COLUMN: Sixteen months into my job as director of your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum, one certainty has become clear: There’s a poignant story behind every Hall of Famer.
Take the Class of 2013, to be inducted Friday night at the Jackson Hilton. There are six inductees, six compelling stories (in alphabetical order):
Bill Bucker: Everybody these days knows Buckner, a Starkville native as the face of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. When be came FCA’s Mississippi director in 1989, he was a staff of one and was in fewer than 100 schools. He now has a full-time staff of 21 and is in nearly 400 schools. But what many forget is that he was once a splendid throwing quarterback in an era of football when teams almost exclusively ran. He was a two-time All American for the legendary Bull Sullivan at East Mississippi, throwing for 47 touchdowns when many teams didn’t throw that many passes in a season.
Jimmie Giles: He was the NFL’s tight end of the decade of the 1980s for the Tampa Bay Bucs, the first offensive player to be inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor. He was big enough to knock down linebackers, fast enough to run past safeties. But here’s what’s almost unbelievable: Giles, from Greenville, didn’t play football at Alcorn State until his senior season. That’s right, he had already been drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and had played a season of minor league baseball before he went out for football and became an unstoppable force.
Gerald Glass: From Greenwood, Glass became perhaps the greatest basketball player in history of both Delta State and Ole Miss. He played professionally in the NBA and internationally, but he says his biggest achievement in sports came after his playing days. That’s when he returned to Ole Miss, took and passed 50 hours to get a teaching degree, returned to his alma mater Amanda Elzy High, and has coached his team to two straight Class 4A championships.
Doc Harrington: Brett Favre should be telling you this story, but I will. Harrington will be the first trainer inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Hattiesburg native served at USM for more than 30 years and also was the trainer at the Senior Bowl and for many U.S. Olympic teams. Favre, the most durable player and leading passer in NFL history, credits Harrington for saving his career back when Favre suffered a nearly fatal injuries in automobile accident before his senior season at USM.
Langston Rogers: From Calhoun City, orphaned at an early age, Rogers has become the most decorated sports information director — ever. Seriously, he has won every award a sports information director can win and this will be his sixth Hall of Fame induction. He would tell you he owes his success to the Mississippi legends he has worked for and with, including Hall of Famers Bull Sullivan, Margaret Wade, Boo Ferriss, John Vaught, Warner Alford and Archie Manning.
Michael Rubenstein: From Booneville, the Rube became the most popular and highest rated TV sports anchor in Mississippi and then one of the founders of your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. He was the museum’s first and only executive director until his death Dec. 1, 2011. Interestingly, he was first a part-time radio deejay, who billed himself as “the blue-eyed soul brother before when a TV station manager heard his jazz program and told his news director, “Hire that guy.” The only opening at WLBT at the time was sports director, and the rest, as they say, is history.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Cleveland is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.)