Four new members will be enshrined into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame (GWSHOF) as part of its 11th induction class on Sunday, May 1. GWSHOF Chairman Jon Rosborough announced the 2016 class during a Wednesday news conference at Wilmington International Airport.
Carolina Panthers play-by-play broadcaster Mick Mixon will emcee the event at UNCW’s Burney Center, which begins at 5 p.m. followed by the induction ceremony and dinner at 6:30 p.m. The annual Joe Miller Golf Tournament will be held at Cape Fear National at Brunswick Forest on Saturday, April 30.
“Our first class was inducted in 2006 with Coach Bill Dooley, who came up with this idea in 2005 and it’s hard to believe we’ve filled up our wall of fame with some many great people who have made an impact in this community,” said Rosborough. “We have four new inductees for the 2016 class and they include Gwen Austin, John Bunting, Larry Honeycutt and Charlie “Barrel” Niven.”
Austin was a basketball standout at UNCW and is the only woman to have her number retired on campus. Bunting was a Super Bowl winning coach, played in the National Football League and University of North Carolina, and coached the Tar Heels from 2000-2006.
“Looking at all the all-star cast and joining that group is very special to me,” said Bunting,. “We have some great people in Wilmington. I’ve very honored and humbled to be a part of it. No matter where we’ve been, my wife and I, we’ve always been involved in the community.
“When you get the opportunity to do some of the things I’ve been able to do, played in playoffs, championships having really good coaches learning the game under Bill Dooley, Dick Vermeil and Jim Mora, it’s pretty special. To meet the love of my life during my coaching days at Glassboro State (Rowan University), it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Honeycutt has been involved in the Wilmington community for the past half century. From his junior college national championship in baseball at Wilmington College, to his longtime career as a high school official, Honeycutt is still one of the most recognizable faces in the Port City.
“It’s really a great honor,” said Honeycutt. “It’s been an electrifying year for me and really something to be a part of a such an elite group. So many people are responsible for this and I’m thankful to my family and all those who have helped along the way.”
Honeycutt also recently spoke during the annual UNCW Baseball Spring Training Banquet a few weeks ago and talked about his career, while trying to help guide the student-athletes.
“The phrase I really focus on was having the attitude of gratitude, be grateful for everything,” Honeycutt added. “We need to credit the past – good, bad or indifferent. History is why we’re here. Cherish the present. Respect and honor that and what a privilege that is to be here as a college athlete. And my final message was to create the future. Be a part of the future and help lay the groundwork for those who come after us.”
More than 40 area students have also benefited from the induction ceremony each year as part of GWSHOF Bill Dooley Scholarship Program. Each year the GWSHOF awards scholarships in recognition of each of its inductees into the Hall of Fame. The scholarship is in the amount of $2,000 and awarded to a high school selected by each inductee.
This year’s recipients will be named from New Hanover High School, Topsail High School, Wallace-Rose Hill High School and UNCW.
Austin was a standout basketball player for Wallace-Rose Hill High School and the only woman to have her number retired at UNCW.
From 1977-81, Austin was a dominating six-foot, two-inch center. She played in two District II Championships, two East Central Conference Championships and Two East Central Conference Tournament Championships.
As a 1985 graduate at UNCW, Austin held career records in 16 different categories, including total points (2,056), rebounds (1,290) and blocks (222). She shot 52 percent from the field and averaged a double-double, with 18.9 points and 11.8 rebounds per game over her 109 game career. Austin was part of some of the most successful teams in program history. In her four years with UNCW, her teams went 69-40, including a 22-6 mark for the 1983-84 seasons.
In 2009, Austin was named to the Coastal Athletic Conference Basketball Legends Team and was inducted into the UNCW Hall of Fame the year after. She played one year of professional basketball with Roquebrune-Cap Martin in France.
Since then, she’s lived a relatively quiet life and has worked as a UPS driver for the past 22 years.
Although Bunting is not a native to Wilmington, he currently resides in Hampstead and serves as a board member for the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
During his playing career, he was a three-sport athlete and recruited by Coach Dooley as a scholarship athlete at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1968.
In 1972, Bunting was drafted in the 10th round by the Philadelphia Eagles, He was defensive MVP in 1978 and 1981, helping guide the Eagles to the NFC Championship in 1981 under Coach Dick Vermeil.
After winning a USL Championship in 1984, Bunting entered the coaching ranks at the college level and later became an assistant coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. He rejoined Vermeil in 1997 as an assistant coach of the St. Louis Rams and served as co-coordinator and linebacker coach for the Rams during their run to Super Bowl 34.
In 2000, Bunting returned to his alma mater as Head Coach of UNC Tarheels and led the Heels to a pair of wins over Top 5 nationally ranked teams Florida State (2001) and Miami (2004).
After retiring from coaching, Bunting has worked as a sports analyst for ISP Radio covering ACC games and also has mentored some of the top names in the National Football League, including Luke Kuechly and Manti Te’o.
Honeycutt has been a staple in the Wilmington community for more than a half century. He was an outfielder on the National Junior College Baseball Championship Team at UNCW in 1963. He graduated from the area campus in 1966.
After earning his Master’s Degree at UNC-Chapel Hill, he returned to UNCW in 1970 as a coach and faculty member. During that time, Honeycutt coached baseball, soccer and men’s tennis. He was voted NAIA Coach of the Year in 1975.
He began his officiating career in basketball and football, while attending Wilmington College as a student. Since that time, he’s officiated nine state championships, including the East-West All-Star Basketball and Football games. He’s also served as a local clinic leader for Wilmington area officials in football, basketball and soccer.
In 2015, he was featured in the April issue of Referee Magazine and received the Golden Whistle Award from North Carolina High School Athletic Association in May. It’s the highest honor for a sports official in North Carolina.
Honeycutt is a member of UNCW Seahawk Club and currently a part-time faculty members in the School of Health and Applied Human Services as lecturer. He’s been married to his wife Gwynn for 35 years, with three children and two grandchildren.
Charlie “Barrell” Niven (1932-1994)
Sports fans of the 1950s would say Niven was arguably the best and most exciting three-sport athlete to ever play in Wilmington.
In football at New Hanover High School, Niven broke the school record for most touchdowns in a single season. At 5-feet, 8-inches and 170 pounds, he was named MVP of North Carolina-South Carolina Shrine Bowl and East-West All-Star game.
Niven played one season at Duke, but then accepted a $600 per game contract to play in the Canadian Football League.
After one year, he returned to the Port City and received a scholarship to play basketball for Coach Bill Brooks at Wilmington College. He led the nation in scoring with a 38.6 points per game average, without a three-point shot.
Following his historic career, Niven joined local greats Roman Gabriel and George Rountree III in the YMCA Industrial League Basketball. He also became one of the strongest supporters as a member of Grace Baptist Church and passed away in August of 1994.