Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part story about the 2019 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame banquet. Part two of the story will appear in Wednesday's edition.
The Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame welcomed 10 new members at its annual banquet Saturday night, with each member showing appreciation for the people who helped them in their athletic journey.
The banquet also awarded three local students with scholarships, using funds raised by the annual Martha Jo Leonard Memorial Golf Tournament.
Tanner High School's Arcadia Lopez received the Jimmy Gill Memorial Scholarship worth $3,000, while Athens High's Chloe Neal was awarded the Jackie and Helen Greenhaw Scholarship, also worth $3,000. West Limestone's Savannah McConnell was awarded a $1,500 scholarship as well.
“I read recently that the cost of attending college has risen eight times the increase in wages,” Hall of Fame President Jeff Hodges said at the banquet. “It is our goal to help these deserving student-athletes afford college as much as we can.”
Inducted this year were Stacey Atkins, Jeff Harwell, Ben Holt, Philip Jennings, Jesse Lockett, Jason Lucas, Henry "Hen" Miller, Shannon Davis Rutherford, Larry Tribble and Greg Yarbrough.
The overall emotion of the evening was a deep sense of appreciation for their induction and the people who helped them along the way.
Stacey Atkins' grandson, Ed Reynolds, accepted the award on the late Atkins' behalf. Reynolds said some of his fondest childhood memories were playing catch with his grandfather.
“We made the trip from Louisville (Kentucky) to Athens every summer to visit my grandparents, and there were four certainties on every trip. First of all, we were going to eat like kings, because my grandmother could cook like nobody's business. Secondly, we were bound to run out of gas in Athens, because it was against my grandfather's religion to put gas in the car. Third, my brother was going to have to get the switch. And fourth, I knew to pack my glove, because I was going to play catch with my grandfather.”
Reynolds said after dinner, Atkins would sit on the porch and drink his sweet tea, then play catch. And he didn't go easy on his grandson.
“He used to position me in front of a sticker bush, so if I missed a ball, it was going in the sticker bush, and he wasn't going to get it,” Reynolds said. “I would finish those games of catch, and my hand would be hurting. He never went easy on me.”
Reynolds said he knows his grandfather would be very proud to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“I know he's looking down and smiling,” Reynolds said. “And I know he's also looking for somebody to play catch with.”
Jeff Harwell said it was difficult to look back on his days of running track at Athens Bible and think it was really him.
“It does seem like another lifetime sometimes and another person,” Harwell said. “It means a lot to me to know there are others who do remember.”
Harwell credited those who helped him become a 13-time state champion, especially legendary Athens Bible coach and athletic director Bill Murrell.
“If you've never competed in athletics under Coach Murrell, or even had an algebra class taught by him, I don't think you can truly appreciate the impact he has on others,” Harwell said. “I appreciate everything I learned from him.”
Harwell also said his parents played a huge role in his development.
“When it became evident I had a future in the sport, I can't imagine any parents being more supportive than mine,” he said. “A lot of money was spent and a lot of miles were put on the car driving from meet to meet. And when I got to Troy (State University), they still kept coming to the races. My teammates commented how impressed they were with my parents coming to meets all across the Southeast to watch us run.”
Ben Holt said sports were a part of his life that allowed him to make some lifelong memories.
“When I think of sports, I don't think of wins and losses most of the time,” he said. “I think of my dad coming home and standing out in the yard until dark and playing pepper. Or he'd sit on the steps on the front porch and had me pitch to him. I think of my mom coming to every game and whether I played good or bad, she would always say, 'Good game, I'm proud of you.'”
Harwell said sports also provided him with an education and an opportunity to continue his career in college, where he played baseball for Martin Methodist and Tennessee Tech.
“Sports provided me with an opportunity to go to school, get an education and have a career,” Holt said. “That led me to a place in Tennessee where I met my wife and had kids. I'm just blessed, and that's what life is all about. Thank you for the opportunity to make another wonderful memory with me and my family.”
Philip Jennings compared the Athens community to a successful team that works together. He said those who helped him along the way were like teammates and cheerleaders.
“When it works well, it's like a team, supporting each other with talents, skills and leadership,” Jennings said. “People were watching; people cared. Everywhere we turned, we had trainers, coaches, cheerleaders and teammates. All a part of the community team. I'm here because they, and the community behind them, helped us shine.”
Jennings read a poem he wrote called, “My Hall of Fame.” It honored those who had helped him and said he would treasure all of those people in his heart, his personal hall of fame.
“Me and all of the other athletes tonight are here because of what the community has done, as well as our talent,” he said. “It has been a great experience to go through this. It's not only a celebration of us, it's a celebration of the community team.”
Jesse Lockett thanked many people during his induction ceremony, especially those at East Limestone High School, where he starred in four sports.
“I am so honored to be here accepting this honor,” Lockett said. “I had a lot of people lobbying for me for this award: Jan Matthews, my niece Angie Lockett, Mr. (Paul) Hargrove and a cast of others.”
Lockett also thanked coaches Jimmy Drake and Charles Schrimsher.
“Being a part of the East Limestone sports program was a significant influence on my life and helped shape me to be the person I am today. I will always cherish the memories and friends I made during those years. I appreciate those who guided and supported me during an impressionable time.”