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As 2021 begins, we look at Gaston College’s athletic restart – and its athletic past

By Richard Walker

As 2021 begins, Gaston College is preparing to go back “Back to the Future.”

The Gaston College Board of Trustees voted on Nov. 24, 2020 to launch a college athletics program that will offer men’s baseball and basketball, women’s beach volleyball and softball and Esports.

The school estimates 96 athletes – 52 men and 44 women – will participate in the five athletic programs. And the school is currently looking to assemble a coaching staff to participate in selected non-championship events in 2021 as a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and expects to be eligible for championship competition in 2022.

“Community colleges that offer sports regard the athletics program as an integral part of the educational experience,” Gaston College president Dr. John Hauser said in a school news release. “Sports programs have proven to enhance and strengthen student life, diversity, student mental and physical health, and overall college unity. This is something we believe that our Gaston College students and the communities we serve in Gaston and Lincoln counties are looking forward to enjoy and support in many ways. The reputation and widespread college promotions offered by athletic activities is helpful in creating a dynamic and synergistic learning environment for all students.”

Dr. Hauser added that a Gaston College alumnus, current Florida State head coach coach Leonard Hamilton, “has graciously provided me with professional insight and advice regarding this new venture that will reignite sports at the College.”

Hamilton, a 1966 Highland High graduate, played basketball for two seasons at Gaston College when the school sponsored teams in the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition to assembling a staff, Gaston College will look to engage faculty, staff and students regarding sports and coming up with potential names for a mascot.

Nicknamed the Rebels from 1965 to 1969 and Warriors from 1969 to 1972, Gaston College competed in men’s basketball, baseball, golf, track, tennis and cross country. Men’s basketball and baseball were dropped after the 1971-72 school year and the school decided to drop all athletic teams in May 1975.

The school’s basketball and baseball programs enjoyed the most success as each was one of the best programs in NJCAA Region X.

Basketball played its home games at local high schools as well as calling Gastonia’s Groves Gymnasium its home.

Coached by Sid Varney (1965), Jim Garrison (1966), Pete Brooks (1967-71) and Charlie Warren (1972), Gaston College won three N.C. Community College Conference regular season titles and one tournament title and finished as 1971 Region X runner-up to perennial power Ferrum.

Current Florida State basketball coach Leonard Hamilton played two seasons for Gaston College in the 1960s

Hamilton, who played on the 1966-67 and 1967-68 teams, holds the school’s single-game scoring record with 54 points in a game against Montreat-Anderson College in January 1968. Former Hunter Huss standout Jim Turpin was the first 1,000-point career scorer before he played on UNC Charlotte’s first conference championship team in 1970.

The 1968-69 team featured another future UNC Charlotte 1970 conference champion in former Highland High standout Larry Reid, who went to a college coaching career.

Baseball played its home games at Gastonia’s Sims Legion Park.

Coached by Buzz Peeler (1968) and Dean Burroughs (1969-72), Gaston College won four N.C. Community College Conference titles in five years before the sport was dropped after the 1972 season.

The teams were comprised mostly of former local high school standouts, among them Gaston College’s lone professional draft pick – Cherryville’s Alan Lindsay; A 1969 Cherryville High graduate, Lindsay was selected in the ninth round of the 1970 major league draft as a pitcher by the Pittsburgh Pirates.