DULUTH — As has been the case with every previous class being inducted into the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame, the 2018 induction ceremony was a night for reflection.
While there was plenty of emotion throughout the evening, Monday night’s ceremony at the Infinite Energy Forum’s Grand Ballroom meant different things to each of the five inductees.
For example, it was a literal wake-up call for Peachtree Ridge grad and former University of Georgia and NFL punter Drew Butler.
“When I got the phone call from (fellow Hall of Famer and former South Gwinnett and Georgia quarterback) David Greene, … (my wife) Jacqui and I were still living in Arizona at the time,” Butler recalled. “My phone’s ringing at 5:30 a.m. It kept ringing and kept ringing. Jacqui said, ‘Who’s calling?’ And I said, ‘Oh it’s Greenie. I don’t know what he wants.’ Well, I woke up at about 7 a.m., and I called him back, and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh! I totally forgot you’re still in Arizona.’”
Despite the hour, it was a call Butler will never forget, a sentiment shared by all of the inductees on the evening.
For Norcross grad and Georgia Tech basketball standout Joyce Pierce, the excitement had her thoughts wandering.
“I feel like I just stepped out of an Avengers movie,” Pierce said after the introduction video delivered by her coach with the Blue Devils, Jack Teague. “I just want to thank (everyone) for this honor. I’m just kind of speechless tonight.”
Eventually, Pierce, and every other inductee, managed to find words to express their honor, excitement and gratitude on being a part of the Hall’s ninth induction class.
Duluth native and Georgia Golf Hall of Fame member James Mason equated the excitement he felt of his induction to that of his numerous accomplishments on the course, as well as playing round with two of his heroes.
“I get asked a lot of times, ‘Who’s your favorite player,’” said Mason, who competed in more than 200 PGA Tour Champions events, earning more than $3 million and winning the 2002 NFL Golf Classic. “I got to play with Arnold Palmer more than once. … He was definitely ‘The King.’ He was my childhood idol, and I loved every minute of it. Another one was (Lee) Trevino. … I have good stories on all of them, … but this is a great honor, and I’m very honored.”
Duluth High School grad and former Georgia All-American softball pitcher Michelle Green, reflected back on the lessons she learned while competing and growing up in Gwinnett County.
“Gwinnett County is filled with great coaches,” Green, who also coached high school softball in Gwinnett County at Norcross, said in a taped message from New Jersey, where she now resides. “Basically, I had an opportunity to play for the same coach (Dawn Marsh) in both softball and basketball at Duluth High School. Coach Marsh never let me take the easy way out. She helped me (bring) greatness on myself. She interacted with me on the highest level in that she never let me settle for anything less.”
While the evening’s final inductee echoed the others in thanking and appreciating his family for their contributions to the success, former coaches were also on the mind of Parkview grad and two-sport star Jeff Francoeur.
He had plenty of them in the audience, including those who coached him in both sports, like baseball coaches Hugh Buchanan, Chan Brown and Roy “Chief” Massey and football coaches Cecil Flowe and Neal Auer, among others.
And that doesn’t even include Atlanta Braves Hall of Famer Bobby Cox, who was his first manger in his 12-year Major League Baseball career. Cox also delivered the evening’s keynote address.
Cox, who remains with the Braves’ organization as a consultant, spent a lot of his address talking about the excitement he shares with Atlanta fans on the team’s young core, and its quick start to the 2018 season.
He said it reminded him of when Francoeur led a large group of youngsters when he broke into the big leagues more than a decade ago.
“I remember when Frenchie and (Duluth grad Brian) McCann came into the big leagues from Double-A ball,” Cox recalled. “It was in 2005. As I remember that year, we had 18 rookies who came through our clubhouse door, and we still won (a National League Eastern Division title). McCann was good. Frenchie was on fire.
“It was so fun to have those two guys. They brought so much energy to the clubhouse, and they brought tremendous energy to the entire city of Atlanta.”
For his part, as much as Francoeur enjoyed and appreciated how much baseball has done for him, he also expressed how important playing multiple sports helped him become successful.
“I want to thanks Coach Buch (Buchanan) and Coach Flowe,” Francoeur said. “What they did is something that I hope coaches these days (would still) do. They worked so well together. … We had 11 or 12 guys who played both football and baseball. You don’t see that anymore. … We made it work, and it worked very well. It’s proof you can do it, but you have to have coaches that agree to it.
“I hate one-sport athletes at such a young age, they feel like they have to (specialize). Play all the sports. I played basketball in ninth grade. I played golf. I totally pushed myself to play as many (sports) as I could. Eventually, you are going to have to make a decision. … But two things I’ve learned to do is never forget where you came from. Me and my wife (Catie) still live in Gwinnett County … because it’s such a unique place. … The last thing I want to tell all you coaches is I hope you realize you can impact a high schooler’s life. These guys up here and my coaches there both made me the person I am today.”