Willie Jeffries, the first African-American head coach of a NCAA Division I-A football program had the crowd roaring with laughter as the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Liberty County Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet.
The banquet held Thursday at Club Stewart honored this year’s inductees to the Hall of Fame.
Liberty County Athletic HOF Chairman Craig Stafford first addressed the guests to inform them that one of this year’s inductees had a family emergency.
Stafford said Joe Nathan Stevens was unable to attend the ceremony due to an illness in his family. Stafford said Stevens had been looking forward to the event to be reunited with friends and family in Liberty County he hadn’t seen in a long time.
“He was really excited about it and it really got to me when we were talking about it,” Stafford said. “So what we are going to do is bring him back next year. We will honor and induct him next year so he can come and see everybody and give us his speech in person.”
Stafford then introduced Jeffries, who shared inspirational quotes sprinkled in with humor that had the room in stitches.
“Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you what happened. I was not their first choice (as a speaker). First, they wanted a trained orator, one trained in speaking who would deliver an eloquent speech, but he wasn’t available. So then they said, ‘Let’s get a great intellect — one that can speak using those $20 words,’ but he wasn’t available. So, they looked to get a famous person, but two months ago Michael Jordan sent them a letter saying he wasn’t available. So instead of giving up, they decided to just get a good-looking speaker,” Jeffries said, holding up his hands as if to say here I am. “But ladies, as you can see, he wasn’t available either.”
Jeffries also told inductees he was honored to be in their presence and grateful for the opportunity to be their speaker.
The first inductee recognized was James Allen Brown, who passed away in 1987. He was honored at the banquet by his son Neal, and his plaque was accepted by his other son, James Allen Brown Jr.
“Influence is defined as the capacity of having effect of developing character or behavior in someone or something,” Neal Brown said. “I would like to talk about James’ great influence on the world of sports in Liberty County. He was the first quarterback at BI and threw the first touchdown pass to John Collins, and he used to say he got sacked many times as a quarterback, but it just prepared him for the many times he got sacked as the mayor of Hinesville.”
Allen Brown said his father helped form the Harvey Overton Football Booster Club and never missed a BI athletic event up until his death.
“I just wish he could be here tonight to accept this award because he would do it very humbly,” Allen Brown said.
Vicki Verross Devine was the next inductee. She was introduced by her friend Tim Alderman.
“There are three things I know when I think about Vicki and her career,” Alderman said. “I think here is a lady that is extremely talented, very smart and she was a fantastic athlete.”
Devine played basketball at Bradwell Institute from 1969-73 and lettered in the sport all four years. She was the co-captain of the team in 1973, was voted MVP in 1973 and was the recipient of the Hokey Jackson Athletic Award after graduation. She went to the University of Georgia ,where she played on the first Lady Bulldogs basketball team.
“It’s an honor and truly overwhelming,” Devine said. “I really wish my folks had lived to see this.”
Devine spoke of the obstacles women had to overcome in the period just before Title IX. She said she grew up playing basketball against her older brothers and it helped her later in life as the only female executive in the oil industry.
“When I first started in the oil industry it was filled with good ole boys who had little use for women among their ranks,” she said. “I remember once I was presenting a prospect to the board of Teneco Inc., and I realized I was the only woman in the conference room filled with 50 people. I managed to be accepted in part because I played college ball, which was rare at the time. And every Wednesday night I would show up to the company gym and play pickup ball with the men. And the guys respected a woman who go blow by them, lay it up or sink a 25-footer.”
Bradwell Institute girls’ basketball coach Faye Baker then introduced inductee Charmaine Clark, at 24 the youngest to be inducted in 2012.
Clark played her freshman and senior seasons of basketball at Bradwell, where she was named to the all-state first team and all-Coastal Empire first team. Clark graduated from BI in 2006 and earned a full scholarship to play basketball at the University of Miami.
She went on to have a stellar college career.
After college, Clark played one season for Team Iceland of the European Women’s Basketball League. During that year, she averaged 20 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five blocks per game.
“One thing I love about her is her respect for authority,” Baker said. “She was the type of young lady that always worked hard and she was the best athlete in our program.”
“I attribute a lot of my work ethic to my mother, who always told to go out there and do my best,” Clark said. “And as far as athletics I’ve been playing since I was six….I am honored to be here as far as basketball, but I’m not done yet.”
Clark is currently trying out for the U.S. Air Force women’s national team. She will know in January whether she made the squad.
Chuck Smith stepped up to the podium to introduce the last inductee, his brother-in-law, Jimmy Martin.
Martin was inducted in the at-large category. His name is synonymous with recreational sports in Liberty County and Fort Stewart.
He grew up playing multiple sports, graduated from Bradwell and enrolled at Georgia Southern College where Martin worked toward a degree in recreation.
“He was one of the hardest working people I knew,” Smith said. “He cares about the volunteers for his programs, and he cares about the kids.”
“It is a tremendous honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in the county where I grew up, lived and worked practically all my life,” Martin said. “It makes all the work I’ve done for the past 30 years gratifying.”