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Baseball, softball begin regional play today





Richard Wilkins

Richard Wilkins is a gentle bear of a man, harboring a well of memories about his reknowned football prowess.

The 1968 Bethune graduate - the football standout just missed integration

- was coached by another Hall of Famer, Harvey Dillard, and went on to a prominent football career at the school now known as University of Maryland Eastern Shore, before getting a brief look by two professional teams.

Wilkins is extremely pleased to be joining this Hall of Fame class.

“I thank God for (the selection as a Hall member). I’m looking forward to being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said Wilkins.

Wilkins came along before football players had the sophisticated weight training available to today’s top-notch athletes. But he got his impressive natural strength as a country lad who helped run the farm and pull tobacco.

Soon, his natural athleticism would bring him considerable benefits.

He had no prior knowledge of football until he arrived at Bethune in 1964, although his large family would split up and play sandlot football.

Wilkins recalled his football skills really meshed in his junior season there.

“My biggest problem, I just wasn’t as fast. Speed is what football is all about,” said Wilkins. “I had the strength.”

Wilkins weighed in around 280 pounds his senior year and played both ways the whole game at Bethune, at offensive tackle and defensive tackle.

The big fellow improved, and Wilkins earned all-district honors at defensive end his senior year.

Dillard worked closely with his line coach, former South Carolina State football player James Porter, in helping Wilkins hone his football skills.

Dillard said Wilkins was an outstanding player at Bethune, and was the most outstanding lineman in the Western district of the VIA, the Virginia Interscholastic Association.

“Very coachable, no problems ever. A joy to work with,” Dillard said. “Hard worker.”

When Wilkins graduated, and moved on to UMES, he was surprised he did not have to play both ways.

Wilkins received a full scholarship ride at UMES.

At the time, the school was known as Maryland Eastern Shore. It is located in Princess Anne, Md.

He can’t remember who scouted him, and he did not know he was headed to the Maryland school until the announcement came at graduation.

Wilkins took another step forward at UMES. The school had sent a number of athletes to the NFL, although the school later had to drop the sport.

Wilkins developed into a top-notch defensive tackle in college.

UMES produced a number of noted football players, including Art Shell and Emerson Boozer.

As for his college career, Wilkins adapted quickly, and later drew enough interest from scouts to land a professional contract with the Denver Broncos after his senior year. He was then a 260-pound rookie trying to gain a foothold with the Broncos, then part of the American Football League. The Broncos featured standout running back Floyd Little at that time.

He was drafted in the seventh round by the Broncos, but Wilkins’ promise was cut short by injuries.

Wilkins was going as hard as he could, when he made a tackle on the quarterback, with another teammate arriving at the same time to make a defensive play. Wilkins sustained a shoulder injury, playing the rest of the day in pain. But the injury problems persisted and hampered his 1972 shot with Denver.

Wilkins got a shot with the Houston Oilers a year later. Wilkins got an extended look from the Oilers, before that chance evaporated near the end of the preseason.

“One of the things I learned about professional football, it’s all about a job,” said Wilkins. “You get out there, doing the best with all your skills, and naturally some are more skillful than others,” said Wilkins, who enjoyed his time in training camp.

And just getting any kind of look at the professional ranks is a tremendous accomplishment in itself.

Wilkins learned the importance of speed, certainly at the professional level. But he was not able to earn a spot in the professional ranks for a long term career.

Wilkins was the oldest of four brothers who had standout careers at Bethune, or later at Halifax County High School. His nephew, Joe Wilkins, had an outstanding career here and was a member of the 1991 state championship team as a junior.

After he was released from the Oilers, Wilkins came home and got an opportunity with a local contractor. He later got more work opportunities in that field and eventually decided to go into business for himself.

Wilkins, who joins the six-person local Hall of Fame class Saturday night, remains active in his local business, R.O. Wilkins Contractor. He’s been in business 33 years in Halifax County and South Boston.

The 64-year-old local contractor is fully commited to his Christian faith, and is very active in his personal walk with God.

