DULUTH — The first four induction ceremonies of the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame were nice celebrations with very few drawbacks.
One was pointed out Friday night, though. As part of the day, the guests of honor threw out the first pitch during a Gwinnett Braves game at Coolray Field — a scary proposition for non-baseball players.
First-year inductee Matt Stinchcomb, an offensive tackle in football by trade during his career, joked about his poor throwing skills, and Gwinnett County Public Schools superintendent Alvin Wilbanks was reminded of his own attempt.
“My heart sank (when I threw it),” Wilbanks said. “It didn’t hit the ground, but it almost did. It would have if there wasn’t a Parkview catcher (Clint Sammons) there to scoop it up.”
Those stories were told during Friday’s fifth annual induction ceremony, the first with a new format at the Gwinnett Civic Center’s Grand Ballroom. The showcase, a fundraiser for the Gwinnett County Public Schools Foundation, had gone well for four years at Coolray Field, but it quickly outgrew the suite space at the G-Braves’ home stadium.
That led to this year’s banquet-style event, a dinner of more than 300 that celebrated the achievements of six new hall of famers and brought in NFL legend and former Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Reeves as the keynote speaker.
After Reeves addressed the audience, the new class was recognized one by one, each introduced by a special person in their lives.
This year’s class featured two longtime, successful NFL offensive tackles, Parkview grad Jon Stinchcomb and Norcross’ Jeff Backus, as well as two Olympians, swimmer Eric Shanteau of Parkview and track and field athlete Kibwe Johnson of North Gwinnett.
They were joined by legendary Parkview baseball coach Hugh Buchanan and standout distance runner Jackie Drouin of Collins Hill.
“You look at our hall of famers, and you can’t help but be proud to be citizens of this great community,” said David Seago, president of the GCPS Foundation.
The athletic exploits of the class of 2014 have taken them many places, including international travels for Shanteau and Johnson, both 2012 Olympians. Shanteau, a two-time Olympian, won a gold medal in swimming two years ago.
But both stressed the importance of support from Gwinnett County in getting them to those great heights.
“I’ve traveled the world doing what I love, but the most important parts are the family, friends and community right here,” Johnson said. “I’m so blessed with all the support I have here from great friends. It’s almost like they knew I was going to be an Olympian before I did.”
Shanteau recalled learning to swim in Gwinnett County, where he also met his longtime coach and mentor, Chris Davis, who heads up Gwinnett-based SwimAtlanta.
“I will always remember the times here in Gwinnett County, the things I’ve learned here and the traits I still use today,” Shanteau said.
The inductees each also thanked their families during their acceptance speeches and in a couple of cases, the parents thanked them. Both Backus and Drouin were introduced by their fathers.
Jon Stinchcomb was introduced by his older brother Matt, making them the first family with two members of the Gwinnett Sports Hall of Fame. His acceptance speech included heavy praise for Gwinnett County, its athletics and academics, and how this area and school system prepares youngsters for the future.
“(I’m proud) to be associated with Gwinnett County,” Jon Stinchcomb said. “As student-athletes, we have such a special and unique environment here. You see other school systems, other counties, they don’t have near what we have.”
That was the other mission of Friday’s banquet. The first goal, recognizing the hall of famers, fuels the second, raising money for the GCPS Foundation.
Event organizers were pleased with the new format and found it was a fitting way to pay tribute to the six new hall of famers, all GCPS graduates.
“I can’t tell you how proud we are to have you inducted,” Wilbanks said in his closing speech to the class of 2014. “We’re proud because of the things you’ve done and we’re proud because you’re people of character. You’re community builders. … You’re making differences in the lives of others and you’re great role models.”
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