As Joe Harrell watched a retrospective of his athletic career, the memories came flooding back to him.
“It brings back a lot of pleasant memories,” he said afterward, “of a lot of fun that I had.”
While he was having fun, Harrell was also excelling either on the gridiron, on the court or on the diamond.
Harrell, 83, was a three-sport star at Jordan High in the 1940s, earning Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City honors in football, basketball and baseball.
Saturday, he will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2011. The other members of that class include Claude English, Ron Yarbrough, Wendell Barr and Dr. Champ Baker Jr. The ceremony will be held at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center.
Harrell said he was humbled when he learned he would be inducted into the hall of fame.
“I think it is terrific,” he said. “I was thrilled. I had some good years, but I didn’t think it was that good.”
Others who saw him play would disagree.
Classmate Jimmy Griggs said in a letter to the CVSHF committee, “Joe was the greatest multisport athlete of my era. He set a level that we all strive for.
“Joe was an outstanding player and great leader. In football, he was known as a triple-threat runner, passer and kicker. In baseball, he was an outstanding fielder and hitter. In basketball, you could always depend on Joe to be the scoring leader.”
While he was a standout in all three sports, it was perhaps basketball where he excelled the most.
“Hard to say,” Harrell said when asked if he had a favorite sport. “(I had) good years in everything, good coaching, had fun in everything. But basketball was probably the one I had the most success in.”
Harrell led Jordan to a state championship in basketball in 1943. Harrell and Jordan finished as state runner-up the next two seasons, losing in ’44 to Columbus High (29-27) and to Lanier (38-25) in ’45. He was among the scoring leaders in the state both seasons.
“I thought the team that came in second when Columbus High beat us in the finals was our best team,” Harrell said.
Jordan beat Columbus in the state semifinals in ’45. But Harrell was forced to sit out the championship game against Lanier with an infected ear.
Harrell said he believes Jordan would have beaten Lanier if he could have played.
It was reported in the Columbus Ledger that at a school ceremony the week after the game, Jordan’s legendary coach, B.F. Register, said “The score may have been different if Harrell had played, but you know as well as I that Joe means more to us than any championship.”
Harrell said Register, who was inducted into the hall of fame in 1997, had a big impact on his life.
“He influenced my life so much,” Harrell said, “because he was such a disciplinarian.
“He taught me how to bear down and get things done.”
But Register didn’t want Harrell or any of his players on the football team, wanting them to concentrate on basketball.
“He said that if you play football, you keep in mind my basketball team will be set and ready before football even starts,” Harrell said. “So I had to practice football until dark, then scrimmage and practice basketball after football.”
Harrell excelled as a football player as well. He was selected as the Jordan football team’s Most Valuable Player in ’44. He played shortstop on the baseball team and was elected as the team’s captain.
After finishing his senior year, Harrell was chosen as “Most Athletic” male athlete at Jordan.
Harrell had scholarship offers from 11 schools -- mostly to play football -- including Georgia Tech, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Texas A&M.
He chose Georgia Tech, but he received his draft notice on June 21, 1945, before he could enroll. He joined the Army’s Special Assignment Operation in Germany where his task was to entertain the troops by playing football, basketball and baseball games.
Harrell was stationed in Germany for about a year before returning and going to South Carolina. After his freshman year, Harrell was signed to play professional baseball by the St. Louis Cardinals organization. A family illness cut his pro baseball career short.
Harrell returned to Columbus where he has lived except for a short stint in Augusta, Ga.
Harrell remains active in athletics, playing city league basketball and golf and coaching youth baseball teams.