The Wilson Times

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 11:37 PM

Gary Farmer inducted into hall of fame

By Paul Durham | Sports Editor

By his own admission, Gary Farmer did not know George Whitfield had a hall of fame.

Farmer knew Whitfield, a legendary former high school baseball coach, from having played against Whitfield’s Goldsboro High teams when Farmer was a star catcher at Fike in the 1960s. But he had never met Whitfield formally and was surprised to learn through another coaching legend, Henry Trevathan, that Whitfield wanted to honor Farmer as part of the 42nd induction class in the George Whitfield Hall of Fame, which took place Friday at Goldsboro High.

The honor took Farmer, a member of the Barton College Athletic Hall of Fame and the U.S. Specialty Sports Association (formery U.S. Slo-pitch Softball Association Hall of Fame, by surprise.

Not that it should since Farmer has an impressive resume as an educator, coach and administrator. He worked at Central and Eastern N.C. Schools for the Deaf for 32 years (1970-2001) as teacher, coach, athletic director, dean of students and transportation coordinator.

In that time, Farmer coached the ENCSD girls soccer team to National Deaf Prep Championships in 1986 and 1992. He was National Deaf Prep Coach of the Year in 1987.

Farmer was named National Deaf Prep Coach of the Year in football in 1991 and his 1993 Hornets were the only unbeaten deaf 11-man team in the nation, but had to settle for No. 2 in the final poll that determined the national champion. It’s a subject that still rankles the eternally cheerful Farmer to this day.

Farmer was part of ENCSD’s Award of Merit and Sportsmanship Awards from the N.C. High School Athletic Association in 1995 as the school went eight years without a player ejection.

He left ENCSD in 2001 and served as athletic director and coach at Elm City Middle School until his retirement in 2008. Farmer has served on the Wilson County Board of Education since 2008 and was named to the All-State School Board by the N.C. School Board Association in 2012. He also received the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in 2012.

Last year, Farmer co-authored the Deaf Bill of Rights (HB317) to give deaf children and their parents a choice in their education and he played a prominent role in keeping ENCSD’s doors open.

Farmer also is well known for his career as a recreation baseball and softball umpire, calling more than 8,000 games from 1978 to 1991, including the USSSA Major Softball World Series in 1979 and 1981. He entered the USSSA Hall of Fame in 2012.

All of those accomplishments and more are listed on the hefty plaque that Farmer received from Whitfield, who read them off in "speed reader” fashion, Farmer said.

But the brevity was necessary since Farmer was one of 29 inductees this year.

"You went up there and didn’t say a word, which I loved!” said the usually loquacious Farmer. "It was beautiful! You didn’t say a word, he read it off (the plaque), you came up, he gave you the plaque, you sat back down.”

The speedy speech presented a challenge to the two American Sign Language interpreters, Briana Brandon and Laura Agajanian, whom Farmer hired for the event.

"They kept up with him,” Farmer said. "Those girls did not miss a beat!”

He hired Brandon and Agajanian, who work at ENCSD, because along with his wife, Brenda, son Cameron and brother John and his wife, Sharon, Farmer invited other members of his "family” to attend — several of his former ENCSD athletes. Making the trip to Goldsboro were Jimmy Elks, Rudy Croome, Chris Thorpe, Cameron Wade and Bobby Shealy along with current ENCSD athletic director Leonard Baker.

"It’s very important to me whenever I get an award to have deaf people around me because my success started with deaf people,” Farmer assured.

Whitfield began his hall of fame in conjunction with his now famous baseball clinic in 1973, when he was the head coach at Richmond County Senior High. Whitfield, a Kinston native and East Carolina University graduate, coached baseball for five decades and won four NCHSAA state championships and four American Legion baseball state championships. A member of the NCHSAA and North Carolina Sports halls of fames, Whitfield’s influence is extensive and makes his annual clinic and hall-of-fame ceremony a must-attend event.

"There was 400 people there!” Farmer marveled. "Anybody that was anybody in organized athletics was there. I didn’t know what to expect and I was totally overwhelmed with who I saw.”

Among those inducted and present Friday were former NBA great M.L. Carr, former high school and college football coach Ken Browning, ECU sports announcer Jeff Charles, ECU baseball head coach Billy Godwin, former Farmville Central girls basketball coach Hilda Worthington, now a volunteer assistant at Beddingfield; NFL player Greg Warren and longtime Kinston High and Legion baseball coach Ronnie Battle.

"I was really humbled after I met these guys,” Farmer said. "Each person had their genre and they were successful in their own genre!”

Whitfield, who has inducted more than 800 people into his hall of fame, also honors members of the U.S. Armed Forces, whom Farmer said Whitfield described as part of "the ultimate team sport.”

Other members of the George Whitfield Hall of Fame with Wilson connections include Trevathan, who was Farmer’s football coach at Fike; Gilbert Ferrell, who was Farmer’s baseball coach at Fike; Jimmy Tillman and Will Flowers. | 265-7808

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