’s calling as a personnel manager for Gastonia’s Groves Threads.

Not only was Shoemaker working alongside longtime Cramerton mentor Bennie Cunningham, but it led him into softball coaching, high school and recreation league officiating and a future in insurance sales.

All the while, athletics and his community have kept Shoemaker going.

“He’s done so many things to benefit his community all of his life,” said Gastonia’s Mick McMahan, who has known Shoemaker since they grew up in Cramerton two blocks from one another. “And that’s what endears me to him. He’s the kind of person who doesn’t want recognition or wants to be out front. But he’s behind the scenes raising money and making it happen.”

Art’s late parents Horace and Bernice Shoemaker were originally from Newport, Tenn., before moving to Cramerton as many others did in pursuit of the many textile mills jobs that were in the area. Art and his brother Roger were born in Gaston County but soon moved to stay with their grandmother in Tennessee before returning to Cramerton to begin school.

Art Shoemaker’s time in Cramerton led him to meet two of the most influential figures in his life – Cunningham and Jack Huss.

Cunningham was a 1938 graduate of old Cramerton High School, also played at Belmont Abbey Junior College and became a local sports legend for starring in recreation basketball leagues as a player before becoming an athletic coach at Groves Threads in Gastonia.

Huss was a Cherryville native who was a football all-star at Lenoir-Rhyne before coaching and teaching at old Cramerton High School in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

Both men eventually were inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame and each was influential in instilling in Shoemaker the virtues and lessons athletics can teach.

“If you lived in Cramerton, you knew Bennie Cunningham and Jack Huss,” McMahan said. “And if you knew Bennie Cunningham, you probably knew Artie Shoemaker.”

Upon graduation from old Cramerton High School in 1961, Shoemaker briefly attended Appalachian State before serving in the National Guard and working as a local sporting goods salesman before becoming even more synonymous with Cunningham.

Cunningham recruited Shoemaker to work for Groves Threads, whose owner Earl Groves used his business to develop youth and recreation athletic programs.

Art Shoemaker (left) at the 2004 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame ceremony with that year’s feature inductee Jame Worthy.

And as Groves Threads’ athletic director, Shoemaker couldn’t have found a better job as he helped organize, coach and recruit players and coaches to national power Little Orangemen youth football team as well as the mill’s recreation basketball and softball teams.

“I learned a lot from Art and Bennie about how to talk to people and how to be extremely organized,” said Stanley’s John Rudisill, a former Stanley High and University of North Carolina athletic standout who played an worked at Groves Threads. “Art really helped me learn how to organize a volunteer program and run a whole football program.
“Through that process, we’ve just become great friends. He’s been a tremendous mentor to me and a tremendous friend to me and my family.”

Shoemaker was involved with the Little Orangemen football program when it won three Pop Warner national titles, nine N.C. state titles and 10 Gaston County championships.

Shoemaker also coached the Groves Threads and later Champion Landscaping softball teams to regional and national prominence.

“He recruited good players and good people,” said Rudisill, a future N.C. American Softball Association Hall of Famer who played for Shoemaker’s teams for six years. “Art always let people know where they stood and he had a good eye for talent.”

During his time at Groves, he married the former Millie Armstrong of Belmont on Dec. 14, 1968. Together, they had a daughter Shannon, who is now married to Don Conrad and have twin daughters Colby and Kendall.

Shoemaker also got involved with the start of the South Point High athletic program when the school was formed out of a consolidation of the old Belmont and old Cramerton high schools in the 1968-69 school year.

Anyone who has ever been to a South Point athletic event likely would find Shoemaker in the stands rooting on the Red Raiders.

But more than that, he also used his influence to help financially support the local teams.

“He’s always been there from the start,” said Phil Tate, a member of the inaugural South Point High coaching staff. “And he’s always found ways to help support our teams.”

A few years after South Point opened and the mill business started changing, Shoemaker embarked on another endeavor.

In 1977, he was hired by State Farm Insurance to open his own agency in Belmont/Mount Holly. He operated there for the next 38 years.

Shoemaker used his connections to help in his success in the business.

“He officiated some of my games in softball and basketball,” said Belmont’s Jeff Gibson, owner and operator of Cabinets Unlimited. “He would hold up the game until you would agree to get your car insured with him.
“And when you played softball, every telephone pole and port-a-john wall had a sticker with Art’s name, State Farm logo and his phone number on it.”

