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The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum Monday afternoon announced its Class of 2020 – surely one of the most diverse and accomplished in MSHOF history.
The six who will be inducted Aug. 1, 2020, include (in alphabetical order): record-setting high school baseball coach Jerry Boatner; trail-blazing pro golfer, the late Pete Brown; NBA superstar Antonio McDyess; renowned, trend-setting stadium architect Janet Marie Smith; long-time Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton; and Ole Miss and NFL football great Patrick Willis.
All except for Willis are Mississippi natives. Willis, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December, is from Bruceton, Tennessee.
An abbreviated look at each:
Jerry Boatner: Start with this – he is the winningest baseball coach in Mississippi history. Boatner played baseball at East Central Community College and then at Delta State for the legendary Boo Ferriss, whom Boatner called “the greatest man I ever met and the reason I became a coach.” Boatner spent five years at Clarkdale High and then the next 45 at West Lauderdale, and this will tell you something: The baseball fields at both schools are named for him. His baseball teams won 1,202 games and 14 state championships. For a time, he coached the girls softball team and won eight state championships in that sport. He already has been inducted into six halls of fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the National High School Hall of Fame. Said Boatner Monday: “This one means the most because it is Mississippi. I don’t deserve it but now I am in there with Archie Manning, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre and so many more. Those guys are my heroes, man.”
Pete Brown: Born in Port Gibson and raised in Jackson, Brown learned the game of golf by caddying at the Jackson public golf course that now bears his name. In his teens, Brown often sneaked in a few holes of golf because African-Americans weren’t allowed to play at the segregated golf courses. Said his widow, Margaret Brown: “There was one course in New Orleans where he could play for about three hours on Mondays and he and his friends would load the car and go down there to play sometimes.” Brown learned to play on a world-class level. In 1963, he became the second African-American (Charles Sifford was the first) to earn a PGA Tour card. A year later, Brown became the first of his race to win a PGA Tournament, the old Waco Open. In 1970, he won the Andy Williams/San Diego Open, coming from seven shots behind in the final round. He beat World Golf Hall of Famer Tony Jacklin in a sudden death playoff. A young Jack Nicklaus finished third.
Antonio McDyess: A Quitman native, the 6-foot-9 McDyess rates as one of the most productive basketball players in Mississippi history. Highly recruited out of high school, he chose Alabama and led the Crimson Tide in scoring and rebounding his sophomore year before he entered the 1995 NBA Draft and was the second player chosen. He made the NBA All-Rookie first team with the Denver Nuggets and was an NBA All-Star in 2001 when he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds per game. In 2000, he won a gold medal playing for Team USA in the Summer Olympics in Sydney. He played 17 NBA seasons, scoring an average of 12 points per game for the duration.
Janet Marie Smith: A proud graduate of Jackson Callaway High School and Mississippi State, Smith’s architectural skill has changed the way people watch sporting events, especially baseball, in the 21st century. To wide praise, she was the chief architect for Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which set a trend for the way modern baseball stadiums are built. Wrote noted baseball author George Will of Smith: “The three most important things that have happened in baseball since the Second World War were Jackie Robinson taking the field for Brooklyn in 1947, free agency arriving in 1975, and Orioles Park at Camden Yards opening in 1992.” Since then, Smith was chief architect of the conversion of Olympic Stadium to Turner Field in Atlanta and of a re-design of historic Fenway Park in Boston. She now works for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is heading up a major renovation of Dodger Stadium.
Larry Templeton: Born 55 yards from Scott Field on the Mississippi State campus, Templeton served his university in several capacities, including 21 years as athletic director during which he also served as the chair of SEC Athletic Directors, chair of the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee and as a high-ranking member of several other NCAA policy-making committees. Working with minimal resources compared to most other Southeastern Conference members, Templeton oversaw great changes, facilities-wise and otherwise, in MSU athletics. Since leaving State, Templeton has served as an associate commissioner of the SEC in many different capacities. In the MSHOF, Templeton will join his two beloved mentors: Bob Hartley, the long-time sports information director at State, and Jack Cristil, State’s legendary broadcaster.
Patrick Willis: An athlete must be retired from his sport for five years (or have reached the age of 50) to be eligible for MSHOF induction. Willis, who retired in March 2015, will be inducted in the first year he is eligible. P-Willie, as he is fondly called, was a slam dunk. Willis is simply one of the greatest defensive players in Ole Miss or Mississippi football history, an All-SEC and All American linebacker for the Rebels, and then a first team All-Pro for five years for the San Francisco 49ers. Willis is one of only two players (Von Miller is the other) to earn the Butkus Award as the top linebacker first in college football and then in the pros. He was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 and then the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007. In December, he will become the 10th Ole Miss representative in the College Football Hall of Fame.