Clay County sports hall of fame induction again serves as highlight of year in local sports

2017 HOF group

NEWEST HALL OF FAME CLASS-The Clay County Sports Hall of Fame (HOF) inducted its seventh group of honorees over the weekend. Entering the HOF were (seated, left to right) JoNell “Jodi” Sullivan-Watson, Crystal Davis-Gore, Janice Brady-Rhoton, (standing, left to right) Jerry Fox, Allen Melton, and Randall Walker. Also inducted was Roger Short, who was unable to attend the induction ceremony. The 2017 class will also be recognized at Friday night’s home basketball game. (HORIZON photo by Thomas P. Weaver)

CELINA-Like they have since the inception of the Clay County Sports Hall of Fame, this year’s induction ceremony held over the weekend again served as the highlight of the sports year here locally.

With a good crowd in attendance, seven new members were enshrined as the 2017 class was introduced by outgoing HOF committee chairman and master of ceremonies Don Napier.

As in the past, the induction was held in honor of one of Clay County’s sports legends.  Thomas Watson, the winningest boys basketball coach in Celina High School (CHS) history, was this year’s honoree and served as the evening’s keynote speaker.

Watson guided three-straight CHS teams to the state tournament in the 1980’s and had a 447-143 record from 1973-91, including 11 district titles, five region championships, and five sub-state game appearances.

After the hall of fame coach shared memories of his playing and coaching days, Napier—a fellow HOF member who has presided over the organization since its inception—took the podium for the last time to introduce another cross-section of older and younger members who excelled as players or coaches.

The Class of 2017 includes:

• Three new athlete division members—Crystal Davis-Gore, Roger Short, and Allen Melton;

• Three new heritage division members—JoNell “Jodi” Sullivan-Watson, Janice Brady-Rhoton, and Jerry Fox; and

• One new contributor division member—Randall Walker.

Athlete Inductees

Davis-Gore was the top vote-getter in this year’s class due to being the first bonafide All-State first-teamer in the legendary coach Joe Sims era, where her teams advanced to the State Tournament all four years and won over 100 games.

She scored 1,208 points, grabbed 577 rebounds, and averaged 18 points her senior year en route to garnering All-Mid-State, All-Conference, All-District, All-Region, and All-State honors.  Davis also won the prestigious Robert M. Teeples Athletic Award and signed a scholarship with Walters State Community College.

Short is remembered as one of the best all-around athletes ever to wear the black and gold at CHS, and lettered all four years in three sports.  As a sophomore, he backed up fellow HOF quarterback Bill Napier and was a starting defensive back on a team that went 10-1 and won their bowl game. As a junior and senior, Short was the starting quarterback passing for 1,200 yards, and 10 TDs.  He also rushed for 800 more yards and had 8 interceptions on defense.

Short was the Tri-Lakes Conference MVP as a football senior, and all-district, all-conference, and all-tournament in basketball.  He also played varsity baseball grades 8-12 and independent softball for 15 more years after high school.

Melton had an outstanding career in both football and baseball at CHS, earning all-conference as a punter, kicker, and linebacker.  He was thought of as the best pure kicker ever to play at Celina.

He was also an all-conference baseball pitcher, making the Nashville Banner Mid-State All-Star team and playing in the East-West All-Star game at MTSU.  Melton followed his playing career up with a long stint as a TSSAA official licensed to referee baseball, basketball, football, and fast-pitch softball.  Like Short, he also excelled in slow-pitch softball after high school.

Contributor Inductee

Walker was the longest tenured coach in the history of Clay County Schools coaching 15 different sports and age-groups over a span of 40-plus years.  After playing here, he led teams at his alma mater as the CHS head and assistant football coach and CHS/CCHS softball coach.  Walker also coached junior high football for 34 years, basketball, and many more sports.

It is safe to say every outstanding player who played here since 1974 received much of their foundation coaching from Coach Walker.

Heritage Inductees

Sullivan-Watson was an outstanding guard on teams coached by the legendary John Teeples and was a starter on the 1963-64 championship team, which had a record of 25-3 in the days of one-class play. She played guard on the old style, 3-on-3 team, never scoring a point because, in those days, guards did not shoot the ball.

Sullivan-Watson always drew the assignment of guarding the other team’s best player and excelled with that challenge as a part of what was widely considered the greatest Celina team of that era.

Brady-Rhoton played basketball for Hermitage Springs from 1966-69 before classification, where she set the all-time single-game scoring record with 49 points.  She averaged 25 points per game her senior year.

At 5-foot, 10-inches tall, Brady-Rhoton was one of the best post players in the district and made the all-district team twice in her career while playing for legendary coach Joe Carver.

Fox was an outstanding quarterback, punter, and kicker at CHS and was named the Upper Cumberland’s “best back of the year” by the Nashville Banner in 1959, which was the top honor at that time.

He played on a team that outscored their opponents 297-76, including beating Monterey 83-0 in a legendary game people still talk about today.  He also lettered three years in basketball and baseball at CHS and returned as a longtime educator here after graduating from MTSU.

HOF background

This year’s class of inductees joined over 60 members who have been enshrined since the first class was announced in 2010 after HOF founder Bobby Westmoreland came up with the idea and set the process in motion.

A nomination period is open every year where anyone can nominate a deserving person.  The HOF committee and members then vote to choose each class.

“The future of this organization depends on the nomination process,” Napier said when this year’s nomination period was opened. “We must have nominations in order to have inductees. We urge people to be a part of the process by nominating the person they feel is deserving of this honor.

“Don’t just say that they deserve to be in the Hall. Do some research, go to the local paper and look into the bound volumes, get statistics if they are available, and give the voters something to help them make their decision.”

Athletes who have been out of high school for 10 years are eligible to be nominated, along with “heritage” members and “contributors.” Heritage members are people whose careers were largely based at least 50 years ago, while “contributors” are administrators or people who were involved in some capacity besides playing.

Watson echoed Napier’s sentiment in his speech, and also called on the public to remember athletes from Willow Grove High School and others from years ago.

He encouraged everyone to go back and look through old scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photos, and more for information concerning Clay County’s forgotten sports history.

Though Napier is stepping down from his duties as chairman, he explained he would be around to help ensure the HOF’s continued success, including helping Watson and others investigate sports lore from yesteryear.

“Serving in this capacity and helping to grow the Hall of Fame these past seven years has been a tremendous honor and one that I have enjoyed very much,” he said.  “I will continue to work with the committee and look forward to new challenges and a different role with the organization.”