published Saturday, October 1st, 2011

Whitson gets top Clemson honor

She was the first female athlete in the Clemson University Hall of Fame, and she since has gone into the Red Bank High School, Greater Chattanooga and Tennessee Tennis halls of fame. But the greatest honor of all for Signal Mountain native Susan Hill Whitson is coming six weeks from now, when she joins PGA Tour golfer Jonathan Byrd in being added to the Clemson Ring of Honor.

Only 13 individuals have preceded them, led by legendary football coach Frank Howard, football and basketball All-American Banks McFadden, the late 1970s quarterback-receiver tandem of Steve Fuller and Jerry Butler and two stars from the 1981 football national champions. That team and the 1984 national champion soccer team are part of the Ring of Honor as groups.

Whitson will be the third woman in the Ring, following two-time basketball All-American Barbara Kennedy Dixon, who holds school career records with 3,113 points and 1,252 rebounds, and eight-time running All-American and three-time NCAA champion Tina Krebs.

Whitson did not win a national championship but was a three-time first-team All-American, and she remains the Atlantic Coast Conference's only four-time women's tennis most valuable player. She is one of only two Clemson athletes to be a four-time ACC MVP.

The Clemson website calls the Ring of Honor "the highest honor a Clemson student-athlete can receive." There will be a Friday night ceremony and an on-field presentation at halftime of the Nov. 12 football game against Wake Forest.

"It was just an unbelievable thing when I heard about it. I was stunned," Whitson said Friday from her home in Conyers, Ga. "To be included with such an elite group of athletes who have accomplished so much, and Clemson is so special to me, I would say it is the highest honor I've ever had.

"I never dreamed I would be inducted into the Ring of Honor, and it came so unexpectedly."

A three-time TSSAA state singles champion and two-time doubles champ for Red Bank, Whitson did not pursue a professional tennis career. She and her husband, John, also a Clemson graduate, have five children. Two graduated magna cum laude from Clemson, and son Blake is a senior there.

Daughter Brittany ended the string with a soccer scholarship to Presbyterian College, while youngest son Daniel is a Salem High School senior playing soccer and kicking for the football team.

Whitson said she loved Clemson from the start -- "when I walked onto campus 34 years ago" -- and winning four ACC singles titles there and a doubles championship with her sister, Carolyn, just made it more special.

Their parents, Frank and Betty Sue Hill, will attend the Nov. 11-12 induction with most of the rest of the family. Frank, who turns 80 in 17 days, worked with young teenage girls tennis players -- regularly three at a time -- from 1981 until two weeks ago, when an X-ray showing virtually no cartilage in his knees prompted his doctor to recommend he finally quit playing.

But his No. 1 protege continues to earn acclaim three decades after her grandest moments on the court.

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