The 2015 Liberty County Athletic Hall Of Fame banquet was held Thursday evening at the John McIver Auditorium at the Liberty County Community Complex in Midway.
This year’s inductees were former Liberty County basketball players Rion Brown and Jordan McRae, former Bradwell Institute basketball player Derek Stewart and former Bradwell football players and multi-sport athletes Craig Stafford and Nick Dowd.
Guest speaker Doug Force spoke about the important role sports plays in developing an athlete’s character. He said the inductees provide the perfect example of how a strong character can carry a person beyond the sports arena to become a successful and productive member of society.
Former LCHS basketball coach Willie Graham introduced inductees Brown and McRae. With both young men still involved in professional basketball, Brown’s father, Tico, and McRae’s father, Cornelius, accepted the awards on behalf of their sons.
Tico Brown shared his favorite memory of his son’s first basketball game, when he scored a basket for the opposing team. His family and those in attendance laughed. Brown recalled how his son really wanted to play football, but played basketball to appease his father.
Brown said he knew his son was suited to play basketball and is proud of how far he has come. Brown asked his son’s wife, Christina Brown, to come to the stage to accept the plaque because it is what he knew his son wanted.
Cornelius McRae shared the memory of how Graham had his son sit out a few games his freshman year so he could focus his attention on academics. McRae said he and his wife, Paulette, knew their son was athletically gifted. But he added that they are more proud of the fact that he finished college and earned a degree.
Stewart said his career started in Hinesville under the guidance of Graham much like Rion Brown and Jordan McRae. Stewart said he wasn’t a good player, but Graham saw something in him and gave him a chance. That chance spanned a college career at Augusta State, and later professionally across Europe.
Stafford was introduced by his father, Hal Stafford, whom he later called his mentor and hero.
Craig Stafford played basketball under Graham and football under coach Clifford Johnson. Stafford said he was humbled by being inducted and thanked his high school sweetheart, and now wife, Laura.
He shared memories of playing sports in school, but added that his best sports memories came from his two daughters, Isabell and Sadie.
Dowd spoke about growing up in Hinesville. His family lived on Fort Stewart, but moved off post and into the city limits during one of his father’s deployments.
He said he recalled how he would have to take his younger brother to school on his bicycle and then head across town to his school, and do the same in the afternoon. He added that it has been quite some time since he was in Hinesville and that it was great to see so many former friends together.
He said he was going to make sure he would come back home more often and see how everyone was doing.
After the banquet, the athletes mingled and shared many more memories, humbled in the recognition of their lifelong accomplishments.