Macon celebrates its athletic past, honors new hall class

Macon Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hoffman speaks during the induction ceremony inside the Macon Coliseum's Monument Room on Thursday night.
Macon Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hoffman speaks during the induction ceremony inside the Macon Coliseum's Monument Room on Thursday night.

The eight individuals came from a wide range of sports and eras. But on Thursday night, each of them became linked by the common thread of being the newest members of the Macon Sports Hall of Fame.

Mike Brown, Tim Clifton, Laura Conway, Lee Gerdes, Tony Gilbert, Bob Hoffman, James Outlaw and Robert Scott each officially became members of the Macon Sports Hall of Fame during an induction banquet held in the Monument Room of the Macon Coliseum as each inductee took time to reflect on their careers and those who helped them along the way.

Also recognized on Thursday was Willingham High School’s 1969 GHSA Class 3A championship team that was coached by Billy Henderson, with Edgar Hatcher as assistant coach. Both Henderson and Hatcher were on hand Thursday night.

Laura Conway entered the Macon Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday as its second youngest youngest member and is the most decorated swimmer in Macon history. An award-studded high school career at Central landed Conway at Georgia, where she was a five-time All-America selection and won an SEC and 2006 NCAA national title in the 500-yard freestyle. She then earned a spot on the United States National Team and was also part of the national team for the 2005 World Championships.

“I came across a quote recently that helped me make sense of why (other coaches) could see something in me when I couldn’t,” Conway said. “That quote is, ‘There’s a magic inside of you, holding space for you until you are fully ready to step into your light. When you find someone who sees that magic before you do, someone who walks along beside you, as you take the lead and open your arms into abundance, someone who holds space for you, to tune in and trust yourself, a spark turns into a full-blown flame and makes those things happen.’”

Robert Scott achieved great stardom in the Negro Leagues and played for one of its most storied teams, the New York Black Yankees, which featured Don Newcombe, Larry Doby and Roy Campanella. Scott has been recognized by the New York Yankees as one of the greatest Negro League players of all time.

“If I had it do again, I would do it the same way,” Scott said of playing in the Negro Leagues. “A lot of people don’t know that the Negro Leagues were as strong as a league could be. It was the same as the white league. There were 16 teams. The only thing they had that we didn’t have is that they rode the trains and we rode the bus. If you look at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, you’ll see that about 16 or 17 players came from the Negro Leagues. We knew we had a good league.”

Lee Gerdes, a Mount de Sales product who played collegiately at Chattanooga, where he was on the school’s first conference title team, was also inducted Thursday. After college, Gerdes became a giant among the amateur golf ranks in Middle Georgia, winning the Cherry Blossom eight times, the Honors and City of Macon tournaments five times, the Golden Isles three times and the Peach Blossom once. Gerdes also qualified for the 1989 U.S. Amateur in the Atlanta qualifier as the low qualifier.

“In 1982, the Gerdes family moved to Macon, Georgia, from Huntsville, Alabama. The skinny white kid played football, basketball and golf for Mount de Sales. There wasn’t much of a demand for a skinny white kid in the NFL or NBA for a six-foot, skinny white kid, so I decided to focus my efforts on golf,” Gerdes said. “Golf has taught me many life lessons, as well. Respect, courtesy, honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, confidence, responsibility and perseverance just to name a few. It truly is the greatest game.”

Mike Brown’s career, which started with the early years of the Southwest program when he became the first Patriots player to rush for 1,000 yards, continued on to Purdue as a three-year letter winner for the Boilermakers

“I’m very proud to receive this award. I felt I did the best I could to represent Macon,” Brown said. “I just feel good that I was able to continue my career at Purdue. I just thank everyone here for supporting everyone who has made it this year.”

Tim Clifton enters his 25th season as the football head coach at Mars Hill and is second all-time in wins among coaches in the South Atlantic Conference. But the road for Clifton began in Macon where he starred first at Willingham and later at Stratford where he started on championship-winning teams in football, baseball and basketball.

“The Lord took care of me and gave me two great parents and gave me the opportunity to grow up in Southwest Macon and play for Billy Henderson, Billy Beale, Edgar Hatcher and Lloyd Bohannon. He gave the chance to play for Stratford Academy and play for Bobby Brown, Bubber Adams, Grady Smith and Richard Reid who was in my wedding. He has blessed us everywhere we have been.”

Tony Gilbert had 105 tackles as a senior at Central, but his journey hardly ended there. It went on to being part of the Georgia Bulldogs 2002 SEC title, the same year he earned All-SEC honors to cap a college career in which he was the only Bulldog to lead the team in tackles in three different seasons since statistics were recorded in 1976.

After an NFL career with the Jaguars and Falcons, Gilbert is now on the coaching staff at North Carolina.

“I always said that when I left Macon to go to The University of Georgia that I wanted to make the City of Macon proud and the guys I played with and coached me proud,” said Gilbert, who pointed to the Chargers breaking a 26-year losing streak to Warner Robins as one of his fondest memories from Central.

Mercer head basketball coach Bob Hoffman joined the Macon Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday, taking time to reflect on not only the support of Macon and Middle Georgia, but the fortuitous circumstances that led him to Macon nine years ago when he was hired by Mercer University president Bill Underwood.

“It goes back to President Underwood giving me a chance nine years ago. He saw a vision for what the university could do in athletics. Especially with what has happened in the academic realm, he wanted us to find a way to make it as good as academics. We’re still not there, we’re working on it, but many people have helped us along the way and we’re grateful for it.”

James Outlaw was the biggest star to emerge out of Ballard-Hudson before integration, earning Parade Magazine All American honors as a senior and helped lead the Maroon Tigers to the state tournament where they lost in the semifinals to eventual state champion Decatur. Outlaw then continued on a North Carolina A&T, collecting all-conference honors twice and averaging 24.9 points per game as a senior.

Outlaw had by far the shortest acceptance speech of any inductee on Thursday, thanking the committee for their vote and his teammates for passing him the ball.

Scholar-athlete Award winners

The Macon Sports Hall of Fame also recognized scholar athlete award winners on Thursday night during the festivities.

The award winners were Sarah Baldree and William Martin from Central, Gabriel Howard and Harley Ovell from Howard, Kamare’ Ways and Anthony Barnett from Northeast, Ariel Fortson and Josh Courson from Rutland, Sha’ Andrea Miley and Kenterious Goolsby from Southwest, Antonia Harvey and Kevin Reeves from Westside, Marilynn NeSmith and Hunter Cosnahan from Central Fellowship Academy, Hannah Cooper and Drew Watrous from Covenant Academy, Katelyn Smaha and Alan Carlton from FPD, Annie Vorisek and Pinkney Gilchrist from Mount de Sales, Aysha Roberts and Justin Griffin from Stratford, Kristen Johnson and Christian Rodgers from Tattnall Square and Kassidy Hulett and Jonathan Osborn of Windsor.