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HALL'S FIRST CLASS TRULY FIRST CLASS

Granted, getting elected into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame does not hold equal esteem to, say, gaining entry into Cooperstown. But neither is the honor trivial.

To better understand the value, just consider this roll call: Otis Sistrunk, James Joseph, Woodrow Lowe, Mack Strong -- all NFL member, past and present. Then there's Sam Mitchell of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, former major leaguer Glenn Davis and Lones Wigger, an Olympic marksman.

These people have at least two things in common. All achieved various degrees of acclaim in their pursuits. And all must wait at least another year for election into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame, so deceptively elite is this club.

This inaugural class would measure up favorably against any of a comparable market. Few communities our size can lay claim to a two-time (and probably counting) American League Most Valuable Player, a Masters golf champion, an Olympic gold medalist, a Pro Bowl football player and a pioneer in sports medicine.

That's what we have in Frank Thomas, Larry Mize, Harvey Glance, Nate Odomes and Dr. Jack Hughston.

OK, so we had to import Mize from Augusta. He has lived nearly half his life in Columbus and, with a new house, has no intentions of leaving. He's ours now.

`I enjoy living in Columbus and I enjoy representing this community as I travel around the world,'' said Mize.

Saturday night's induction ceremony, held at the Columbus Hilton, culminated a two-year process which began with a simple idea. The occasion was long overdue, given the richness of our sports history, a fact noted by Mayor Pro Tem A.J. McClung.

`I don't think it's an exaggeration to call it an historic occasion,'' said McClung. `The record will reflect Columbus has been a city that has been friendly to sports.''

It will take time to catch up with a century of history. There will be no shortage of deserving honorees for years to come. More than 60 people were nominated for the first class. Perhaps they were only following protocol, but each of Saturday night's inductees acknowledged the distinction of being picked for the starting lineup.

None made this point more eloquently than Glance, who expressed his gratitude via video tape because his Auburn track team had a meet in California.

`Usually when you go into these type functions,'' said Glance, `you're usually dead and gone.''

Like Glance, Thomas had a schedule conflict and could not attend. In his stead was his father, Frank Sr., an amiable gentleman.

`I'm sorry the Big Hurt wasn't able to be here tonight,'' said the father. `But the one who put the hurt on the Big Hurt is here.''

Mize, Odomes and Thomas agreed on another point, that being honored by one's hometown carries special significance.

Said Mize, `You think about the honors you can have, but when your local community honors you, that's the most special honor you can have.''

Guerry Clegg is a Ledger-Enquirer staff writer.

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