He is also been married for 36 years to Bonnie, his second wife. Wilkins has one child, Richelle Wilkins, from a previous marriage.

Everett Taylor

The late Everett Taylor will be remembered fondly on Saturday night, when the long time local baseball official is inducted into the Halifax County-South Boston Sports Hall of Fame.

Taylor played a pivotal role in helping young people in our community, and earned the respect of those who dealt with him. He was a successful local businessman and a force for positive change in the area.

Don Williams, who plans to deliver the induction speech in Taylor’s honor, had effusive praise for Taylor.

“He was a guy who loved the Lord, and he loved his family, and he loved kids and baseball,” said Williams. “He was a good-hearted person and one of the finest men I ever met. He did a world of good for kids in this county.”

Taylor helped start Dixie Youth in South Boston and also had a long stint as a state director. He also played a role supporting Babe Ruth baseball, and later helped out as the young people involved made the transition to the current Dixie Majors programs.

Taylor is also remembered for his church and civic work. He was a deacon in the Ash Avenue Baptist Church.

Taylor began coaching in Dixie Youth about 1964, and had a more than 30-year career of service to young people. He was a district Dixie Youth director for 25 years and a state director for three.

Taylor, never one to seek the limelight for his community service, later played a role in helping the development of Babe Ruth baseball in the area.

He was considered a devoted family man, a community leader - even working on the Board of Zoning Appeals - a devout Christian, and a person who made an impact in the lives of young people. He and his wife, Jeanne Headspeth, had two children, Mike and Jennifer. Mike was an all-state baseball player who participated in the VHSL all-star game.

Taylor doted on his three grandchildren.

Mason C. Day Jr., also a member of the local Hall, remembered Taylor. “He was a state director. He ran Carroll’s Auto (a local business, later Carroll’s Sporting Goods), and he supported the leagues ... He was just a big supporter of Dixie Youth.”

“He was a super guy, easy going. He helped all the kids he could. He’s just a nice upstanding guy,” said Day.

Day praised Taylor for his support of young people in Halifax County.

Lawson Osborne Jr.

Lawson Osborne Jr., has accomplished much in his life.

Osborne was a respected player in the resurgence of Comet football, and later, a veteran of long-time military service to Virginia and the nation.

Osborne, part of a long-time respected South Boston family, will be inducted into the local Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night, part of a six-man class.

He’s also part of a storied revival of Comet football under coach Coleman Starnes, another Hall member.

Osborne played his last football season at Halifax County High School in the fall of 1968, two years after the tragic ‘66 season. Osborne, who graduated from HCHS in the spring of 1969, was part of a talented, athletic group that responded well to Starnes’ leadership.

Starnes, who started coaching the varsity football team in 1967, had a remarkable 69-31-1 mark in ten seasons at HCHS. Osborne was there for the transition from a dreadful program to one that enjoyed considerable success. Starnes never had a losing season at Halifax and beat border rival Person County ten years in a row.

Osborne said Starnes brought considerable unity to the program, helping to revive interest in the community around Comet football.

Halifax went 5-5 and then 8-2 in varsity football during Osborne’s final two years at HCHS. The only two losses for the Comets in 1968 were to GW-Danville and Andrew Lewis.

One of the highlights of Osborne’s senior year came when the Comets defeated Glass, 20-0.

Osborne played fullback and defensive safety for the Comet football team, as most of the team gutted it out both ways, part of a gutsy, persistent group that developed an excellent team chemistry.

“We didn’t have all the distractions that some of the teams had. Coleman kept us (focused) pretty good,” said Osborne. And winning football made the effort even more enjoyable.

Osborne was an all-state and all-district selection for football in his senior year.

Starnes also brought in some innovative football that helped energize the program. Osborne, along with a number of skilled athletes, helped turn around the program after the 1966 season. HCHS finished 1-9 that season, and, tragically, Tuck Dillard died after a game against Fieldsdale-Collinsville.

By 1967, Starnes was the new guy in charge of the football program. Three years later, one season after Osborne’s graduation, the Comets earned a spot in the regional playoffs, winning their lone postseason affair.

