Editor’s note: This article has been revised April 2, 2016, 3:56 p.m. to correct some dates, one name spelling and some edits for clarification.
By Peter Vankevich
At the entrance to the Ocracoke School gym on the right are six photographs on the Wall of Fame celebrating outstanding student athletes.
From the class of 2014, Adam Carter and Andrew Tillett were chosen and Echo Bennink is from the class of 2012.
Then there were Wade Austin (class of 1990), Bill Evans (class of 1989), and the first, Ronnie O’Neal (class of 1969), whose photos are from their college careers.
Since Ocracoke School only played about 12 games per year back then, and their high school statistics are no longer available, these three were outstanding college players, each scoring 1,000 or more points and thus have received this recognition.
O’Neal was modest about his basketball skills and was quick to credit his inspiration to the school’s principal, Bill Butts, who brought basketball to Ocracoke in the 1960s.
“I rarely played basketball until he arrived and set up the school program,” he said about Butts, 83, who lives in Davison County.
At six feet, two inches, O’Neal was noted for accurate outside shooting. The schedule back then was not as organized, and now the teams play and keep statistics for nearly 30 games per year.
James Barrie Gaskill, a former principal himself, had fond recollections of O’Neal’s game.
“He was one of the best players I had ever seen, and certainly one of the best players for the school,” he said.
O’Neal went on to star for the College of the Albemarle, becoming one the college’s highest scorers.
Austin and Evans were a dynamic duo when they played for the Dolphins.
“That’s all we did back then, was play basketball,” Austin said. “There were no cell phones or other distractions.”
He and Evans both attended Pitt Community College where they were outstanding players, and Evans is often seen in the gym both watching and as an assistant coach to the Lady Dolphins’ varsity team.
Both Austin and Evans continue their skills in the many year-round pick-up games.
“Ronnie, Bill and Wade were chosen for their outstanding playing and scoring, not only for Ocracoke but also their college years,” said current school Principal Walt Padgett. “Anyone who scored 1,000 points or 1,000 rebounds made the wall.”
Austin’s daughter, Sydney, is following in her dad’s footsteps. This past December she was named Region 3 High school Player of the week by MaxPreps and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA).
Echo Bennink is the highest scorer for the Lady Dolphins and was part of the class that made them a force to be reckoned with, in the conference and beyond. During her career, she scored more than 1,300 points and averaged 17.7 points per game.
The only non-basketball recognition goes to Adam Carter, a scrappy point guard in basketball, but who was selected for his outstanding cross-county running. He was among the top 50 runners in the state championship.
Padgett said they will consider including on the Wall any student runner who may not have been all-state but was all-district and region.