Several years ago, someone told former Tryon High athletic standout Bill Metcalf that classmate Harthorne Wingo had passed away.
Metcalf found no information to the contrary, so he assumed that his former basketball teammate had indeed died while living in New York City.
The PolkSports story earlier this year about Wingo, still very much alive and living in Brooklyn, came as welcome news to Metcalf – and he thinks Polk County’s only NBA player should be celebrated.
Metcalf and other team members from Tryon High’s Class of 1965 have been meeting for several weeks to discuss ideas for both helping their former teammate and honoring his accomplishments. The first effort from that group will come Monday, when team members plan to address the Polk County Board of Education with a proposal to name the gym at Tryon Elemenary School after Wingo.
“The remaining players who are still alive want to honor Harthorne and give him the recognition he deserves for making it to the NBA,” Metcalf said. “One, to give Harthorne some recognition and some honors that he deserves.
“Secondly, we want to let everyone know about the ladders he had to climb to be successful. From what we can tell, he comes from the smallest school to ever make it to the NBA. He probably had the hardest trip, too. That can be a motivational tool for Polk County kids, to have in the back of their minds that if this is something this guy could do, they can achieve things as well. Not just athletics, but academics, too.
“I’m an ex-coach, and I know kids have to be motivated. Whether it be athletics or academics, kids have to be motivated to succeed. This could be a great motivational tool, reading about Harthorne.”
Wingo left Tryon after graduation and found basketball success in New York City, starring on the playgrounds in the famed Rucker League and as a professional in the Eastern League before joining the New York Knicks. He was part of the Knicks’ 1973 NBA championship team, but left the NBA after the 1975-76 season for a professional career in Europe.
Wingo has lived in New York City since his playing days ended. The PolkSports story has prompted several former teammates to reach out to Wingo, including those involved in Metcalf’s effort.
“I’ve talked to Harthorne several times, and the other players all talked to him one day on speakerphone,” Metcalf said. “It was like a time zone in 2018 going back to 1964 or 1965. It was like we were back 53 years ago just snapping our fingers.”
Among those helping Metcalf in the effort to honor Wingo are Tom Kell, Rick Gosnell, Bill Brock and Tommy Burrell. The group has plans beyond the renaming of Tryon Elementary’s gym.
“We want him to be the grand marshal of the Christmas parade this year in Tryon, and hopefully that part is done and is going to happen,” Metcalf said. “We want to bring him down here in December.
“We’ve talked to the Harlem Wizards about trying to have a team from Polk County play them, with the money raised from that going into a fund for Harthorne.”