Rick Cleveland

Harrison Central’s Eugenia Conner highlights latest Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame class

Harrison Central's Eugenia Conner dominated the boards for the Red Rebelettes in the 1981 season. Conner is being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this weekend.
Harrison Central's Eugenia Conner dominated the boards for the Red Rebelettes in the 1981 season. Conner is being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this weekend. Sun Herald file

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum has worn a funeral wreath on its doors five times since last year’s induction ceremonies. That’s because Boo Ferriss, Orsmond Jordan, Robert Morgan, Larry Grantham and Eddie Crawford all have died in the interim.

All contributed much to Mississippi sports lore in their respective field of endeavor. Ferriss won 46 games over his first two seasons of Major League Baseball, an achievement surpassed by only one player in history. His handprint on Mississippi baseball is seen everywhere today. Jordan produced championship teams and basketball heroes for decades after he was a standout player himself. Morgan helped begin a little professional golf tournament in Hattiesburg and then guided it, against all odds, for longer than any tournament director, ever, on the PGA Tour. Football’s Grantham was a defensive end and linebacker as good as any in the game during his era. Eddie Crawford was versatile all-star athlete in three sports — football, basketball and baseball — and was a successful coach and administrator at his beloved Ole Miss.

All five left their marks on Mississippi. The legends of all five will live on in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, an important Jackson museum that tells the remarkable, uplifting story of the Magnolia State’s history of athletic success.

The Hall of Fame will induct six more members with a weekend of planned activities culminating in Saturday night’s induction banquet at the Jackson Convention Center. To wit:

▪  Marcus Dupree was a national sports hero before he graduated from high school. At Philadelphia High School, he was then — and could be still — the mostly highly recruited football player in the history of the sport. Almost always, he was the biggest, fastest, strongest, most incredibly physically gifted player on the field. One of the most successful college football programs in the country, Oklahoma, changed its offense radically to feature Dupree when he was but a freshman. He played professionally when he should have been a college sophomore before an injury ruined his still budding career.

▪  As a baseball pitcher, Jay Powell never had a losing record in high school, at Mississippi State or in 11 years of professional baseball. Out of baseball-rich West Lauderdale, Powell was an All-American as a starting pitcher for Ron Polk at Mississippi State and then became a relief pitcher in the professional ranks. How many pitchers can say they were the winning pitcher in Game 7 of the World Series? Powell, who now coaches at Jackson Academy, can. He won Game 7 of the 1997 series for the World Champion Florida Marlins after compiling a 7-2 record during the regular season.

▪  Alcorn State’s Leslie Frazier, from Columbus, was a three-sport star at Columbus Lee High School and was All-SWAC in two sports, football and baseball, at Alcorn State. He became a star cornerback for the Chicago Bears and part of what many consider the greatest defense in NFL history with the 1985 Chicago Bears where he teamed with fellow MSHOF Hall of Famers Walter Payton and Tyrone Keys. His coaching career has also included a Super Bowl title with the Indianapolis Colts and a head coaching stint with the Minnesota Vikings. He currently coaches for the Baltimore Ravens.

▪  Bob Braddy of Florence and Jackson State is the winningest baseball coach in Southwestern Athletic Conference history and unquestionably the father of Jackson State baseball. His teams won 824 games and 12 SWAC titles and he coached 52 future professionals. Braddy also served as athletic director at JSU for five years.

▪  The late Eugenia Conner is quite simply one of the most productive women’s basketball players in Mississippi history. A native of Gulfport, she led Harrison Central to a record of 155-9. At Ole Miss, playing for fellow Hall of Famers Van Chancellor and Peggie Gillom, she was the leading scorer and an All-Southeastern Conference performer on four NCAA Tournament teams that won 106 games, while losing but 20. She played professionally overseas before dying at age 30 in 1994.

▪  Lastly, the author of this column has been fortunate to chronicle these athletes and thousands more in more than five decades of covering Mississippi sports and sports heroes. I have been blessed and only can surmise that sustained passion for one’s vocation, in the end, must count something. I am humbled to take a place in the Hall among these talented men and women.

Find details of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Induction weekend at msfame.com

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.