A NASCAR winner, an NFL player, a college football player, an elite swimmer, an LPGA player and a voice that has given us free admission to events hundreds of miles away. These men and women, along with three others from an era decades ago, comprise the latest class of the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame.
Give credit to the selection committee. There have been times I’ve been critical. There have been times when the voters have whiffed. This, however, is not one of those times.
This is the proverbial home run. They got it right on every level. They got it right with every single inductee. They got it right with the numbers.
Quick history lesson. Chuck Williams and I were in on the initial meetings with Charlie Morrow and Jim White. As reporters maintaining objectivity, we didn’t take an active role in the development of the hall. But we were a sounding board for Charlie and Jim, who had this audacious idea to form a local sports hall of fame.
Never miss a local story.
From those conversations, two ideas seemed to be a consensus.
One was that, despite the name, this should be about the greater Columbus, Phenix City and Fort Benning area. So as nice as it would be to include Josh Gibson, the Negro League star and baseball Hall of Famer from Buena Vista, or boxing legend Joe Louis from Chambers County, Alabama, geographic lines had to be drawn.
The other thought was that growth needed to be controlled, lest the selection committees of the future start running out of legitimate candidates. It was decided that each class would consist of five new members.
The committee held to that growth rate for 23 years. Geez, has it really been that long?
Just as that was the right thing to do then, it was also right to expand the induction process. The selection was divided into three eras — pre-modern (up through 1946), modern (1947-72) and current (1973-present). The change ensures deserving people from generations ago will be remembered. Thus, Paul “Pop” Austin, Dan Kirkland Sr. and James Skipworth Jr. are the first inductees from the pre-modern area.
But the reality is that as time goes by fewer and fewer people, other than family members, have even heard of those who made their contributions nearly a century ago.
There needed to be a compromise of blending those candidates with others more recent.
That brings us to this year’s class.
Sam McQuagg won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in a field that included Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Wendell Scott, Richard Petty and Mario Andretti.
Angela Jerman Ormsby learned how to play golf as rehab from a broken collar bone. Before long, she was beating the boys — from the back tees.
Karen Hill Waters went from swimming at Windsor Park to competing all over the nation with Georgia.
Moe Williams put the Spencer football team on his back and quickly become one of the best running backs in the SEC at Kentucky.
Rudy Allen might have been a star at Georgia Tech, but as a pocket passer, he wasn’t a good fit for Pepper Rodgers’ wishbone offense. Even so, he was talented enough to earn an invitation to an NFL training camp.
Finally, there’s Scott Miller. There’s not much to say about Miller than hasn’t already been well chronicled over the years. His voice and style make you want to grab a lucky spot and enjoy his view of a Columbus State basketball or baseball game. But never was he more brilliant and so moving as he was delivering the eulogy of Herbert Greene. He made us laugh just enough to keep us from absolutely losing it.
We may not have any more Baseball Hall of Famers, Masters winners or Olympic medalists as the initial class produced with Frank Thomas, Larry Mize and Harvey Glance. But this class is quite solid in its own right.
Something else became apparent after years of induction classes. We’re not going to run out of worthy candidates any time soon, if ever. I can think of several deserving people without even combing through archives.
Mike Jones (Carver and Central) is maybe the best basketball player in Bi-City history.
Steve Hale (Columbus) played quarterback for Pat Dye at East Carolina, coached under Bear Bryant at Alabama, and was executive director of the Senior Bowl for several years.
Dell McGee helped Kendrick win a state championship as a player, was a starter at Auburn when the Tigers won 20 consecutive games, stuck around in the NFL for a few years, won a state championship as the head coach at Carver, and now as a member of Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia is regarded as one of the top recruiters in college football.
There are others who played in the NFL. Chris Shelling (Baker High, Auburn), Randy Fuller (Spencer), Gary Downs (Spencer, North Carolina State).
The list goes on. We need to make sure that it does.