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Ralph Sampson returns to Strasburg nearly 40 years later as Mayfest Grand Marshal

Basketball legend and Harrisonburg native Ralph Sampson speaks in 2011 at a press conference. Traci White/For The Northern Virginia Daily

STRASBURG – The Strasburg Chamber of Commerce announced Friday evening that former NBA player Ralph Sampson will be participating as the grand marshal in the 36th annual Mayfest parade on May 19.

Mayor Rich Orndorff Jr. said it’s really sort of full-circle to have Sampson return to Strasburg nearly 40 years after his last appearance.

“In 1979, Ralph appeared as a guest speaker for the sports banquet,” Orndorff said. “I was a freshman or sophomore and I got to meet him, as many people here in Strasburg did. For myself, it’s pretty exciting to welcome him back.”

The 7-foot-4-inch basketball legend hails from Harrisonburg, where he attended Harrisonburg High School. There he averaged nearly 30 points, 19 rebounds and 7 blocked shots as a senior, leading the team to state AA basketball championships in 1978 and 1979.

After graduating, Sampson attended the University of Virginia where he was arguably the most heavily recruited college basketball prospect of his generation. Playing center for the Cavaliers, Sampson led his team to an NIT title in 1980, an NCAA Final Four appearance in 1981 and an NCAA Elite Eight appearance in 1983.

In 1983, Sampson was picked  first in the overall draft by the Houston Rockets. As a rookie, he averaged 20.7 points and also recorded an average of 10.9 rebounds in his first three seasons, played in the All-Star Game and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award, all before injuries began to later take their toll.

After three surgeries and playing internationally, Sampson retired from pro basketball. In 1996, he was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. In 2011, he was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Orndorff said many Strasburg residents know the story of Roger Bergey, a Strasburg High School and William & Mary graduate, who would later coach and advise Sampson before going pro.

“Roger was the reason Sampson came to Strasburg in the first place,” Orndorff said, referring to Sampson’s 1979 sports banquet appearance. “He was friends with Glen Proctor, longtime coach and athletics director, who talked him into coming and talking.”

 Cecili Weber, Miss Virginia 2017,  will also make a special guest appearance in the annual Mayfest parade.

Matthew Hyden, parade director, said Weber will also be spotted in the community doing meet and greets, discussing her platforms and enjoying her time in Strasburg.

 Weber was a top 10 finalist in the Miss America Pageant. Her talent is contemporary dance. She is a 2017 graduate of Hollins University with a bachelor of arts degree in communication studies. Her ambition is to pursue a career in public relations with a top fashion or beauty brand.

“We’re really excited to have her here in Strasburg,” Hyden said. “We’re bringing back a lot of old traditional values while broadening our horizons.”

 

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