Six new faces go into York County Sports Hall of Fame

Whenever Johnathan Joseph went to the Galleria mall in Rock Hill as a kid, he always looked up on the walls at the pictures of the York County Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

It’s hard to believe Joseph now that he’s an NFL star, but he really wanted to be up there on the Galleria wall too.

“Just to be a part of that, just to be able to join an elite group of athletes that’s up there is a pleasure,” said Joseph on Tuesday night, before he and five other athletes and coaches were inducted as the 2015 hall of fame class.

Joseph was joined by Tommy Gaither, Debra Osborn, Dr. Tom Crump, and two more NFL players, Ben Watson and Chris Hope, all athletes, coaches and/or educators that belonged on the wall at the Galleria’s entrance near Wal-Mart.

Debra Osborn: Osborn graduated from Fort Mill High School in 1976. She excelled in basketball and still ranks as the school’s second all-time leading scorer for boys and girls. Osborn played college basketball at North Greenville and Erskine before becoming a coach briefly at Erskine.

In 1982 she began a 26-year association with J.L. Mann High School, coaching multiple sports and serving as the athletics director from 1995 until her retirement in 2008. Osborn now works at Brashier Middle College, a charter school, where she is the athletics director. She hadn’t thought about the York County hall of fame in a long time before finding out she would be inducted a few months ago.

“I was a legend in my own mind,” said Osborn, barely cracking a smile. “You just get older and it just goes longer and longer and you don’t think about it. I was telling (Hope, Watson and Joseph) you’re lucky that you’re younger and getting this because now I’m a little old to talk junk, but I will. But it’s been a wonderful day; I’m blessed.”

Dr. Tom Crump: Crump graduated from Rock Hill High School in the 1950s and played college basketball at Newberry. He later coached at Brookland-Cayce, Pelion, Gilbert and Mid-Carolina high schools, and also had a stint as an assistant coach at East Carolina.

Crump, who lives in Columbia after retiring from education six years ago, is also a member of the Newberry College athletic hall of fame. He served as principal at Spring Valley and Mid-Carolina high schools. The longtime educator and coach learned of his induction in February and said he was shocked.

“Looking forward to meeting with these guys, my fellow inductees here, great group, my goodness,” said Crump. “I’m just honored to be a part of this group.”

Ben Watson: Born in Virginia, Watson attended Northwestern High School after his family moved to the area. Watson played football at Duke for a year before transferring to Georgia. He was named All-SEC his senior year and drafted in the first round by the New England Patriots in 2004.

It was with the Patriots that Watson won a Super Bowl ring in his rookie year, before signing with the Cleveland Browns in 2010. After a successful run with the Browns, Watson then inked a deal with New Orleans, where he has been since. This coming fall will be his 11th year in the league.

Watson flew in Tuesday morning and flew back to New Orleans late the same day. Sending a video or a message instead would not have sufficed.

“I was really honored. I lived here for three years, so I was a transplant,” said Watson. “But this place has become home. My family still lives here and when I moved here I was embraced by the community, my family was embraced and it made it very easy to call Rock Hill home and to represent Rock Hill.”

Johnathan Joseph: After starring at Northwestern High School, Joseph spent two years in junior college before transferring to South Carolina. He was taken in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals where he spent the next five seasons before signing with the Houston Texans in 2011. Joseph’s upcoming season will be his ninth in the league.

Joseph had arguably the best season of his career in 2014, finishing with career-highs in tackles, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. NFL achievements didn’t alter his view on Tuesday’s honor, though.

“It’s a once in a lifetime thing,” said Joseph, who was supported Tuesday night by nearly 40 family members and friends. “So many guys came before you and you want to be the same thing, a role model for the next group of guys that’s coming along. So it was important to be here today with my family.”

Tommy Gaither: Gaither graduated from Fort Mill High School in 1965, and from Clemson four years later.

Gaither was the basketball coach at Charleston Southern and Morehead State and was also a top assistant at Gardner-Webb and Clemson during a college career that stretched from 1975 to 1991. He also coached high school hoops at Lower Richland, Berkeley, Georgetown and Indian Land.

“It’s always an honor to be recognized for anything I’ve done in sports or coaching,” said Gaither, who now lives at Pawley’s Island. “I’ve always enjoyed working with kids no matter the level or age group they’re in. It’s been a good career for me.”

Chris Hope: A standout at Rock Hill High School, Hope was a high school All-American – the city’s first – and signed with Florida State.

The Pittsburgh Steelers picked Hope in the third round of the 2002 draft, and he took over the team’s starting safety gig in 2004. Hope was an integral part of the Steelers’ Super Bowl victory in 2005. In 2006 Hope signed a six-year contract with the Tennessee Titans, earning a Pro Bowl spot in 2008. Hope concluded his 10-year career with stints in Atlanta and Detroit.

“It was exciting, it was a humbling experience,” said Hope. “As a kid you think about this day, being inducted into the hall of fame of your city and being celebrated by the people that you watched you as a kid. Being inducted into my county’s hall of fame means a lot more to me because these people love and respect me as a person, and if I had played one snap or 2,000 snaps in the National Football League, the would have still loved Chris Hope.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T