By Debbie Adams
Eat, sleep, and dream sports? There is a perfect club for you – the Roanoke Valley Sports Club. No community service projects, no volunteer hours, no fundraisers – just camaraderie with like-minded folks during monthly meetings featuring prominent speakers from the wide world of sports, with dinner included.
If you love sports and like to socialize, this is the organization for you.
According to its website, the Roanoke Valley Sports Club is open to anyone who loves sports, loves to “chew the fat for a couple of hours,” and loves to hear and meet popular sports personalities – athletes, coaches, officials, and sports media – many with local connections.
At the club’s meeting on October 19, NCAA and ACC basketball official Roger Ayers, a native of Southeast Roanoke, was the guest speaker. This past summer sports commentator and author Marty Smith, who had his beginnings in Giles County, was the evening’s entertainment. The November 16 meeting will feature former Salem High basketball standout Mark Byington, who is the new coach at James Madison University.
Past speakers have included Virginia Tech coaches Frank Beamer and Bud Foster; UVA coaches Al Groh and Tony Bennett; VMI coach Scott Wachenheim; NCAA commentator Dan Bonner; “voice of the Cavaliers” Dave Koehn; star UVA basketball player Curtis Staples; Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock; 2019 Sportscaster of the Year Mike Burnop; coach and sports analyst Bob Valvano; ODU golf coach Carol Green Robertson; “Voice of the Hokies” Bill Roth; and Liberty coach Ritchie McKay.
Each year, the club schedules Media Night, hosting a panel of local sportswriters and sportscasters speaking on college and high school programs.
The Roanoke Valley Sports Club formed in 1972, took a sabbatical for a few years. and then was reborn in 1993 under the leadership of Dan Wooldridge, Charlie Moir, and the late Joe Thomas. Their first speaker in 1993 was NBA player Dell Curry.
The Roanoke Valley Sports Club officers and board of directors include a Who’s Who of well-known sports broadcasters, sports writers, sports businessmen, and sports legends in the area. Board meetings tend to include a great deal of bantering about sports and sports teams, in addition to business items.
President Dave Ross is a well-known television and radio broadcaster for high school and college sports – a career which began in college and continued in the Army – where he also won the Bronze Star for meritorious service in Vietnam.
Ross worked in broadcasting in New York before coming to Roanoke in 1975 as sports director for WSLS-TV. He went on to become an icon in high school sports broadcasting.
Board of Directors members John Montgomery, Bill Turner, and Doug Doughty are well-known sports writers in the region. Montgomery was the publisher, editor, and columnist for the popular “Play by Play” magazine. Doughty has been covering sports for The Roanoke Times for over 40 years, producing an estimated 10,000 by-lines – a majority of them on UVA athletics. He is a member of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
Turner is the sports director for the Roanoke Star and formerly a writer for the Cave Spring Connection and the Salem Times Register. For years he was the photographer for the Roanoke Express hockey team.
Robin Bennett and Chip Grubb are two of the owners of the Rail Yard Dawgs hockey team. Bennett also owns the Sports Haven sports memorabilia store, the official team store for the Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs.
Hal Mabe of Vinton was for years the voice of the William Byrd Terriers at Friday night football games.
Other officers and board members include Brad Mullins, Maggie Drewry, Tom Edwards, Hugh Hall, Mary Hinman, Chris McCarty, Steve Myers, and Ethel Waldron.
The club supports and encourages local youth athletics by recognizing high school sports teams and individual high school athletes who have won state championships. They are invited to dinner to hear the featured speakers and formally recognized during the evening.
The Cave Spring Knights team was honored as the Class 3 State Boys Basketball Champions for 2020 during the October 19 meeting.
Five basketball coaches, including William Byrd coach Paul Barnard, Patrick Henry coach Woody Deans, Roanoke College coach Ed Greene, William Fleming coach Burrall Paye, and Martinsville and Hidden Valley coach Troy Wells, were inducted into the Sports Clubs “Sports Legends Program” for their career accomplishments.
The club is working to build its membership and expand to reach younger sports enthusiasts. Vice President Brad Mullins plans to extend their reach through their website and social media.
The Roanoke Valley Sports Club does not place a lot of demands on their members’ time. They meet once a month (usually on the third Monday) at the Salem Civic Center, with a guest speaker and catered dinner.
New members pay an annual membership fee of $40 (includes two family members) and $17.50 discounted tickets for the dinners featuring sports personalities.
There is a raffle for door prizes at the end of their meetings with the proceeds going towards programs, speakers, and recognitions for the student athletes.
The most recent dinner on the 19th attracted over 100 members and guests to hear Roger Ayers.
Ayers grew up playing basketball in his backyard in SE Roanoke. He attended Jackson Middle School and Patrick Henry High School. Ironically, he was cut from the PH basketball team by Woody Deans.
He officiated at “small ball” youth leagues and high school games in the valley for many years and served as a firefighter.
His official career began in 1996 with the ODAC conference. He has now spent 21 years with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the last 12 as Crew Chief. He calls himself “very blessed and very lucky” to have reached his goal of becoming an ACC basketball referee “to get to do what I do.”
He credits his success to his hardworking parents who encouraged him to be a simplifier, not a complicator. They laid the foundation for him to become who he is. Ayers shared a moment from his childhood when all the other players on the team at Jackson had Nike tennis shoes. His mother, at great inconvenience and at a price they couldn’t afford, appeared at the school with a pair of Nike’s for a big game.
Ayers says he beat long odds to become an ACC ref. He shared an anecdote, directed at the students in the audience, about how it all came about. He was one of 60 applicants for two positions as an ACC referee. Arriving in Indianapolis for tryouts, he finally made it to the hotel receptionist’s desk only to be told he had no room. He remained gracious at the news – the choice that changed his life.
Unbeknownst to him and the other applicants, they were filmed in the lobby as each received the news that there was no room for them in the hotel. Apparently the other 59 who applied weren’t so kind to the receptionist. Although he did not put in a stellar performance at the tryouts, Ayers won the position for “what you did when nobody was looking; how you treated people got you the job,” he was told by Fred Barakat, Coordinator of Officials for the ACC.
In 2017, in the CBS Sports poll of college basketball coaches, he was named the best referee in college basketball. He has now officiated over a thousand basketball games in his career, including the Final Four.
The Roanoke Valley Sports Club welcomes new members and also guests for their monthly dinners. For more information on the Roanoke Valley Sports Club visit https://roanokevalleysportsclub.com or check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/roanokevalleysportsclub for a schedule of upcoming speakers.