MECHANICSVILLE – Humility.
It was the theme of the night, and the overwhelming feeling described by the five new members of the Lee-Davis High School Athletic Hall Of Fame as they were formally inducted Friday night at a dinner at Lee-Davis.
The sixth class to be inducted, which brings the total number of Hall Of Fame members to 30, runs the gamut of decades, sports and post-school endeavors. All five, however, trace their success right back to the hallowed halls of Lee-Davis, whether they were outdoors or indoors.
Judy Williams graduated in 1980 after a celebrated career in both indoor and outdoor track as well as basketball. The Central Region champion in 1980 in the 3,200-meter run, Williams next studied and ran at Virginia Tech, competing in indoor and outdoor track while adding cross country. She graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“Why me? This school has been here forever, I was here 40 years ago,” Williams said when asked of her reaction to being honored. “There’s a lot of good memories here.”
Williams now lives in Mechanicsville, but has traveled extensively in her work as a surgeon, both across the United States and in the Middle East. She’s also been able to keep mentors from her Lee-Davis days in her life, off-and-on, during a period when there was no social media to make communications easier.
“Buddy Gregory was one of my coaches, we go to church together. Doug Greenwood was another one of my coaches, he’s now my financial advisor,” Williams explained.
Williams is now a member of two Halls Of Fame, having been inducted into the Virginia Tech Athletics Hall Of Fame in 2002. She is thankful for the many life lessons learned on the track, the court and sometimes the middle of nature.
“Sports is a microcosm of a lot of things you deal with in life,” Williams noted. “Dealing with failure, perseverance through tough times, enjoying good times and teamwork.”
Avi D. Hopkins
For Avi D. Hopkins, the look on his face said it all. Showing his children the new plaque that hangs in the foyer outside the gymnasium, he took a moment after the induction ceremony to soak everything in, making sure to capture what had been a very special night.
“Just washed over, being humbled to be honored. There’s so many great athletes that have come through Lee-Davis,” Hopkins said. “It allows you to reflect and look back on the hard work, the blood, sweat and tears. It’s a nice way to bring it together and know it was worth it.”
Hopkins, a 1994 graduate, fondly remembered his days on the gridiron when the Tomato Bowl between the Confederates and Patrick Henry still dominated the county, with Atlee High School still in its infancy. Teammates and opponents would go on to achieve stellar careers in college, and a few in the professional ranks.
That included Hopkins, who rushed for over 4,000 yards for Lee-Davis while earning 1993 Central Region Player Of The Year honors. Hopkins also ran track, played baseball and wrestled for the Confederates. He was an All-Region and All-State recipient and three-time Group AAA state tournament participant on the wrestling mat.
His success continued at Virginia Military Institute, lettering all four years in football. Voted one of Style Weekly’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2014, Hopkins has translated his skills to help grow the U-Turn Sports Performance Academy.
With his family around him prior to leaving Friday night, Hopkins was thankful that they, and, especially his three children, can understand the vital role Lee-Davis played in his life academically and athletically.
“For my children to be able to look up and see Dad, it’s pretty amazing,” Hopkins said. “My son was looking up, and said, ‘Papa, look who that is!’, and that’s just amazing. And it will be here.”
The Lee-Davis lineage runs deep. Coaches spend decades teaching multiple generations. So it was no surprise to see former baseball coach, and still Lee-Davis teacher, Kenny Lewis, induct 1996 graduate Robbie Chenault.
Chenault starred in football and baseball, also playing basketball. On the pitcher’s mound, Chenault went 20-5 as a starter and was named Capital District Player of The Year in 1995. On the gridiron as quarterback, he went 29-7, leading Lee-Davis to the Central Region Championship in 1995, supplanting defending state champion Patrick Henry.
“He hit .416 as a senior, had a 1.57 ERA,” Lewis recalled. “But Robbie didn’t care about numbers. He cared about his team, he cared about his teammates. He was a winner.”
“Being in sports was an incredibly important part of my life,” Chenault said in his induction speech. “Not only did they teach me important life lessons, they also helped me build lifelong friendships, as well as a college education.”
Chenault played football at Virginia Military Institute, starting in three different seasons at quarterback. Today, he and his wife Michelle reside in Mechanicsville, raising a family, always grateful for the roots, even if they began under inauspicious circumstances.
“[My family] moved to Old Church in 1989. I was going into sixth grade,” Chenault recalled. “I was used to living in the suburbs. To say it was an adjustment for me was an understatement.”
But the moved paid off, and, 30 years on, Chenault finds himself in exclusive company at his alma mater, remembering the most important people along the journey, among them, his mother.
“You were always there to support me in whatever I did, whether at games or sitting through long evening practices,” Chenault said. “You sacrificed a lot for me, kept me grounded and, after a bad game, reminded me that it was just that – a game.”
In the early years of the school, one of the greats was Carroll Gathright. He is believed to have been the first student-athlete ever to receive a First Team All-State honor in Lee-Davis High School history, given that honor for his work as a lineman for the football team in 1963. A year later, Gathright earned Second Team All-State honors.
Gathright competed in track and field as well as baseball, holding the school record in the shot put for many years.
School tradition is not easily obtained. It is earned, much of it through the hard work of students who attend when the buildings are new. Gathright helped build what is now commonly known as “The Lee Davis Way”.
Messages in his high school yearbook were read by his son, who inducted him, inspiration that carried Gathright through an injury which cut short his collegiate football career, his career in the Army, serving in Vietnam, and raising a family, all very proud to see him given deserved recognition.
“Good athletes and good citizens practice good fundamentals every single day,” Gathright said. “I want to thank God for a blessed life. Don’t misunderstand me, and think all the road has been smooth. The Lord has always given me the strength and durability, and guts, to dig out and make everything good.”
Gathright, who celebrated his 72nd birthday on Sunday, becomes the sixth student-athlete inducted from the decade of the 1960’s. He now resides in Nelson County with his wife, Christiane.
The youngest member of the Class of 2019, Pepper Wilson, left an indelible impression as a student-athlete, and returned to Lee-Davis to help make history. An accomplished volleyball and basketball player, Wilson is perhaps best known for her contributions on the softball diamond.
From the moment she stepped on the field as a freshman, Lee-Davis head softball coach Jackie Davis, whose coaching tenure began the same season, saw something special.
“The team always followed her lead,” Davis recalled. “She set a precedent of hard work, committing to be the best, and dedication.”
Wilson earned All-Metro, All-Region and All-State softball honors, then took her talents to Longwood University, then in the midst of upgrading to a Division I athletic program. Again, her leadership qualities helped transform a program, who, just like Lee-Davis, continues to enjoy success to this day.
“Her success in maturing as a student-athlete has given me as much pleasure as anything I have experienced in coaching,” Longwood head coach Kathy Riley was quoted as saying before Wilson’s senior season in 2007.
Thus, when Davis had the chance to bring Wilson on board as an assistant coach, she jumped at it. In 2010, the Confederates finished as Group AAA runner-up. In 2011, they won it all.
“Pepper’s dedication, commitment, and work ethic that she had as a player carried over to her coaching,” Davis said. “She was instrumental to our success those two years.”
Wilson also enjoyed two seasons of professional softball, catching for the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch Softball League. Today, Wilson is a model as well as a marketing professional in Jacksonville, Florida, continuing to apply “The Lee Davis Way” to every endeavor of her life.
Which is also the story of the now thirty inductees into the Lee-Davis Athletic Hall Of Fame. Their names and faces grace the school hallway. Their stories continue to echo throughout the campus, and way beyond, and will for years to come.
Rob Witham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.