Shell honored as part of professional football HOF tour

By ANDREW MILLERapmiller@postandcourier.com

They lingered long after the ceremony was over, huddled together like the old teammates they were, reminiscing about the glory days.

They talked about former teammates and friends, some who had long ago moved away, some who had passed away, but always the conversation would return to one subject — Art Shell.

Shell was honored during a ceremony and plaque presentation at North Charleston High School on Friday afternoon as one of pro football’s Hometown Hall of Famers. The program is part of a two-year nationwide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Its purpose is to honor the hometowns that helped create the hall of fame players.

It might have been nearly four decades since they shared the same field and classrooms with Shell, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989, but the half-dozen or so former Bonds-Wilson High School teammates remember those times like it was yesterday.

“Art was special, even back then you knew he was special,” said Herbert Willingham, 68, a running back and safety on those Bonds-Wilson teams. “He was a big fella, but he could move like a smaller guy. It didn’t matter what sport he played, he was always one of the best. I think people forget what a good basketball and baseball player Art was.”

Eugene Graves, Bonds-Wilson’s head basketball coach and assistant football coach when Shell was playing, said the gathering brought back a flood of memories.

“It’s a great moment for me, for Bonds-Wilson High School and for all the players and students that played with Art,” said Graves, 82. “It brings back so many fond memories of those kids. Art is where is today because of hard work and perseverance. He was special, but we had several players that were special back then.

“Curtis Seward, Theron Seward, and James Johnson, who played for the Cincinnati Bengals, were all great players when Art was here. It’s very gratifying to see hard work pay off because nothing was ever given to those boys.”

For Shell, Friday’s gathering was a chance to reminisce with old friends and thank a community that have given him so much over the years.

“They say it takes a community to raise a kid, and there’s no doubt that the community of North Charleston raised this kid,” Shell said. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without the city of North Charleston and Bonds-Wilson High School. All the people in this community taught me things and allowed me to be the person I am today.”

Shell graduated from a segregated Bonds-Wilson High School in 1964. Bonds-Wilson, Chicora and North Charleston high schools later merged into North Charleston High School in 1984.

“It was a sad day when they closed Bonds-Wilson, but it was also progress,” Shell said. “Every day I went to school I passed by two other schools on my way to Bonds-Wilson. Things have changed and I think they’ve changed for the better. I can feel the Cobra spirit in the walls here at North Charleston High School. That spirit is still here.”

Shell gave a brief speech during the ceremony to about 200 people. He emphasized hard work and school. A message that wasn’t lost on the current generation of North Charleston football players.

“My dad talked about Mr. Shell a lot and about what a great player he was,” said senior Shaquille Tucker. “It was cool to finally meet him after hearing my dad talk about him so much. He’s an inspiration. It let’s me know that I can make it. If Mr. Shell can do it, can come from this neighborhood, then I can make it too. There are no excuses.”

Not among the crowd Friday was James Fields, Shell’s high school football coach. Fields passed away less than a month ago.

“I know coach Fields was so proud of Art, it’s too bad he missed this,” Graves said.