Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame announces 2022 class

By Richard Walker

The Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame has selected five new inductees for its 2022 class that will be honored May 2 at the Gastonia Conference Center.

Former University of North Carolina player and administrator John Swofford will be the featured speaker.

The induction class is comprised of Cherryville’s Stan Crisson, Cramerton’s Joe Eller and Gastonia’s Bob Frye, Claude “Doc” Saunders and Nicole Woods.

Stan Crisson

A 1959 Cherryville High graduate who was a football, basketball and baseball standout at Cherryville High School and for Cherryville Post 100’s baseball team, Crisson was an All-ACC wide receiver and honorable mention All-American wide receiver at Duke in 1963 and finished his career with 998 receptions for 1,107 yards and 10 touchdowns with the Blue Devils. Crisson would then play two seasons in the CFL for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and helped that franchise to the Grey Cup both seasons he played; Hamilton lost the 1964 game 34-24 to British Columbia then won the 1965 game 22-16 over Winnipeg to make Crisson the first (and only) CFL champion in Gaston County history. An Eastern Division All-Star in 1965, Crisson had 28 catches for 486 yards. Crisson later coached at Duke for six years before becoming a successful businessman.

Joe Eller

A 1953 Cramerton High graduate, Eller played football at Cramerton High for 1977 GCSHOF inductee Jack Huss and at Appalachian State before gaining greater fame as a coach, first with the championship-winning Pop Warner Gastonia Little Orangemen (1959-67), later as an assistant for Cramerton’s 1968 title team (in the school’s last year) and, finally, for Dallas High (1969-70) and North Gaston (1971-77). During Eller’s time at North Gaston, he was the Wildcats’ first coach and led them to a 1972 conference title that remains the only league title in school history. Since the late 1990s, Eller has worked and kept records as part of the Gaston Seniors Golf Organization that regularly plays events in the region.

Bob Frye

A 1945 Ashley High graduate, Frye was a three-year football, basketball and baseball standout for the Green Wave and three-year Gastonia Post 23 American Legion baseball standout who later played football and baseball at Duke University. At Duke, Frye also was senior class president who later became a charter member of Duke’s Iron Dukes booster club. He and three others also helped start the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Gaston County. Frye’s family owns part of the Mount Olive pickle company and served 68 years as a national sales manager and was on the Mount Olive Board of Directors. A longtime Sunday School teacher at Gastonia’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, a building at that church is named in his honor.

Claude “Doc” Saunders

A 1951 Highland High graduate, Saunders helped the Rams to the 1951 state tournament before losing in the semifinals to the eventual state champion Laurinburg Institute team led by eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Sam Jones. After high school, Saunders became the first All-CIAA basketball selection at Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith University in 1955 and later spent 31 years as a teacher in the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system. Saunders became more famous (and historic) as a longtime football official. A 2000 inductee into the CIAA officials Hall of Fame, Saunders was the first African-American official to work the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas high school football all-star game in Charlotte and was a longtime game observer for the CIAA, the Southern Conference and the MEAC and also worked for 10 years as a clock operator for the NFL Carolina Panthers. Saunders died on June 1, 2008 at 74.

Nicole Woods

A 2002 Hunter Huss High graduate, Woods overcame torn ligaments in both knees with the Huskies before blossoming at Belmont Abbey College with 1,641 career points, 2006 Carolinas-Virginia Athletic Conference player of the year honors and the only triple-double in Lady Crusaders history. A professional for the Nottingham Wildcats in England, Woods was the first women’s player in Belmont Abbey history to have her jersey retired in December 2013. After her pro career, Woods served as an assistant coach at Southern Illinois, Stetson and, since the 2013-14 season, for the Charlotte 49ers.

Swofford is a North Wilkesboro native who played football at Wilkes Central and was where he was a part of UNC coach Bill Dooley’s first recruiting class in 1967. After his playing career ended, Swofford worked in athletic administration at the University of Virginia before returning to UNC in the same capacity. Promoted to Tar Heels’ athletic director in 1980, among his coaching hires was 2005 GCSHOF inductee Sylvia Rhyne Hatchell as women’s basketball coach.
He left UNC in 1997 to become ACC commissioner until 2021, overseeing conference expansion and being directly involved in what eventually became the College Football Playoff in addition to getting the ACC television network started.