WCU announces hall of fame inductees Ayers, Johnson & Williamson

Catamount Athletics announced the newest members to be conducted into the Western Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame. The 34th class of inductees are Gary Ayers, Brenda Johnson Hamilton and Danny Williamson. 

The class will be officially introduced into the hall on Nov. 11 at WCU’s Athletics Hall of Fame weekend. The ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. The location has not yet been announced. 

The purpose of the hall of fame is “to recognize and honor those persons whose outstanding contributions have enriched the athletic programs of Western Carolina University, and to provide an enduring memorial and preserve for posterity the memories of those persons whose endeavors brought distinction to the University.” 

Gary Ayers 

Gary Ayers, also known as the “Voice of the Catamounts” to be inducted into the athletics hall of fame after nearly 40 years of broadcasts. Photo by WCU Athletics.

Ayers, commonly referred to as the “voice of Catamount football and basketball” has been providing play-by-play audio broadcasting through the Catamount Sports Network since 1985.  

Following the Catamounts game versus the Arkansas Razorbacks, Ayers has been broadcasting for 37 of the last 38 seasons providing color commentary for the football team and the men’s basketball team. Ayers recently added women’s basketball to his resume.  

Ayers, a Swain County native, began his radio career in 1975 at WBHN in Bryson City. He worked part time as a disc jockey until a job opening paved the way for Ayers to call live games. 

In the 1980s, Ayers was convinced to work as the broadcaster for Catamount football and basketball by WCU Hall of Famers Bob Waters, the all-time winningest head football coach and Steve White, former sports information director. 

Ayers has broadcast over 1,077 men’s and women’s basketball games, 422 football games, and 37 baseball, softball, and volleyball games across the last 38 years. Combined, Ayers has been a part of 1,536 games either broadcasting or on the public address system. 

Brenda Johnson Hamilton 

Johnson, the first African American women’s basketball player at WCU, is also among the first female student-athletes of color. Photo by WCU Athletics.

Johnson, originally from Iron Station, N.C., began her career at Western in 1974 where she became the first African American women’s basketball player in WCU’s history. Beyond that feat, Johnson would go on to be of the most productive women’s basketball players to ever don the purple and gold.  

During her time at WCU, Johnson was a two-time All-State selection in the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) and was named to the US Collegiate Women’s All-Star team in 1975. 

She finished her collegiate career with 1,343 points scored, currently ninth in the Catamount women’s basketball record books. Johnson is also the only WCU player to surpass 1,000 rebounds in a career. In the 1976-1977 season, Johnson collected 323 rebounds, averaging 14.7 rebounds per game.  

Johnson will join two teammates in the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame; Jayne Arledge, the program’s all-time leading scorer, and Judy Stroud who returned to WCU as a coach in the 1980s. 

Williamson coached over 700 student-athletes to All-SoCon accolades leading his way to a very successful career at WCU. Photo by WCU Athletics.

Danny Williamson 

WCU’s Track and Field program has boasted a winning culture for more than 20 years thanks to the efforts of former head coach Danny Williamson. Williamson, a Jackson County native, was hired following his graduation from WCU in 1987 as a football staffer. Soon after, Williamson moved from the football field to the track.  

During his time leading both the men’s and women’s teams at WCU, the track and field program won 32 Southern Conference (SoCon) titles with Williamson himself earning 39 SoCon Coach of the Year honors, the second-most all-time in conference history. Williamson was also the recipient of the NCAA Division I Indoor and Outdoor Southeast Region Coach of the Year award in 2006. Additionally, 19 student athletes under Williamson were named SoCon Athletes of the Year. 

Williamson retired from WCU in 2016, later returning to coaching at Cherokee High School and then back to collegiate athletics at Lenoir-Rhyne and UNC Asheville. In his only season coaching in Asheville, the team set 16 school records during the indoor season and the men’s team won its first-ever team-scored event in program history.  

Including Ayers, Johnson and Williamson, the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame has enshrined 133 individuals, six athletic teams, 11 Patron Award recipients recognized for career achievements since its creation.