Eight to be enshrined in state Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 9, 2002

Kent Hull, a former Mississippi State All-American and key component on the Buffalo Bills’ run through the NFL in the early 1990s, is one of eight athletes that will be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame at the Vicksburg Convention Center on May 2. (The Vicksburg Post/SEAN P. MURPHY)

[08/09/02]JACKSON A member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Baseball Hall of Fame will lead eight inductees into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, officials announced at a press conference Thursday.

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame induction is scheduled for May 2 at the Vicksburg Convention Center, the second year in a row that Vicksburg has hosted the event. The eight inductees will bring the total number to 217 in the Hall.

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“We had a very good experience there last year,” MSHOF president Ralph Sowell said. “The leadership in Vicksburg was very supportive.”

After spending the first 39 years in Jackson, the event was moved to Vicksburg last year. All the tickets were sold to that event and Sowell feels like the interest will be as high this year.

Jackie Slater, a Jackson native and longtime offensive lineman for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, and the late Bill Foster, a standout pitcher in the 1920 and 30s in the Negro Leagues, highlight the Class of 2002.

“If (Foster) were here today, I’m sure he’d say being inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame is just as important to him than the Baseball Hall of Fame,” said Foster’s stepson, Allen Simpson. “That’s how much he cared about Mississippi.”

Slater and Foster will be joined by LSU women’s basketball coach Sue Gunter, ex-Ole Miss football great Warner Alford, James Ray Carpenter, the first Mississippian to be elected president of the PGA and Southern Miss graduate, Olympic gold medal winner and former Alcorn State standout track athlete Mildrette Netter Graves, All-Pro Buffalo Bills center Kent Hull and ex-Southern Miss football great Bob Stevens.

“We think we have a very good class,” Sowell said.

Alford, a left guard for the great Ole Miss teams in the 1950s and 60s helped the Rebels to a 29-3-1 record during his Ole Miss years.

After coaching on the high school and college levels for several years, Alford spent 16 years as the Rebels’ athletics director.

“I’ve probably been to about 25 or more hall of fame banquets and to think of all that have gone before you is humbling,” Alford said.

Carpenter, who dazzled the crowd of about 30 with a sharp wit and sense of humor, said he never even considered golf during his college days.

A Runnelstown native (about 15 miles east of Hattiesburg), Carpenter started as a basketball and baseball player at Mississippi State before transferring to USM.

“I was working for an oil company in Natchez and the boss said we and the company boss from California were going to play golf,” Carpenter said. “I said, I don’t play golf,’ and he said, you didn’t hear me, I said we and the company president from California are playing golf today.'”

After leaving the oil business, Carpenter returned to USM and served as the Mississippi president of the PGA. He works as an official at tournament’s such as the Masters, U.S. Open and is leaving for Minnesota to officiate the PGA Championships starting Thursday.

Foster spent 15 seasons in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s and 30s and compiled a 137-62 record with 34 shutouts. He led the Chicago American Giants to a Black World Series title in 1926.

Alcorn State basketball coach Davey Whitney was instrumental in the history of Foster and his induction into the MSHOF.

Foster, a Texas native, died in Lorman in 1978.

Graves was a three-time All-SWAC performer at Alcorn, 1968-72, and was a member of the 4×100 relay team that won the gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. She also Spent 25 years in Leland and Moss Point coaching track and field.

“I was speechless,” said Graves when she heard of her election into the hall. “I am looking forward to May.”

Gunter, a Walnut Grove native, is the fourth winningest women’s basketball coach in America.

She’s guided her LSU teams to to 12 NCAA Tournaments, two elite eights and six Sweet 16 appearances.

Hull, a Pontotoc native and standout four-year center at Mississippi State, spent a short time in the now-defunct USFL before signing with the Buffalo Bills.

He was instrumental in leading the Bills to four-straight Super Bowl appearances. He spent last Saturday in Canton, Ohio, where his quarterback, Jim Kelly, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I’m happy to see you didn’t mention the four losses,” said Hull, referring to the Bills’ Super Bowl run. “I have never been in here, but walking around, it’s humbling to be part of this group. I’m ashamed I have never been here before, but I will be an ambassador from now on.”

Slater, a Jackson native, helped block for Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton before going on to a standout career in the NFL. Slater set team records for most seasons played (20), most career games (259) and most career postseason games (18).

He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

Stevens, a former Southern Miss football star, was at one time considered one of the top handball players in the Southeast.

He played offensive and defensive tackle at Southern Miss after serving in the Navy during World War II.

The selection committee, led this year by Sowell, consists of 12-15 voting members who sift through all the nominees. Last year, the committee moved to enshrine eight people, but Sowell said eight do not have to be enshrined each year.

Anyone can nominate an athlete for the Hall of Fame, but Sowell said it helps to provide background information and a reason for their enshrinement.