Harlem Wizards appearance highlights Wingo’s return to Polk County
Thanks to his former Tryon High School teammates and classmates, NBA alumnus Harthorne Wingo is coming home
Thanks to his former Tryon High School teammates and classmates, Harthorne Wingo is coming home.
The Tryon native who moved from the dirt courts of Polk County to a professional basketball career in the NBA will travel this week from his New York City home to the Thermal Belt area, where a series of events and appearances await.
Highlighting those will be a benefit game on Sunday at Landrum High School featuring the Harlem Wizards, the legendary New York City-based basketball entertainment group where Wingo first gained notice in the late 1960s. The Wizards will face a group of local players coached by Wingo, with doors opening at 1:30 p.m. and the game tipping off at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets for the event are $10 in advance and $12 at the door and can be obtained at harlemwizards.com, the Landrum News-Leader, Stott’s Ford in Tryon, Tryon Elementary School, Landrum High School or Chapman High School.
The chance to return to the area for a Wizards event holds special meaning for Wingo.
“I played with them for two years,” Wingo recalled while preparing for his trip to Tryon. “The Wizards gave me my first big job. After I arrived in New York I was playing on the playgrounds and some guys told Valentino Willis, the owner of the Wizards, that he should come watch me play.
“So he came and watched me play and liked the way I played and came over and introduced himself.”
Wingo’s two-year stint with the Wizards and his play in the famed Rucker League helped attract the attention of the New York Knicks, who signed Wingo to a contract in February 1973. He played four seasons with the Knicks, being part of the celebrated 1973 NBA championship team, before finishing his career overseas, starring for four seasons in Italy as well as playing with teams in Switzerland and South America.
Wingo graduated from Tryon High School in 1965, part of the school’s first integrated class. Since leaving the area, he has returned just once, a visit in the mid-1980s, and hasn’t seen some of his high school teammates since graduation.
But those teammates, including former Chapman baseball coach Bill Metcalf, have put together the events planned for Wingo’s visit. In addition to the Wizards event, Wingo will speak during his trip to students at Landrum High School and Tryon Elementary School, the former Tryon High School building that he attended for his senior season. A “Meet Harthorne Wingo Night” is planned for Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Tryon Elementary, with Wingo also scheduled to attend Thursday’s meeting of the Tryon Historical Society.
Most importantly to Wingo, he will have the chance to revisit Tryon, to return to gym in which he starred with his teammates, and to see those faces once again.
“It’s a wonderful feeling,” the 71-year-old Wingo said of the planned events. “When I spoke to Bill Metcalf it brought back all those old memories, just like it was yesterday. I never had any trouble with those guys. We were just like a brotherhood.
“I loved that gym. I was used to playing in the old gym, and when I went into the new guy for the first time I was like, wow, this is state of the art for me. I can’t wait to see it again.”
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