School board continues to deliberate on Wingo gym decision

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Leaders to vote in August on whether to name TES gym after star athlete

COLUMBUS — While it may be the middle of summer, leaders with the Polk County Schools Board of Education still have some homework to complete before making a decision on whether or not to name Tryon Elementary School’s gym in honor of a local sports legend.

Chairman Geoffrey Tennant gave an update to the rest of the board on the recent proposal to christen the Tryon school’s gymnasium in recognition of Harthorne Wingo — a Tryon native and former member of the New York Knicks — on Monday, during the members’ meeting at Stearns School in Columbus. After a brief discussion, the board decided to hold off on making a decision on the matter until its meeting on Aug. 13.

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Several of Wingo’s former teammates from his time on the Tryon High School basketball team first presented district leaders with the idea of naming the Tryon Elementary gym in honor of their classmate during the board’s last meeting on June 4. Bill Metcalf — who attended Monday’s meeting as well — said the idea was to both honor the accomplishments of the hometown athlete and let others know about the struggles Wingo experienced on his way to become a player in the National Basketball Association.

Wingo — who was among the first African-Americans to play basketball at Tryon High School after the school ended its racial-segregation policy — left the South after his graduation in 1965 and traveled to New York City, where he played in the Rucker and Eastern leagues before joining the NBA and the Knicks in 1972. Wingo played four seasons with the team — which won a championship in 1973 — before heading overseas to play basketball in Italy, where he won several more titles.

The Tryon native has lived in New York City ever since his retirement.

In the weeks since Wingo’s former teammates presented their idea to the board of education, Tennant asked the staff at Tryon Elementary School for their thoughts on naming the gym in honor of the former standout athlete, he said. Nearly 30 employees responded, with 13 saying they thought it was a good idea and 14 saying they did not have an opinion — no one responded negatively to the proposal, Tennant said.

Tennant is currently working on a way to gauge the public’s thoughts on the issue as well, he said.

In addition, the chairman met with Metcalf and another of Wingo’s former classmates, Bill Brock, to further discuss their ideas on the topic. Among the suggestions the two made was putting up lettering between 1 to 1.5 feet in length, depending on cost, inside the facility, which would be something the board could have a say in, Tennant said

Tennant also brought in copies of the North Carolina School Boards Association’s model policy for renaming school facilities, as well as some current district policies, to help the board make a decision on the subject, he said. After asking the board if they were ready to vote on the proposal that evening, several members responded that they would like more time to go over the materials before making a decision.

“[This proposal is] something we are trying to take very seriously,” Tennant said after the board’s decision to wait until August to vote. “It’s a territory we have never been in, to be quite frank, so we are trying to do the right thing by everyone.”