In Macon last weekend, some very outstanding men, one woman and one mascot were honored by the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame. Actually, it was not a mascot who was honored but his master. You likely know about Uga, the University of Georgia mascot, and Sonny Seiler.
With the Hall recognizing Sonny, it was also paying tribute to Uga since there is hardly a sports fan between Rabun Gap and Tybee Light who does not link Sonny with the English Bulldog that has been Georgia’s mascot since the 1950s.
Sonny was honored with the Erk Russell Spirit Award, named for the longtime Georgia defensive coordinator and Georgia Southern icon who won three national championships for the Eagles, a team which got under way with little more than faith. In fact, when the press conference took place to announce Erk’s coming, the athletic association didn’t even have a football to use as a prop. What Erk accomplished at Georgia Southern is one of the most remarkable modern-day stories of college football. Here’s to the Hall for keeping his legend fresh and ongoing.
There was a Tech flavor about for the evening with longtime Yellow Jacket announcer, Wes Durham, he of the mellow voice, moving the program along with alacrity. Inducted was Homer Rice, the longtime athletic director and the mop-haired Bobby Cremins, the New York Irishman who sounds like a New York Irishman should sound.
He played at South Carolina, a free ride which was part of the American dream, experienced by his grateful parents. Another of the immigrant stories that reminds us that those who come, assimilate and produce will always be welcomed on our shores.
Frank Thomas, a man who exudes power (and not to be overlooked, a modesty and class that is exemplary), and Hollis Stacy, a Savannah girl, are now members of the Hall. If you are passing out kudos, they get an extra helping. Both were eager to be elected to their home state hall of fame after having received the ultimate honor — Frank enshrined at the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown and Hollis the same honor at the World Golf Hall of Fame. They honored Georgia with their presence. No fuss, no entitlements — just happy to be with us. You have to like that.
Jim Hughes, the perennial champion high school coach at Thomasville and Moultrie saw his beaming family stand tall with his selection, but none was happier than a U.S. senator who left a vacation in Southern California to be with his friend on his big night.
“This,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, “is a great day for me. When you honor a coach who has done so much for his community as Jim has done for two of them, then you are honoring the countless young men whose lives he has influenced for the better.”
James Brooks, the Warner Robins running back who often brought stadiums at Auburn, San Diego and Cincinnati to their feet, was included in the Hall’s latest class. Then there were Chester Webb, who was the best of his time when he played in Statesboro when his jersey wore “Georgia Southern Teachers” or “Professors,” and Scott Woerner, who had a sense about playing defensive back and returning punts for Georgia that was uncommon. If you watched him, he gave electricity to the atmosphere of the stadium when he took the field. He now lives in Sautee, where he is a teacher by profession and an MVP in life. Something we should think about.
I can’t forget Chester Webb. I can hardly remember a nominee more deserving. Nor an election more appreciated by the towns which love him best — Statesboro and Elberton. The Honors Court has made sure he has not been forgotten, and that should bring a standing ovation in every nook and cranny in this state where there is athletic competition.
Halls of fames are often remembered more for those whom they leave out than whom they honor. This year’s class gets the highest of marks and so does the Honors Court.
Loran Smith is co-host of “The Tailgate Show” and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.