Osborne also played basketball - he was captain of the Comet team his junior and senior seasons - and he ran track here as well.

Osborne played one season of freshman college football at Virginia Tech, noting he was not a Jerry Claiborne fan.

The former Comet prep standout left Tech and joined the Virginia Air National Guard. He eventually made a 37-year career of his stint in the Virginia guard, with a very successful stint in that line of work.

Now, he’s about to join the Hall of Fame, part of a distinct group of local athletes and community leaders that have made a tremendous impact on the community since the first Hall class was announced 25 years ago.

Osborne retired from the Guard in 2008. He traveled around the world on deployments around the world, including Europe and Central America.

Osborne, recalling the life lessons learned under Starnes, cited the value of teamwork.

He’s proud to take his place in the local Hall of Fame.

“You’ve got to have teamwork. You’ve got to work together,” said Osborne.

Louie Seabolt Jr.

Louie Seabolt Jr., now living in retirement in Greensboro, Ga., at the Reynolds Plantation, can look back at a life in full, both as a college sports student-athlete and a successful business executive.

Now 70, Seabolt graduated from Halifax County High School in June 1960. He later attended the University of Virginia, landing his degree in 1968. He’s part of a father and son duo in the local Hall, following his dad.

Seabolt had a varied sports resume at HCHS, playing baseball, basketball and football. He was a member of the 1960 team that went to the state tournament, playing valuable minutes as a reserve under Hank Hamrick. Seabolt and his fellow reserves played a role in toughening the more athletic varsity.

Seabolt was also a member of an 8-2 Comet football team in his senior season, coached by Bob Merritt. Bill Vanney led the squad as the quarterback, and Seabolt served as an alternating quarterback to give the offense a versatile look.

Baseball was Seabolt’s lead sport at HCHS, as he was the starting shortstop. Seabolt moved on to play baseball at Virginia, working at third base and shortstop, where he was a letterman under Jim West.

“We had an average team, 50-50 team. I was a decent player, but not all-ACC. I did attend a Pittsburgh Pirates tryout camp, was invited to do that. They offered me a minor league contract,” said Seabolt.

Seabolt got excellent advice in the summer of 1963 from an executive with the Pirates at the time, Sid Thrift, who told the youngster he was not major league material. Seabolt was not interested in a minor league career. Seabolt continued with his college career, playing baseball for three years, before he went into business. He later came back to finish his college work at Virginia.

He remains a Cavalier baseball fan and is proud of the program, now nationally respected and a power player on the Atlantic Coast Conference scene.

Seabolt eventually crafted a very successful career in business, including 25 years with S.E. Johnson & Son. He’s lived in different parts of the country, including 31 years in Racine, Wisconsin, as an executive with that company.

One of Seabolt’s most prominent moments came in youth sports here.

Seabolt also had a prominent role in local sports lore as a member of the 1955 Little League team that the district and state title, a very big deal at the time. South Boston had a stirring run to the Virginia state title, beating Hampton in its own backyard.

The Little leaguers reached the regionals in Charleston, W.Va., before bowing out at this point.

“This was a team of kids from a small town. The team we beat in Hampton, had gone to the World Series a year before. They expected to go again,” recalled Seabolt.

He recalled later when he played for Virginia, the Cavaliers met VMI in college baseball action. The Keydets’ shortstop, Donnie White, had squared off against Seabolt’s Little League team from South Boston.

“Donnie came over and we re-introduced ourselves. He said, ‘how in the world did you guys beat us? You weren’t supposed to beat us.

“We had a great group of kids,” said Seabolt, who recalled the community effort behind that group of kids trying to make their mark in Little League.

Seabolt, for his part, is honored and humbled by his selection. He’s particularly excited to join his dad, Louie Seabolt Sr., in the local Sports Hall.

He recalled his dad was the best coach he ever had, but Seabolt also benefitted from the overall support and guidance he gained here, part of the fond memories of growing up in South Boston.

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