The 20th induction class enters the Athletics Hall of Fame with four former players and a longtime coach
By STEVE WHITE ’67
Four former Catamounts with ties back as far as the 1950s and a former coach who helped mentor athletes in three sports are the newest members of the Western Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame following induction festivities held in November.
Members of the five-person induction class, the 20th all-time at WCU, are Bob Ray ’57 (men’s basketball), Steve Spradling ’71 (football), Laura Echols Wellmon ’02 MPT ’04 (women’s basketball), Johnny Wike (football and golf coach) and Steve Yates (football).
Ray played basketball for Western Carolina from 1951 through 1957, including a two-year break for military service in the U.S. Army, before returning as an assistant coach for seven years. The Buncombe County native, who concluded his playing career ranked second on the school’s career scoring chart with 1,187 points, still holds the 22nd spot on WCU’s all-time scoring list.
Ray returned to Cullowhee in 1962 to become the school’s first-ever full-time assistant basketball coach, a position he held until 1969. He helped recruit and coach 17 all-conference players while on staff. Following a distinguished academic career at WCU, Ray went on to earn graduate degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate from the University of Georgia. After his coaching days, he served as head of WCU’s department of health, physical education and recreation from 1982 to 1993.
Spradling was a three-year starter at wide receiver for the Catamount football team from 1967 to 1970, helping WCU compile a record of 19-8. The Pompano Beach, Fla., native twice finished among the NAIA’s top 12 pass receivers, including ranking fourth with 46 catches in 1969 – helping him earn All-North Carolina Collegiate, NAIA and Associated Press All-America honorable mention plaudits.
All told, Spradling hauled in 95 career passes for 2,023 yards in three seasons, which included 1,020 yards in 1969, a mark that ranks sixth in the school’s single-season record books. He also continues to hold the WCU record with seven consecutive 100-yard receiving performances.
Wellmon, who played at WCU from 1999 to 2003 as Laura Echols, finished her career as one of the most honored players in Catamount women’s basketball history. The program’s second-leading all-time scorer with 1,765 points, she also ranks seventh on the career rebounding charts with 790 boards in her four-year career. Wellmon still ranks on 10 career statistical charts, including second on scoring average (15.8 points per game), second on field goals made (718), and third on field goals attempted (1,421).
A native of Conyers, Ga., Wellmon remains WCU’s only three-time All-Southern Conference selection, garnering first-team plaudits in 2000, ’01 and ’02. She also was a three-time SoCon Player of the Week during her career and earned Western Carolina’s Female Student-Athlete of the Year Award in 2001-02. A two-time Verizon Academic All-District Team selection in 2001 and ’02, she graduated from WCU with honors, majoring in chemistry with a minor in psychology, and also earned her master’s degree from WCU in physical therapy.
Wike, a native of Mount Holly, spent more than 30 years of his life in service to Western Carolina coaching football and golf. He worked for 21 of those years as an assistant football coach (1964-73, 1984-94), serving under four head coaches and helping recruit several high-profile athletes, including three who would go on to play in the NFL and advance to the Super Bowl.
When Bob Waters arrived at WCU in 1969 as the head football coach, he decided the Athletic Department needed to reinstate its dormant men’s golf program. From 1971 to 1973, Wike held the dual role of assistant football coach and head golf coach. Wike spent 1974 to 1977 as head football coach at Carson-Newman College in Tennessee, and afterward spent six seasons as head coach at Cullowhee High School.
Wike returned to the WCU football staff in February 1984 as defensive coordinator, reprising his role as Waters’ chief recruiter. In 1991, he again took on duties as head coach of the men’s golf team, a position he held through 2004. He retired from the football staff in 1995, the same year he launched the women’s golf program. He retired as head coach of the women’s golf team in 1998.
A member of the Catamount football team from 1971 to 1974, Yates was a two-time Associated Press All-America selection, receiving second-team accolades in 1972 and a first team nod in 1974. The Cabarrus County native was one of three linebackers named to WCU’s 20th Century All-Time Football team compiled back in 2000.
Called “the most intense football player I’ve ever coached” by Bob Waters during the 1974 season, Yates continues to rank 10th on the Catamounts’ career tackles charts with 306 total hits, including 191 solo stops. He was the leading tackler on two teams that finished in the Associated Press top 10, including WCU’s first NCAA playoff team in 1974. The Catamounts posted a 25-9-2 record with him in the lineup. His 25 quarterback sacks also rank him third on the career ledger.