After five decades and hundreds of thousands of words written about Mississippi’s sports legends, Rick Cleveland joins the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s class of 2017.
Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist and a former longtime columnist and editor for The Clarion-Ledger, joins his father, Ace Cleveland, a sports writer and sports information director who was inducted into the hall posthumously in 1998.
Along with Rick Cleveland, who has been selected Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year 10 times, this year’s class includes:
• Bob Braddy Sr., the first full-time baseball coach at Jackson State University, who took the program from NAIA to NCAA Division I and is the winningest coach in SWAC history.
• Eugenia Conner, who led her Harrison Central basketball team to four consecutive Class 2A State titles and became a four-time All-SEC player for Ole Miss. Connor passed away in 1994.
• Marcus Dupree, who was the Fiesta Bowl MVP and 1st Team All-Big Eight Conference while playing for the Oklahoma Sooners and later transferred to the University of Southern Mississippi. He also played in the USFL and NFL.
• Leslie Frazier, currently the defensive backs coach for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, who was an All-SWAC selection in baseball and in football at Alcorn State University and played with the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears.
• Jay Powell, who was a first-round Major League Baseball draft pick out of Mississippi State University and pitched in the majors for 11 years, including the game seven victory for the Florida Marlins in the 1997 World Series. He currently is head baseball coach at Jackson Academy.
Ace Cleveland advised his son not to be a writer.
“He inspired me to get into it, but he also tried to talk me out of it,” Cleveland said after the Hall of Fame announcement Thursday in Jackson. “He said that if you’re smart enough and talented enough to do this well, you can make a whole lot of money doing something else.”
He began his sports writing career in 8th grade at age 13 for The Hattiesburg American covering low-profile high school football games. The now 63-year-old is still writing about sports.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Don’t you ever get tired of going to games?’ The simple answer is no. There’s always something new,” said Cleveland.
The entire class had impact far beyond Mississippi, said Hall of Fame executive director Bill Blackwell.
“There’s national names in there. Leslie Frazier was only the second (NFL) head football coach that went to a historically black college. Marcus Dupree was a nationally known talent coming out of high school, broke national records. Jay Powell played in the big leagues for 11 years. Eugenia Conner was probably the top women’s basketball player of her era. Bob Braddy was a long-time coach and athletic director at Jackson State. In all, it’s a very deserving group.”
While at the podium at the Hall of Fame, Marcus Dupree, regarded as one of the best high school football players in Mississippi history, said this honor is as much about the people who helped him throughout his career and life as it is about himself.
“It’s about my family, my mom, my grandma, grandparents, my little brother especially,” said Dupree. “He had cerebral palsy, and I found out he could never play football, and it gave me more of a drive to go do what I had to do to see the smile on his face.”
This class, as those before it, was considered by 27 independent committee members.
“One thing that makes it so meaningful to me is all the great players and coaches who aren’t in here that have been nominated for years, and they’re not in this place yet,” said Cleveland, who is a former executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
Now that he’s in, he says he’ll do everything he can to make sure some of those people are in the forthcoming classes.
The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame induction weekend will be Aug. 4-5, 2017, in Jackson.