HENDERSON — The Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks Department is honoring two former standout Vance Senior High School athletes by renaming facilities at Fox Pond Park after them.

Tennis courts No. 1 and No. 2 will be named after the late Mary Lloyd Hodges Barbera, while Fox Pond Shelter No. 1 is being dedicated to former football player Eddie James Hicks, who has been working with Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks since 1977.

Department Director Kendrick Vann said that Barbera and Hicks are great representatives of the success that stems from Henderson, and that the community needed to honor their legacy for the current generation to remember their contributions in and away from sports.

“We’re a small community, so we want to show our youth that there are so many people who have been trailblazers for Henderson,” Vann said. “When COVID-19 hit, we started thinking about the quality of life and we want to acknowledge the impact that both Mary and Eddie had and continue to have in this area.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, Barbera was consistently ranked as the top tennis player in North Carolina and won two N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A singles titles at Vance Senior High in 1981 and 1982.

She continued her career at Peace College, where she was named an All-American Athlete by the National Junior College Athletic Association in 1984. She transferred to N.C. State the following year and tallied 16 years in singles competition.

Vann said that Barbera, who was inducted into the William Peace University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012, remains an inspiration for young women in Henderson that are looking to follow in her footsteps as efficient tennis players.

She “came back to Henderson several times to help with clinics,” Vann said. “She gave back to the community through tennis. People don’t normally associate Vance County with tennis, but we have a few very talented tennis players here right now, so we want to spark more interest in the sport and naming the tennis courts after [Mary] is one way we’re doing that.”

Hicks excelled at football, wrestling and track while at Vance Senior High, but ultimately earned a scholarship to play football at East Carolina University.

As a running back, Hicks was a dominant contributor in the Pirates offense and finished his four-year career with 2,100 rushing yards and the longest rushing play in program history at 95 yards. His achievements earned him a place in the East Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014.

Even after he was drafted by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 1979 NFL draft, Hicks occasionally returned home to Henderson to work special events before becoming more actively involved with the community once his playing career ended.

Vann said that honoring Hicks with a name on a Fox Pond shelter was an easy and fitting decision given the time and energy he has invested into the park and Henderson over the last several decades.

“A lot of people really don’t know what Mr. Hicks has done,” Vann said. “He has mentored the kids and given food to the elderly. People call him the mayor of Fox Pond because he takes time out of his day to fix any problem at a facility. Hicks has been working for 44 years now and everyone felt it was a great gesture to name the shelter after him.”

Assistant Director Tara Goolsby stressed the importance of shaking the negative stereotypes associated with Henderson by honoring natives who thrived in their occupation and devoted energy and resources to making Henderson a better place.

Goolsby said that Barbera and Hicks perfectly embody those positive traits, and is grateful that local residents and outsiders who visit Fox Pond Park will always remember their contributions.

With more projects currently in the works with Henderson-Vance Recreation and Parks, Vann and Goolsby said that Barbera and Hicks will not be the last two local sports figures who have their name enshrined on a facility in Vance County.

“This is all part of our comprehensive plan that involves adding more facilities,” Vann said. “We’re going to name facilities, elements and other amenities after people who were active in those respective areas. Hopefully by doing this, we’ll spark more interest in what’s going on inside Vance County.”

An official ceremony dedicating the tennis courts and shelter to Barbera and Hicks respectively will take place some time in the spring of 2022.

Contact Brandon White at bwhite@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2840

Contact Brandon White at bwhite@hendersondispatch.com or by phone at 252-436-2840