In 1987, Shoemaker started the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame, holding early ceremonies at the Belmont Post 144 building before later moving to Belmont’s Park Street United Methodist Church Life Center.

A born event organizer, Shoemaker recognized that Belmont’s rich athletic tradition would support his annual event but he also wanted to make sure it was successful by using his previous connections to ensure high profile speakers and inductees.

Among the speakers Shoemaker has been able to attract have been longtime minor league commissioner and Kings Mountain mayor John Henry Moss, Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn and head coach Dave Cowens, college baseball coaches Dick Cooke, Elliott Avent, Ray Tanner and Chris Pollard, college basketball coaches Joe Gallagher, Al McGuire, Terry Holland, Jeff Mullins, Bobby Lutz, Sylvia Hatchell, Susan Yow, college football coaches Brad Lambert, Dabo Swinney, Perry Fewell, Jerry Moore and Mike Houston, major league manager Mike Shildt, star athletes Jim Beatty, Dell Curry, Donnie Shell, David Thompson, Joe DeLamielleure, NASCAR executive Howard “Humpy” Wheeler, Jr., local TV announcer Bob Inman, college basketball TV announcer Billy Packer, North Carolina Tar Heels play-by-play announcer Woody Durham and Carolina Panthers play-by-play announcer Mick Mixon and college administrators Dr. William Thierfelder and Dick Dull.

The inductees have ranged from former pro athletes like Jimmie Hall, Scott Crawford, Harold Stowe, Kermit Williams, Carl “Satch” Forney, Butch Harris, Stephen Cowie, Devon Lowery, Mitch Harris, Koren Robinson and Migjen Bakalli to local coaching legends like Puddin Broome, Jim Biggerstaff, Gerald Cortner, Doug McDonald, Howard “Humpy” Wheeler, Sr., H.S. Blue, Earl Lingafeldt, Eliane Kebbe, Mike Reidy, Stanley Dudko, Wrather Johnson, John “Red” Painter, Bill Hannon, John Devine, Lewis Lineberger, Mickey Lineberger, Joe Shepherd, Mike McWhirter and George Kitchen to countless local high school stars and several championship-winning local teams.

“He’s just an all-around good guy,” Tate said. “He likes to help people do stuff and I don’t think people realize all that he has done.”

That’s particularly true of his role in organizing American Legion baseball in town.

A longtime Belmont Post 144 athletic officer, Shoemaker negotiated a consolidation of the Belmont Post 144 and Stanley Post 266 teams in 1997 in hopes that it would give the local team its best chance of success.

A 2000 N.C. American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, Shoemaker arranged for his replacement in that role with Gibson.

“He starts with, ‘You’ve been around sports in this town for a long time. And you’ve been going to American Legion games forever. We need someone to take over that’s knowledgeable of the game and a member of the American Legion to take over the baseball team,'” Gibson said.

Gibson has been involved with the program ever since.

In the last few years, Shoemaker has gotten involved with two local efforts to ensure saving the city’s history.

In the fall of 2014, the “Spirit of the Fighting Yank” statue that had been located in front of old Belmont High School and Middle School was officially moved to Stowe Park in downtown Belmont after Shoemaker alongside Bobby Brown and Ron Foulk led an effort to get it moved and honored for its history.

“He saw this statue in front of the Belmont Middle School and it’s a famous sculpture – there’s only the four in the world and it was the last one that was built,” McMahan said of the 1946 copper-plated zinc monument that is a life-sized World War II soldier in combat gear. “He saw that it was being vandalized in front of the school and that nobody was taking care of it. So he got it moved to a safer location.
“That’s just the kind of thing he’s done his whole life. It’s because he’s just got a good heart.”

Most recently, he had taken an active role in helping Allen Millican move his Millican Pictorial History Museum crosstown after the original location had been sold.

The museum, which housed photos, scrapbooks and artifacts of local history, had been located downtown since 2008.

Shoemaker got involved with Belmont City Council to agree to lease several rooms at the J. Paul Ford Recreation Center to Millican in October 2022.

“I’ve known Art for years and years,” Millican said. “We’ve been through so much. He’s more like a brother to me than anything else.
“We’ve just done so much together with this museum and I can’t thank him enough.”