A pair of Owen alumni head to the hall

High school's hall of fame adds two new names

Fred McCormick

Lester Ballard was not the only person filled with emotion as he peeled back two pieces of masking tape in the Owen High School cafeteria on Sept. 16 prior to Warhorses's game with the McDowell High School Titans.

A crowd gathered in a semi-circle around the former multi-sport standout as he revealed the content of the plaque directly under during his induction into the school's hall of fame. The face on the rectangular plate is that of Sue Hunnicutt, who earned her spot as a fan supporter of the athletic program posthumously.

In the hours before the game Friday, Hunnicutt and Ballard became the two newest members of the 2016 Swannanoa Black Mountain and C.D. Owen High Schools Hall of Fame. The hall contains names such as Brad Daugherty, Brad Johnson and Sara Horne Grindstaff - one of several teammates of Hunnicutt's on the 90-win Warlassies basketball team of the 1960s already in the hall.

Hunnicutt passed away in 2013, but her contributions to athletics in the Swannanoa Valley were vast and extended well beyond the hallways of the high school.

Hunnicutt was a teacher in the Owen school district for 30 years. She served as the athletic director of Owen Middle School, as well as at one of its predecessors, Black Mountain Middle School.

Jack McMahan spoke about Hunnicutt in the media center at Owen, where the hall's chairman Carl Bartlett announced the inductions.

"Sue was, completely and totally, all that Owen was, is and will be in the future," McMahan said. "It is still very hard to not see Sue sitting in the stands cheering on Owen teams."

Hunnicutt's biggest contribution to the high school however, was "feeding the horses," which is how her act of providing pregame meals for the football team for over 30 years is referred to, colloquially, around campus.

"There is no way to determine just how many gallons of chicken noodle soup and how many dozens of Little Debbie cakes Sue served over the years," McMahan said. "She will be forever loved by the Owen fans and the Swannanoa Valley."

Bartlett shared a letter from Peggy Gant, who he described as Hunnicutt's "best friend." The last few lines of the letter recounted Hunnicutt's final words, which reflected her special relationship with the football team.

"'If I don't make it, and I don't think I'm going to,'" Bartlett read, "'tell coach Kenny Ford to go ahead and retire.'"

The letter from Gant concluded with "Sue's gone, Kenny's retired and I still miss my friend."

In the same era in which Hunnicutt was bringing the ball up the court as the point guard for the Warlassies, Ballard was dominating in a few sports.

He was the first football player from the Swannanoa Valley (including Black Mountain, Swannanoa and Owen high schools) to participate in the Shrine Bowl, according to Bartlett, who said he believed that Ballard's selection raised the statewide profile for the program around the state.

Ballard also earned numerous honors throughout his high school career, in which he played running back for the Warhorses.

He was an all-state honorable mention, a member of the all-Buncombe County team three times and an all-Tri-County selection. He represented Owen in the East-West All Star football game as well. He also earned a full scholarship to the University of South Carolina.

Ballard's accomplishments in other sports were numerous as well. He was an all-conference selection in baseball and basketball and earned an appearance in the Blue-White All Star Game in the latter. Ballard also spend years volunteering as a coach in football, basketball and baseball locally.

Ballard was emotional and humble during his speech.

"Any time you have people out there running and blocking for you out there making you look good," he said fighting back tears before regrouping. "It's about us, it's about those people. Now let's go watch a football game."