By Rick Cleveland
Sixty years into its existence, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this week prepares for the biggest weekend in its history. That’s no exaggeration.
This Saturday evening, the state’s sports shrine will induct 11 deserving individuals, the most ever in a single year. Because of 2020’s postponement due to Covid, the Hall of Fame classes of both 2020 and 2021 will be installed at a Saturday night banquet at the Jackson Convention Center.
Created by the Jackson Touchdown Club in 1961, the MSHOF often has had a heavy football flavoring at its annual induction banquets. Other sports, especially basketball, at times have seemed under-represented. That’s not the case this year. This surely will be the most diverse group of inductees in the Hall of Fame’s existence. That’s no exaggeration either.
The newest Hall of Famers will include three basketball greats, two former football stars, two golfers, a tennis great, a baseball coach, an administrator and an architect. Actually, four basketball players were elected but former NBA standout Antonio McDyess, selected for the Class of 2020, will be inducted at a later date.
That 2020 class includes Jerry Boatner, the winning-est high school baseball coach in Mississippi history; Pete Brown, the first African American to win on the PGA Tour; architect Janet Marie Smith, who has changed the way America builds its stadiums; former Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton, who remains a prominent administrator in the Southeastern Conference; and Ole Miss and NFL linebacking great Patrick Willis.
The Class of 2021 includes Debbie Brock, the remarkable point guard who helped Delta State win three straight women’s basketball national championships; Mississippi State and NBA great Erick Dampier; Jackson State and NBA great Lindsey Hunter; Ole Miss and NFL offensive line star Terence Metcalf; Dave Randall, surely the most accomplished Mississippi tennis player in history; and Randy Watkins, a national junior golf champion, Ole Miss All American Mississippi golf hall of famer.
All are deserving. In many cases, their numbers boggle the mind. Consider: Boatner, already a member of the national baseball coaches hall of fame, won a remarkable 1202 baseball games, first at Clarkdale and then at West Lauderdale. His teams won 14 state championships. And that’s just baseball. His softball teams won eight state championships. Before he coached, Boatner was a fine player for the legendary Boo Ferriss at Delta State.
Hollywood could make a movie about the life of Brown, the son of poor sharecroppers born in Port Gibson. When the Brown family moved to Jackson, young Pete began to caddy at the municipal golf course and learned to play the game with two golf clubs, one left-handed and one right-handed. He learned to play it so well, he became one of the first of his race to play the PGA Tour and in 1964, 11 years before Tiger Woods was born, he won the old Waco Open. In 1970, he won the more prestigious Andy Williams/San Diego Open, prevailing in a playoff with Tony Jacklin, the 1969 British Open champion who would win the U.S. Open later that year. Brown, the only deceased inductee this year, will be represented by his wife, Margaret.
Smith, a Jackson native and Mississippi State architecture graduate, becomes the first architect in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. She could well someday in the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, as well. Her hardhat already is – and should be. She famously designed Baltimore’s Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which has become a trendsetter for Major League stadiums. She has since directed the renovation of Boston’s famous Fenway Park and most recently the renovation of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, where she still works for the Dodgers.
When Larry Templeton, a State grad and Starkville native, took the job as athletic director in 1987, the school’s athletic department was struggling both on the field and financially with aging facilities. Templeton, a former sports information assistant (and, for a while, the golf coach) changed all that. State prospered under Templeton’s guidance. He earned the respect of his peers, becoming the longest serving chairman of SEC athletic directors and head of the NCAA’s baseball committee. He hired the SEC’s first Black head football coach, Sylvester Croom.
Willis, the former Ole Miss football All American, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2019. At some point, he surely will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his remarkable career with San Francisco 49ers, where he was a first team All Pro linebacker for five seasons. Willis sometimes seemed a tackling machine, winning the Dick Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker at Ole Miss and then again in the NFL, one of only two players ever to achieve the feat. (The other is Luke Kuechly.)
Moving to the Class of 2021, Brock becomes surely the smallest of all MSHOF Inductees. Listed at four feet, 11 inches, she led Delta State to three national basketball championships in the 1970s with her playmaking and defensive skills. In four seasons, the Forest Hill native led the Lady Statesmen to 120 victories against only nine defeats as the consummate point guard, making All American three times and eventually being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dampier, two feet taller than Brock, also is an important part of Mississippi basketball history. His defensive presence in the lane was critical to the 1996 Mississippi State run to the Final Four, the only Magnolia State men’s basketball team to achieve that feat. Dampier, a Monticello native, controlled the lane for State, and then became the 10th player taken in the NBA Draft. He played 16 years of pro basketball, scoring more than 7,000 points and grabbing more than 7,000 rebounds.
Hunter, who played basketball for Murrah High School in Jackson, was not highly recruited out of high school but became of the most accomplished basketball players in Magnolia State history. He signed with Alcorn out of Murrah but quickly transferred to Jackson State where he averaged over 20 points per game for his career and became a first round draft choice. In the NBA, his teams made the playoffs in 12 of his 17 seasons. He scored nearly 8,000 points and passed out more than 2,500 assists as a pro. Hunter is now head coach at Mississippi Valley State.
A Clarksdale native, Metcalf as one of the state’s top football recruits before signing with Ole Miss and becoming one of the school’s most accomplished offensive linemen – All-SEC for two seasons and a consensus All American in 2001. In the NFL, Metcalf played eight seasons, seven with the Chicago Bears.
River Hills tennis pro Randall was born in Memphis but was raised in Tupelo where he was a state junior champion and nationally ranked junior. He signed with Ole Miss and made both All-SEC and All American there, helping Ole Miss to its first-ever NCAA Tournament. As a pro, Randall excelled in doubles, playing 12 years on the Association of Tennis Pros (ATP) tour. In 1993, Randall became the first Mississippian to win a draw match at Wimbledon, defeating Russian Andrei Cherkasov in the opening round.
Watkins first gained national prominence as a 15-year-old in 1977 when he won the PGA-sponsored National Junior Golf Championship. Recruited by many of the nation’s collegiate golf powerhouse programs, Watkins chose to stay home and played for Ole Miss where he became an All-SEC and All American golfer, winning the SEC individual championship in 1982. Watkins turned pro, earned his PGA Tour privileges but a series of back injuries marred his professional playing career. He owns and operates three golf courses in the Jackson area where he is a highly respected teaching pro active in the promotion of junior golf.
In addition to the Hall of Fame inductions, long-time Jackson businessman Con Maloney will be presented The Rube Award for his lifetime of contributions to Mississippi Sports. Maloney helped bring professional baseball back to Jackson and then bought the team when the New York Mets wanted local ownership. In addition, Maloney, a long-time state senator, was one of the original supporters of the idea of a Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Museum and has served on the board of directors ever since it was created.
Banquet tickets remain on sale for Saturday night’s reception and banquet at the Jackson Convention Center. Call 601 982-8264 for details or go to msfame.com. The reception begins at 5:30 p.m. with the banquet to follow at 7 p.m.
The weekend’s festivities begin with a drawdown and sports auction Friday night at 6 p.m. at the Madison Healthplex Training Center. Then, Saturday morning this year’s inductees and many past inductees will be available for autographs at the museum from 10-11:30 a.m.