Young men who laid the groundwork for the success of the Mount Olive College baseball program and one of the cornerstones of the early years of Trojan women's athletics were inducted into the MOC Athletics Hall of Fame Saturday afternoon. Merrill Morgan was joined by the 1992 Trojan baseball team and three-sport star Valerie Newberne Cox in making up the seventh induction class.
Morgan was a star on the Trojans' early baseball teams. He was a centerfielder on the 1983 NJCAA District championship team that came up just one game shy of a trip to the Junior College World Series.
"We were able to build a tradition here, and Carl has taken it to a whole new level," said Morgan, who has taken his skills to the coaching scene where he has won three CIAA Coach of the Year awards at Virginia State University. Morgan coached Virginia State to its first NCAA Division II Tournament appearance in 2007 where he met Mount Olive in the first round.
"I hated playing for my Dad," said Morgan's son Marcus. "I coach now, and I will catch myself saying something to my players. I'll have to pause and think...'I sound just like my father.'"
What Morgan and his squad did for Mount Olive baseball was elevated in 1992 when the Trojans made it all the way to the Division II National Finals, the first program of any kind at the school to do so. Current Head Coach Carl Lancaster was in just his fifth season coaching the Trojans as they made the transition to being a four-year school.
"These players are largely responsible for the changes you see when you walk out to the field. Back then we had what we needed. Where the batting cages are now used to be thick woods. Where the press box is now used to be an old wooden table," said Lancaster. "Before then, nobody knew who Mount Olive was. Now they know. We'll probably be ranked nationally this season because of the reputation this guys started. They put us on the map in 1992."
Mount Olive reeled off nine consecutive postseason victories to claim the Conference Carolinas, District 26 and Area 7 championships. The Trojans finished with a 38-15-1 record, including a 2-1-1 record against Division I foes.
"We all had high expectations. We had two great coaches. Coach (Roger) May would get in your face. Then you had Coach Lancaster who spoke sentences without opening his mouth. Sometimes it was with that stare. Sometimes it was with the smile. He was the best players' coach anyone could ever have," said 1992 performer Jay Lamm. "We all had a common goal. We didn't play to play. We played to win. We didn't care about stats. We didn't care what name was on the front of the jersey. They were in for a game."
The 1992 Trojans go into the Hall of Fame as a team -- the way the players say it should be.
"What a year we had," said thirdbaseman/outfielder Mark Chambers. "From game two we took off. We had to beat St. Andrews five times in 22 days to get that far. When we beat Union to advance to the World Series, they treated us like royalty. Everybody was asking us for our autographs. Everybody knew about Mount Olive. We were a family. We always will be."
Seventeen members and both coaches of the team were on hand for the induction ceremonies. Members of the team are: Lorin Booth, Steve Bradshaw, Mike Brewer, Clay Cartwright, Mark Chambers, Mark Davis, Jerry Harrison, Kelly Hill, Leslie Jackson, T.J. Johnson, Johnny Jones, Jay Lamm, Chris Lockhart, Jamie Mabe, Monty Mesimer, Mitchell Moore, Chris Norris, Dana Rice, Russell Stephens, Robert Stroud, Dennis Stutts, Dee Taylor, Richard Tucker, Bryan Tuten and Jim Williamson, along with coaches Lancaster and May.
Playing more than one sport is not uncommon, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. Few at Mount Olive enjoyed the success that Valerie Newberne Cox did wearing the green and white.
Cox, known as Valerie Williams while in Mount Olive, was a star for the basketball, softball and volleyball teams. In 1993, she was named the school's Most Outstanding Student-Athlete.
"She gave everything she had no matter what sport she was playing and she took that same work ethic into the classroom," said former MOC Coach Wynelle Weston. "We still had a young basketball program at that time and recruiting was difficult. I thought that if we could get her to commit to Mount Olive, she would be an impact player, and of course she was."
Most of Cox's awards came on the basketball court where won almost every award a player can receive in one season. Her 10 steals against St. Andrews in 1993 remains a school record. She helped the Trojans post a school record 17 wins that season, a 14-game improvement from the previous season. She averaged 16 points and 7 rebounds per game.
"All the credit goes to God," said Cox. "I was truly blessed by the people I met here at Mount Olive. I made so many good friends."
Excelling in yet another sport, Cox was encouraged to try out for the United States Olympic Team Handball Team following her collegiate career. She made the team, but chose not to attend to stay with her family. A few years later, she was invited try out for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. During tryouts, she broke her foot.
She was a terror for the softball and volleyball teams as well, rarely coming off the field of play.
In the first seven years of the MOC Athletics Hall of Fame, 26 former Trojan student-athletes, coaches, administrators and friends of the college, along with a Trojan team, have been inducted.