By Amanda Moss
Local retired teacher and coach, James “Joe” Hand, is being recognized for his contributions as an excellent athlete and coach.
Hand will be inducted on March 11 at Catawba Heights Baptist Church into the Belmont Sports Hall of Fame, where he began his career in sports. Hand will be among two others that will also be inducted into the hall of fame.
Art Shoemaker, hall of fame director, said it was an easy decision in choosing Hand for this honor.
“He is certainly worthy of this nomination,” Shoemaker said. “He has had a distinguished career in academia as well as in sports.”
Hand’s hometown is Belmont. He began at Reid High School in 1955. He was a top student and a top player for the school’s baseball team. He helped lead the team at the school to two state championships. After his time in high school, Hand went on to Elizabeth City State University to continue playing baseball and obtain his degree in education. He earned his masters in counseling at Kansas State University before making the move to Richmond County.
“I came to Richmond County in 1963,” Hand said. “Leak Street was my first job as an educator.”
North Carolina State Sen. Gene McLaurin remembers Hand very vividly as a teacher of his.
“When the schools first integrated, I was in the sixth grade and he (Hand) was my first African-American teacher,” McLaurin said. “Over the next two years he coached me in basketball. His wife even taught me in the seventh grade. I think a lot about him and his family.”
While McLaurin was young at the time, he remembers that it was a difficult time for the county when the schools finally integrated.
“He and many other leaders at that time paved the way for good race relations in our community,” McLaurin said. “I was young at the time, but it really was a time in our community’s history where it was so important that the right people make integration successful and he was one of the leaders.”
Since his arrival, Hand has had his hand in a number of activities that stretch from education to sports. He was recognized as an outstanding young educator, youth official and little league coach in Richmond County. He has also coached basketball, baseball, football and track and field for multiple schools in Richmond County.
At one point in his career he was also a member of the Richmond County Board of Education as well as a former staff member at Richmond Community College.
Despite his heavy involvement in the community, Hand still made it a priority to focus on his family, the most important part of his life.
Hand was married to the late Willie Mae Corry Hand, who was also an educator in Richmond County for many years. He also has two children, Stephany Hand Biggs, married to Joey Biggs, and his son James Hand Jr. His pride and joy though are his two grandchildren, Jorren and Jaden Biggs.
“My family, education and sports are just part of who I am,” Hand said.
McLaurin definitely agrees with that statement.
“Still to this day I call him Coach Hand,” McLaurin said. “He was an excellent coach who taught us all about fair play and team work. I’m glad he is getting the recognition that he deserves from his hometown.”