Heroes of Old Atkins make impact at New Atkins

Heroes of Old Atkins make impact at New Atkins
January 22
00:00 2015
(pictured above:  Hall of Famers sit in the stands at Atkins Academic and Technology High School.)

Special guests attended Atkins Academic and Technology High School’s basketball game on Friday, Jan. 9.
Members of the Atkins High School Sports Hall of Fame were lauded with a reception and greeted with applause as they walked onto the court.

Members of the Hall stand at centercourt.

Members of the Hall stand at centercourt.

Atkins Academic And Technology High, a sprawling school on Old Greensboro Road that opened in 2005, is not the Atkins the former standout athletes attended. Their Atkins, the one that opened on Cameron Avenue in 1931 to serve the city’s African-American population, closed in the early 1970s as integration was taking hold. The building that houses the original Atkins is now Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy, a college prep magnet school.

William Butler, an Anderson High alumni, founded the Hall of Fame a decade ago to to honor Atkins’ history of the oldest “Big Four,” the collective term used for the city’s four, pre-integration black high schools. (Anderson, Paisley and Carver are the other schools.) Plaques featuring each inductee hang at Atkins’ entranceway.





Roughly half of the Hall of Fame’s 90 members attended the Jan. 9 event. Robert “Bobby” Conner was there. He was among the first class of inductees in 2006.

When he attended Atkins from 1941-1945, he was a starting point guard on the basketball team and center on the football squad. One season, he said, the basketball team went nearly undefeated with a 15-1 record. The loss, unfortunately, ended up being in the championship game. Conner calls his inclusion in the Hall of Fame “beautiful.”

“I was so happy when (Butler) started it,” he said. “It’s just a good feeling to be able to have your name and picture in it.”

James "Bo" Nelson stands below his Hall of Fame plaque.

James “Bo” Nelson stands below his Hall of Fame plaque.

Fellow Hall of Famer James “Bo” Nelson attended Atkins from 1959-1963, playing both football and basketball. He said Atkins had tremendous athletic talent. He played alongside the late Herman “Herm” Gilliam, a fellow Hall of Famer who went on to play basketball professionally.

Even 50 years later, Nelson can vividly recall the time when his coach told him to hold the ball during a heated game with Greensboro’s Dudley High School. He took the shot instead, and missed, causing Dudley to get the rebound and the winning basket.

“I have some fond memories of the shots I missed that caused me to lose the game,” he said with a laugh.

Nelson still regularly attends both Atkins and Winston-Salem Preparatory games. He said being a guest of honor at the that evening’s Atkins game was a special treat. During a break in the action, Hall of Famers sat in the bleachers as each of their names were called out and accomplishments recited. Some stood up or waved as their sports feats echoed over the speakers; others just sat and smiled. They made their way to center-court afterward for a group picture.

Hall of Fame President Benjamin Gray said the great inductees set a good example for current Atkins students, who, unlike students at the original Atkins, are racially diverse. The men and women in the hall show what can be achieved both athletically and academically, said Gray, who said inductees regularly serve as volunteers at the school.



“We can wear our jackets and interact with the kids, let them know that we have been where they are now,” said Gray, who made the all-city football roster his senior year at Atkins and eventually played a season for the Denver Broncos.

The Hall of Fame, which also includes well known leaders like School Board Member Victor Johnson, who played football, holds its induction ceremonies annually at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum Annex.

Gray said he expects to have former players from the new Atkins or Winston-Salem Prep among future classes of inductees, who are required to have graduated at least five years ago. He said the group also plans to hold a Valentine’s dance next month and golf tournament at Winston Lake Golf Course in April to raise money for scholarships for students at both schools.

The Hall of Fame Valentine’s Dance is on Feb. 6 from 7:30-11 p.m. at the Enterprise Center, 1922 South Martin Luther King Drive. Tickets are $30. Call Gray at 336-749-1403 for ticket reservations.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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