A world class sprinter, a Masters golf champion, a Pro Bowl defensive back, a two-time baseball MVP — and possible Hall of Famer — and a physician who was widely considered the father of modern sports medicine.
The Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame debuted in 1996 with a class of inductees that could stand up to that of any mid-size community in the country. Harvey Glance, Larry Mize, Nate Odomes, Frank Thomas and Dr. Jack Hughston are names recognized throughout their respective arenas.
As impressive as that first class was, what really underscored the quality of sports achievements among local athletes, coaches and contributors was the number of worthy candidates who didn’t make the first cut. Major league baseball players, NFL players, two NBA players, collegiate All-Americans, coaching legends, a Belmont Stakes winning jockey and a world champion bass fisherman.
With so many worthy candidates, there was almost no way to go wrong selecting five new inductees each year. Fourteen years after that first class, there’s still a surprisingly long list of worthy candidates waiting to be recognized. Major league players, NFL players, collegiate All-Americans, coaching legends and a world champion bass fisherman.
This year’s class — inducted Saturday night — was the 15th. That’s 75 individuals from three communities — Columbus, Phenix City and Fort Benning — as well as their ancillary communities. And yet we still have so many worthy people who are long overdue to be honored.
This is not to take away from this year’s class — Dan Kirkland Jr., Tim Hudson, Ben Hardaway III, Nathan Rustin and Greg Camp. It is much like a quilt, with each piece contributing to the whole. We can debate the merits of certain inductees, past or present, for the selection process of any hall of fame is largely subjective.
But it’s time for the committee members to take a long and careful look at not only the remaining pool of candidates but the criteria itself. They could start with a Web site where anyone can submit a nomination. Indeed, as it stands, anyone can nominate someone. But even the majority of those in the sports community, let alone the public at large, do not realize this. I had forgotten it myself until I called a committee member last fall to find out more information about the process.
What prompted me to call then was the recent death of Brent Schoening, a former Columbus High and Auburn pitching star who came within one step of reaching the big leagues. It was understandable that Schoening had not been voted in at that time. He was only 30 and had only recently retired. If the severity of his cancer had been known a year ago, there would have been a push to induct him this year.
Sadly, it’s too late for Brent. But it’s not too late for his family to induct him next year. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.
Understand, this is not a sympathy nomination. Schoening was, quite possibly, the best pitcher to ever suit up for Columbus High. He stands as one of top five pitchers in Auburn history. While Hudson obviously had the better pro career, a case could be made for Schoening being the best pitcher in Auburn history.
Then there’s Jack Chancellor. Long before television and the Internet made stars out of bass fishermen such as Kevin VanDam, Chancellor won bass fishing’s world championship along with a $50,000 prize. The top prize money two years ago was $500,000.
As for former NFL players long overdue recognition, where do you begin? There are 12 former NFL players in the CVS Hall of Fame. Shaw grad Philip Wheeler will start for the Indianapolis Colts tonight in the Super Bowl.
While that’s impressive, it’s hardly unique. I’ve lost count, but at one time we had at least one local player in football’s biggest game more often than not.
At least two of them — Randy Fuller and Robert Steele — are not in the local Hall of Fame. Ditto for several players who achieved more but didn’t play in the big game. Chris Shelling, James Joseph and Ed King come to mind.
To me, anyone who played one game — let alone several seasons — at his sport’s highest level belongs in the CVS Hall of Fame. It’s time to start digging a little deeper to recognize these worthy candidates.
Guerry Clegg, firstname.lastname@example.org