Richard Hyatt: From Lakebottom to Cooperstown

January 21, 2014 

When a ball player goes from Lakebottom to Cooperstown, that's big. But Frank Thomas isn't the first local athlete to do his hometown proud.

When the Big Hurt goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer he'll reach the pinnacle of his sport. His rise to stardom began in the Peach Little League and at Columbus High School and this summer a plaque bearing his name will be hung in a cathedral that baseball considers holy ground.

No other native son or daughter has risen so far but here are 10 standouts that should not be forgotten:

• George Odom raced ponies through downtown streets and in 1904 he rode Delhi to victory in the Belmont Stakes. As a trainer, he tutored 44 horses that made it to the winner's circle. He was a first ballot honoree in the National Racing Museum in 1955.

• George "Kid" Woodruff played football at Georgia and coached the Bulldogs for a dollar a year. He helped bring the Georgia-Auburn game here and floated the original loan for Sanford Stadium.

• Jim Homer was 6-foot-4 when 6-foot-4 was big. He played at Columbus High before going to Alabama where he twice made the All-SEC basketball team. He played for the Syracuse Nats and was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1948. He was head basketball coach and athletic director at West Alabama.

• Chuck Hurston played football at Jordan High and Auburn and in 1966 started for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, earning $7,500 for his participation.

• Sam McQuagg, NASCAR's Rookie of the Year in 1965, got the checkered flag at the 1966 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Raceway. In his 12-year career, he finished in the Top 10 21 times.

• Hugh Royer Jr. captained the Georgia golf team and was the first local golfer to win a PGA Tournament.

• Sam Mitchell, a standout at Columbus High and Mercer University, had to play all over the world before beginning a 13-year NBA career. He was head coach of the Toronto Raptors four seasons and Coach of the Year in 2007. He's a TV commentator for the NBA Network.

• Larry Mize has won 10 professional championships but his victory in the 1987 Masters says it all.

• Spec Richardson managed Jordan High's state championship basketball team in 1943. He served in the front office of the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros and San Francisco Giants and was Executive of the Year in 1978.

• Woodrow Lowe went from Phenix City's Central High to Alabama where he was a three-time All-American. He was on four SEC championship teams and one national championship squad and played 12 seasons for the San Diego Chargers. He is head coach at Central High and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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