Inaugural Class Begins Georgia’s Newest Football Tradition

My love for Hall of Fames started back in 1997 when I accompanied Phil Niekro for his induction into Cooperstown. At the time, I was covering the Braves for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and asked my father to join me to chronicle the knuckleballer as he became the first player from Atlanta to be inducted since Hank Aaron was enshrined in 1982. On the night before the induction ceremony, I was invited to a private party with Hall of Famers new and old and as my father and I were waiting in line to get in, the great Steve Carlton came up behind me. The Philadelphia Phillies left-hander had been inducted three years earlier and I introduced myself and my father. A huge human being, Carlton’s big right hand swallowed mine. I turned back around and he tapped me on the shoulder and the conversation went something like this:

Carlton: So, you’re a sportswriter?

Me: Yes sir.

Carlton: Well. You want to ask me something?

Ok, I’m thinking. Carlton was known never to talk to the media when he played.

Me: Mr. Carlton. Respectively, I didn’t think you talked to the media?

Carlton: Son, this is the Hall of Fame.

There you go, Cooperstown, not Veterans Stadium, was Carlton’s Field of Dreams and from there I was hooked, going back the next year to accompany Don Sutton at his induction. Years later when my son was studying at nearby Hamilton College, I took him to see the Hall and all its history of our national pastime.

It also led me in 2019 to start a sports hall of fame at my high school (Lakeside-DeKalb) which now has 126 members, and every spring attracts more than 300 to its induction ceremony.

And tonight, the opening of the Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame. It has been a quick journey here, an idea I ran by GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines just last winter. He was surprised we didn’t have one, but said he would get his association behind it.

The help to get here has been tremendous, starting with former AJC sportswriter Todd Holcomb who began the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website which has been a tremendous resource. Close friends and business partners Dave Hunter and Rusty Mansell helped me put together a board of 35 coaches, athletic directors, media representatives, principals and others but the key to making it all happen came from a consortium of unions who feel strongly about high school football. Randy Beall of, Kenny Mullins of IBEW Local 613 and Steve Langley of Smart Local 85 all made three-year commitments as well as the Lutzie 43 Foundation, and the Arthur Blank Foundation came in as a presenting sponsor. This allowed us to move forward and Holcomb was instrumental in putting together a 100-player ballot which started with Bob McWhorter who played and graduated from Gordon Institute in 1909.

It was also very important to the board to make sure the inaugural class was reflective of the years when whites and blacks went to their own schools in Georgia and we feel we did so with a lot of help from board member Becky Taylor of the Tifton Gazette, who is an expert when it comes to the all-black Georgia Interscholastic Association (GIA) which was in place from 1948-70.

Did we miss anyone? I am sure we did but this is only the first year and we will get another chance next fall when I am sure we will miss someone else.

But enjoy tonight, and as for me the GHSFHF is about telling the great story of Georgia high school football, from Bill Curry and Pat Dye to Calvin Johnson and Andre Hastings, from Richard Dent and Herschel Walker to Charlie Ward and Eric Berry.

Sprinkle in a little Jeff Francoeur and Fran Tarkenton and we’re only just beginning.

The Hall of Fame Game between Brookwood vs. Grayson is this Friday at 8 PM on Peachtree TV. Here is the link to watch.

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