Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Meet the 2016 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame class

Only in Mississippi will you see two men inducted into the state's sports hall of fame after they have been inducted into the national College Football Hall of Fame.

That's because Mississippi athletes continue to achieve on a national and international level. That’s the case with both Sean Brewer and Wesley Walls, who have gone into the national college football shrine shrine over the last couple of years and will go into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday night in the ceremonies at the Jackson Convention Complex.

Brewer and Walls are two members of a diverse and accomplished MSHOF Class of 2016, joining basketball coach Kay James, football coach Jackie Sherrill, basketball standout Larry Smith and football pioneer Willie Heidelburg. I am proud to have witnessed and chronicled all six and have personal memories of each.


Walls was one of those guys you knew was destined for greatness the first time you saw him: tall, rangy, strong and fast. And then you interviewed him and learned he had all the intangibles, as well. He was so good at Ole Miss, he starred on both sides of the ball, as a tight end and as a defensive end. In the NFL, he concentrated on the tight end role and caught 450 passes and 54 touchdowns over a 15-year career, despite many and varied injuries. Walls caught his last professional touchdown pass from 2015 MSHOF inductee Brett Favre in 2003.

Brewer was a three-time All-American at Millsaps, so good the national award for the most outstanding lineman in NCAA D-III is now the Sean Brewer Trophy. The son of Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Johnny Brewer, Sean was the most dominant defensive player I ever covered at any level of football. (A couple Saturdays back then, I skipped the Division I games to go watch Brewer play.) He lived in the other team’s backfield, completely disrupted offenses. He would have been a star at the Division I level, just three or four inches shorter than most.

Alcorn State and NBA basketball standout Larry Smith ranks as surely one of the most relentless rebounders and defenders in this state’s – or any state’s – history. Mr. Mean, they called him, because he never smiled once he crossed onto the basketball floor. Larry played with an intensity so characteristic of those great Alcorn teams of Hall of Famer Davey Whitney. He believed every rebound, every loose ball belonged to him, and, in the end, they usually did. Smith starred in one of the most famous basketball games in Magnolia State history and scored the winning basket in Alcorn's historic NIT win over Mississippi State at Starkville in 1979.

Kay James came to USM after winning a small college championship at Berry (Ga.) College. Then-USM president Aubrey Lucas had experienced women’s basketball success when he held the same job at Delta State. He wanted to duplicate that success at USM, so he asked the late, great Hall of Famer Margaret Wade, whom he should hire. Coach Wade suggested he should hire James, a Gulfport native. And that’s what Lucas did to his everlasting credit. James, whose teams played an up-tempo, entertaining style, won 403 games over 20 seasons and garnered 10 post-season bids.

Jackie Sherrill played his high school football in Biloxi, where Bear Bryant went to recruit him for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Sherrill played seven positions at Bama and starred on two national championship teams. Even so, it is for his coaching that he lands in the MSHOF. He won big at Pittsburgh and Texas A & M before coming to Mississippi State where he became one of the most beloved figures in Hail State athletic history. Sherrill remains the only Mississippi coach to take a team to the SEC Championship Game. Through it all, he was a sports writer’s dream, whether he was turning a bull into a steer or stirring the pot with rival coaches.

Last and least (but only size-wise) is Willie Heidelburg, known as Wee Willie, who at 143 pounds became the first African American to make a huge splash at one of Mississippi’s historically white schools. After a two-year hall of fame career at Pearl River Community College, Heidelburg earned a scholarship at USM. There, he famously scored two touchdowns in USM’s historic, 30-14 victory over Ole Miss in 1970. Hamp Cook, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, was the USM offensive line coach at the time. Said Hamp, “I couldn’t wait to get back home and watch the film and see how my guys blocked on Willie’s two touchdowns. Hell, we didn’t block any of them. Willie just dodged them all.”

Ben Williams, Ole Miss' first black football star, and Mississippi State's Frank Dowsing have preceded Heidelburg, who died in 2013, into the Hall of Fame. All are so deserving. Somebody had to be first. They were, showing the way for the multitudes of great African American athletes who have followed.

•••

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is a syndicated columnist and historian at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

Kingfish note: If memory serves correctly, Walls played defensive end until his senior year when he began playing tight end.  Here is a scary thought.  Suppose Favre had gone to Ole Miss instead of USM.  He would've been throwing to Pat Coleman, Willie Green, and Wesley Walls.  

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Give USM and Jim Carmody credit. They recruited Favre to play QB, despite his running a wishbone offense in high school with not much of a passing game. Ole Miss and MSU recruited Favre to play safety and recruited other MS QBs for the QB position in the class of 1987. Favre did not even play QB in the MS High School All-Star game. He played safety for the South team.

Anonymous said...

The first Southern Miss win over the nationally ranked Ole Misseas tremendous. About the same time there was a western movie called " Tell Them Willie Boy is Here" playing in Hattiesburg. Panhellenic Hall had a huge sign put out on the dorm immediately after the game. Mississippi grew up a lot that. White sorority girls praising an African American was not common in Mississippi in the late 60's / early 70's.
Willie was a giant-- not in size but in heart, personality and desire. Gone too soon. SMTTT!

Anonymous said...

The real reason is that Rick Cleveland and his predecessor are/were slow on the uptake. Rick wants to pretend he's still covering sports for Bill Minor's paper instead of tending to bidness.

PittPanther said...

Oh, Jackie Sherrill...

Led my beloved Panthers to an 11-1 record three years in a row - having Dan Marino probably helped - and one game away from a national championship in 1981. But then left us for aTm, chasing the dollar.

Worst mistake he ever made, as he never reached those heights again.

Anonymous said...

Sean Brewer was a great athlete but he is an even more fantastic principal.

Mountain Oyster Lover said...

https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2209&dat=19920915&id=N5FKAAAAIBAJ&sjid=T5QMAAAAIBAJ&pg=4166,2927943&hl=en

Jackie defends castration....

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).


Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.


In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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