Rick Cleveland

Ole Miss, MSU legends and a trend-setting architect head into MS Sports Hall of Fame

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum last week announced its Class of 2020. The six new inductees, a group as accomplished as it is diverse, will bring to 322 the number of Hall of Famers enshrined at the museum in Jackson.

The class includes these men: record-setting high school baseball coach Jerry Boatner; trail-blazing pro golfer, the late Pete Brown; NBA superstar Antonio McDyess; long-time Mississippi State athletic director Larry Templeton; and Ole Miss and NFL football great Patrick Willis.

The class also includes a first: trend-setting stadium architect Janet Marie Smith, the Jackson born and Mississippi State-educated woman who brought the retro look back to American stadiums. An architect in a sports Hall of Fame, you ask? This lady is most deserving. Smith, who will proudly tells all she meets she is a proud graduate of Jackson Callaway High School, changed the way America watches its baseball — away from the cookie-cutter stadiums of the 1970s and 1980s and back to blending unique stadiums into neighborhoods, as with Camden Yards in Baltimore.

A quick look at each of the new inductees:

Boatner: The winningest baseball coach in Mississippi history, Boatner played baseball at East Mississippi Community College and then at Delta State for the legendary Boo Ferriss. In five seasons at Clarkdale and 45 at West Lauderdale, 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.

Brown: Brown, who will be inducted posthumously, learned the game of golf by caddying at the Jackson public golf course that now bears his name. Despite not having his own set of golf clubs until age 20, 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.

McDyess: The 6-foot-9 McDyess, from Quitman, is one of the greatest basketball players in Mississippi history. After playing two years at Alabama, 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.

Smith: She was the chief architect for Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which set a trend for the way modern baseball stadiums are built. 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.

Templeton: Born a long Dak Prescott pass from Scott Field on the 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 SEC members, Templeton oversaw great changes, facilities-wise and otherwise, in Bulldog athletics. Since leaving State, Templeton has served as an associate commissioner of the SEC.

Willis: Willis, who retired from the NFL in March 2015, will be inducted in the first year he is eligible. One of the greatest defensive players in Ole Miss or Mississippi football history, Willis was an easy choice — 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 earned 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.

The Class of 2020 will be inducted Aug. 1, 2020 in Jackson.

Email syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.
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