In last week’s column I introduced the first half of the 2013 Thomston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame class and this week I’ll finish up the group that will inducted on February 23 at Upson-Lee High School. As I said last week, this is a very worthy and creditable group and we look forward to their induction.
Wallace Rhodes is a native of Cuthbert, Georgia and a graduate of Cuthbert High School, which is now known as Randolph County High School. He was an outstanding high school athlete, lettering four years in football, basketball, baseball, and track. After graduating from high school he attended Auburn University, where he walked on as a member of the Tigers’ freshman basketball team.
Rhodes suffered an injury while a member of the Auburn team and his athletic career came to a sudden end. After graduating from Auburn he returned to Cuthbert High, where he coached and taught for six years.
In 1964 Superintendent Gordon Holstun hired Rhodes to coach at R.E. Lee Institute. He was the head boys’ basketball coach, head boys’ track coach, and assistant football coach. He gained his greatest acclaim as the leader of the Rebels’ basketball program, winning 168 games in 12 seasons.
I was a member of Coach Rhodes’ first team at Lee and what he did with that 1964-65 team gave immediate notice of his ability as a basketball coach. He took a bunch of guys who were not very talented and won 15 games, including knocking off Decatur High School, which was the #2 team in the state. We had some other great wins and he made my senior season a highlight of my high school years.
Rhodes was known as a coach who could develop players and get the best out of his talent pool. In many cases he won with lesser-talented teams and gained the respect of every opponent that he faced. He made basketball relevant and fun at an obviously football-oriented school. He is the best basketball coach that I have ever known.
Ronnie Paul is the final individual inductee into the 2013 class. Paul is a 1978 graduate of R.E. Lee Institute, where he was a stalwart running back on the Rebels’ football team. He was a four-year letterman and led the Rebels in rushing in each of his last three seasons.
When Paul left Lee, he held Rebel records in career rushing yards, single-season rushing yards, single-game rushing yards, career rushing attempts, single-season rushing attempts, single-game rushing attempts, and longest run from scrimmage.
Following his graduation, Paul was selected to the All-Middle Georgia by the Macon Telegraph and was chosen as a first team AAA All-State performer by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was then honored by the Lee athletic department when his #32 uniform number was retired. He received a football scholarship to Davidson College.
Ronnie Paul has always been one of my Lee football players. He was a tough, tough football player who wasn’t afraid to run inside the tackles and lower his shoulder to get those important extra yards. He was an humble guy who always gave 100 percent and put his team ahead of his personal goals.
The team that will go into the Hall of Fame is the 1972 Thomaston Little League All-Star baseball team. This group of 12-year olds accomplished a feat that had never been achieved before or since 1972. They won the State Little League Championship when they beat East Marietta by a 6-1 score in the finals.
From the time that this team was chosen there seemed to be nothing that would indicate that this group could make such an impact. They had two outstanding pitchers in Claude Johnson and Steve Brown, but nothing else was obviously dynamic. What they did have was a group if gritty youngsters who played together well and developed a great team chemistry.
The team was coached by Sammy Waller and Claude Waller. These gentlemen had a long history of success as youth baseball coaches in our community. In addition to Johnson and Brown the team was made up of Andy Allen, Wayne Chambers, Jim Dawkins, Reid Flanagan, Lee Lindsey, Kim Montgomery, Tim Norris, Downey Poteat, Bobby Selph, and Richard Smith. Of course, Recreation Director James Dawkins was a major part of this team’s success as he provided what was needed for this group to be a champion.
For only the third time in the Hall of Fame’s nine induction classes the Merit Award will be presented. This award will go to Bill Heule. Heule was the sports director at WSFT radio for decades and was an ardent follower and supporter of all local athletics. He initated live broadcasts of youth and high school baseball games and followed R.E. Lee football very closely. His “Rebel Roundup” football review program was an extremely popular Saturday morning broadcast for many, many years.
Bill Heule was a friend of every player and coach who was involved in athletics in Thomaston and Upson County. He loved sports and made a concerted effort to make sure that local citizens heard about their teams on his station. The Hall of Fame is proud to honor this fine gentleman.
Well there it is, the 2013 class of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame. I hope you agree that it is an excellent group. Make plans now to attend the induction banquet on February 23 and be a part of their night. You’ll be glad that you were there!