Being very humbled

Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick, shown here at her family’s business, The Friendly Market, is very humbled to be named to the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame. (J.J. Smith photo)

MOREHEAD CITY — Mindy Ballou Fitzpatrick continues to climb the Hall of Fame ladder.

After inductions at both the high school and county level, the former West Carteret and University of South Carolina basketball All-American and surfing national champion has reached the state level.

Ballou Fitzpatrick is part of a 15-member class that will be enshrined in the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame during the 55th annual induction banquet on Friday, May 4, at the Raleigh Convention Center.

“It’s humbling and an honor,” she said. “I’m still having a hard time believing it.”

A member of the West Carteret High School Athletic Hall of Fame and the Carteret County Sports Hall of Fame, she is the first county native and the first-ever surfer to be enshrined.

“I was shocked no one from the county is in it,”  Ballou Fitzpatrick said. “I’m very proud to be going in as a Carteret County girl and the first surfer.”

There have been 336 men and women previously enshrined in the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Donna Andrews, Scott Bankhead, Hal “Skinny” Brown, Chris Cammack, Joey Cheek, Wes Chesson, Laura DuPont, Bill Hayes, Jack Holley, Paul Jones, Mike Martin, Frank “Jakie” May, Joe West, Fred Whitfield and Ballou Fitzpatrick will push that number to 351 this year.

“We’re each giving a speech in front of about 1,500 people, we each get rings, and something of mine will be in the Hall of Fame forever,” she said. “It’s mind-blowing.”

Ballou Fitzpatrick said she will think often of her parents, Ward and Betty Ballou, both deceased, as the ceremony approaches and on the day it takes place.

“They are a part of everything I do,” she said. “They were incredible. My entire family is. My brothers (Ricky, David and Chuck Sledge), taught me so much about sports. Nobody thinks something like this is going to happen. It’s not a goal. I just enjoyed playing. This is crazy, really. It’s probably one of the greatest moments of my life.”

A two-time All-American at West Carteret (1981, 1982), she was an inaugural member of the high school’s Hall of Fame. She is the only West athlete to have her jersey retired and still holds the Patriots’ all-time game (44), season average (25.9) and career (1,899) scoring records.

She is one of just two female players – joining East Carteret’s Kim Oden – to earn three News-Times Player of the Year awards. The News-Times then tabbed her as the county’s Athlete of the Century as the calendar turned from 1999 to 2000.

“It took a lot of great people to get me here,” Ballou Fitzpatrick said. “I had help from Billy Widgeon, Gordy Patrick, Tom McQuaid, you name it. I think I’ve been very lucky. When I think about all the people that have helped me along the way, people came into my life at the right time and kept moving me forward.”

She followed with a similarly spectacular four-year career (1983-1986) at South Carolina that included three selections to All-American teams. She is one of only four players in program history to earn three All-American honors and one of just 16 players to earn All-American status.

She has always been considered one of the program’s all-time greats, and that reputation was cemented last year when The State released its list of the top 25 players in school history. She was ranked No. 6 on the newspaper’s list.

Ballou Fitzpatrick is still scattered throughout the South Carolina record book.

She held the career assists record (total and average) for 18 years before Cristina Ciocan broke it in 2004. Ballou Fitzpatrick had 595 assists and a 5.2 average while Ciocan finished with 615 and 5.3.

Ballou Fitzpatrick still holds season records for total assists  (219 in 1983-1984) and average assists (7.3 in 1983-1984) and most assists by a sophomore (219 in 1983-1984) and a senior (174 in 1985-1986). She is tied for second for most assists in a game with 14. She hit that mark twice, first in 1984 and then in 1986.

She is also third in career free-throw percentage (75.4), sixth in average minutes per season (37.2 in 1985-1986), eighth in total minutes in a season (1,116 in 1985-1986) and 22nd on the all-time scoring list with 1,199 points.

She led the team during the 1985-1986 campaign when the Gamecocks went 19-11 and won the program’s first conference regular season and tournament championships to earn their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years.

Ballou Fitzpatrick watched with pride last season as South Carolina captured its first national championship with a 67-55 victory over Mississippi State in the title game.

She received scholarship offers from Southern California, N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke, Rutgers, South Carolina and others after her phenomenal high school career. Nora Lynn Finch, president of the Hall of Fame, recruited her at N.C. State when Finch worked in the Wolfpack athletic program.

“I adored her,” Ballou Fitzpatrick said. “She was a hero of mine.”

Finch isn’t her only connection to the Hall of Fame. Former News & Observer sports writer A.J. Carr has been a board member since 2009. He helped spearhead her nomination, along with her coach at West, Edith Styron.

“I read a newspaper story about her and saw all that she had accomplished and I said, ‘My goodness, she should be in the Hall of Fame,’” Carr said. “I certainly supported her candidacy, but I don’t want any credit for it. She earned it on her own credentials and résumé, which is remarkable.”

Carr is no stranger to Carteret County, having visited the area for most of his adult life. He’s married to the former Nancy Huntley of Beaufort. The couple will celebrate their 53rd anniversary this year.

He retired in 2008 from the News & Observer after nearly 43 years on the job. Carr was inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.

He received the N.C. Sportswriter of the Year Award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association in 2008. He received the same award in 1978, showing a remarkable consistency of excellence over three decades.

In all his time, he said he never ran across someone with Ballou Fitzpatrick’s remarkable accomplishments.

“Mindy is unique in that she was a great basketball player, in high school and college and then a national surfing champion,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone, period, male or female, that is both a basketball All-American and a national surfing champion.”

Ballou Fitzpatrick’s outstanding surfing career was highlighted by winning the  Women’s Amateur National Championship in 1994. In September of that year, she became the first North Carolinian to win the Junior Women’s Division of the Eastern Surfing Association. She won the same title again in 1995. Just prior to the 1994 win, she took first in the Women’s Division at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, Va.

“I feel like surfing has never been recognized like it should,” she said. “I don’t mind being the first and opening the gates for surfers better than me. And I’m happy to represent the county because I feel like so many helped me to get here. This has brought back so many memories of those that have helped me. My coach, Edith Styron, my parents, my brothers. I’ve just always been surrounded by so many great people.”

Since her basketball and surfing days, Ballou Fitzpatrick has been a philanthropic and business leader in the county.

She ran a popular  nonprofit basketball camp for girls, known as Mindy’s Hoop Clinic, for 13 years.

For the past 11 years, she and her husband, Matt, with help from son, Matt Jr., and daughter, Annie, have run The Friendly Market in Morehead City. The establishment, which includes Mindy’s Baked Goods, Friendly Market Produce and The Nursery, has grown by leaps and bounds since it opened in 2008.

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