Two-time PGA Professional champ Roger Watson inducted into High Point Hall of Fame

By Greer Smith
Published on
Two-time PGA Professional champ Roger Watson inducted into High Point Hall of Fame

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Quality prevailed over quantity at the induction of the second class into the High Point University Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

National championship basketball coach Tubby Smith, three-sport women's star Marie Riley, longtime coach and administrator Kitty Steele and PGA Professional Roger Watson were honored in ceremonies inside the Millis Center.

Smith, who is ninth on the school's scoring list and recently took the head coaching job at Memphis, was the headliner as arguably the most accomplished Panthers basketball alumnus. He won a national championship as a coach (Kentucky, 1996), is one of two coaches to take five schools to the NCAA Tournament and one of seven coaches with a national championship and 500 wins.

"I'm really at a loss for words," Smith said before the ceremony. "It's sort of surreal because you never know you are going to be in this position. My dad told me a long time ago that longevity can have its rewards if you do the right things. I'm honored that they are putting me into the Hall of Fame.

One of 17 siblings and the son of sharecroppers. Smith played for the Panthers from 1969-73 under three coaches, the last one Steele's husband, Jerry. Smith's induction came the day after he was selected for the Manny Jackson Human Spirit Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I don't think I can receive any greater honor than to be recognized by my alma mater," Smith said.

New York native Riley, who is retired from the restaurant business, starred in basketball, volleyball and tennis. She won All-American, all-conference and all-state and all-region honors in basketball; all-conference and all-state honors in volleyball and all-conference honors in tennis.

"They called and told me that I had been selected and t didn't believe them because I thought I got into too much trouble to be in their Hall of Fame," Riley joked. "I got nervous and I got excited when they told me."

Riley is best known for leading the Panthers with 42 points as they won the 1978 AIAW women's basketball national championship game during her sophomore season.

"We were like a Cinderella team," Riley said. "We started out having a hard time because a lot of seniors graduated. Wanda Briley was the coach and she worked wonders. After the conference, we won everything. When we won the championship, I couldn't believe it."

Despite her championship game performance, Riley said the credit should go to guard Ethel White.

"In the semifinal, we were down a point with two seconds left and she stole the inbounds pass and scored," Riley said. "If it wasn't for her, we wouldn't have been in the finals."

Riley's tennis coach was Kitty Steele, who also coached field hockey and taught physical education over a 20-year career at HPU from 1976-95.

"She was an All-American in basketball and a star in volleyball," Steele said. "When she had time, she came over and played tennis. She didn't have time to practice but since she was a star in other sports, she didn't play No. 6 in singles and No. 3 in doubles."

Steele, who coached at Guilford College for four years before joining her husband at HPU, was inducted into the Guilford County Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year.

"I think this is more personal for me," Kitty Steele said.

Jerry Steele, the winningest basketball coach in the school's history, was among the HPU Hall of Fame's first class last year, and the Steeles were previously honored by having the athletic administration building named for them.

"I wonder if I really deserve this," Kitty Steele said. "The people I worked around and my players are responsible for any award that I've gotten. I always thought of myself as more of a mom toward my students and players than as a coach. But appreciated the honor and I'm excited to be in the High Point University Hall of Fame."

Kitty Steele told anecdotes about a battery not working in a golf cart used for the field hockey team, having to hand sprig the field hockey field and about Riley and her doubles partner changing the display of their match score to make Steele think that they were losing.

"I still don't know why I was picked for the Hall of Fame," Steele said. "We have a national championship coach, a player that won a national championship in basketball, a golfer who won a national tournament and we never did quite that well in tennis and field hockey."

High Point native Watson, who was an All-American in golf at HPU in the mid-1960s and is the school's most accomplished golf alumnus with two wins in PGA Club Professional Championships, did not attend because of conflict with a granddaughter's college graduation in Illinois.

Watson's son-in-law Jamie Mack read a statement of thanks and gratitude in Watson's behalf while accompanied by his wife, Watson's daughter Molly, and their two children.

This article was written by Greer Smith from The High Point Enterprise, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.