By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
Legendary Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder. Nine-year NFL veteran and Nebraska football legend Mike Rucker. Ten-year MLB veteran Byron Browne.
These are just a few of the local legends included in the first ever St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame Class, which was unveiled by the St. Joseph Sports Commission Thursday.
The class is comprised of 10 individuals, one team and a Special Olympics Athlete of the Year.
Officially created last November, the St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame recognizes individuals, families and teams that have made a significant impact on sports history in Buchanan County.
“I’ll tell you from day one, I think it was the goal of our commission board and anybody that’s had a hand in this, we said ‘Darn it, we need to develop create an area sports hall of fame,” said Brett Eisley, Chairman of the St. Joseph Sports Commission.
Eisley and the rest of the Commission Board met repeatedly since November to go over by-laws, nominees and the planning of an induction ceremony.
To be eligible for selection, the individual must have been born in Buchanan County, must have made their sports career or accomplished their feat in Buchanan County or must be contributing to sports in Buchanan County at the present time.
Eisley said it was important that this Hall of Fame selection include the entire county, and not just St. Joseph.
“It’s important to not only remember and celebrate the accomplishments of our athletes, coaches and teams that competed here in St. Joseph, but we encompass all of Buchanan County,” Eisley said, “and I think you’ll see that flavor as we talk about our Hall of Fame class.”
Eisley says the class is comprised of coaches, athletes and other influential sports figures who had a major impact on the St. Joseph area and beyond.
“This class has elite student-athletes,” Eisley explained. “Elite coaches, elite founders, elite innovators. People who have really touched St. Joseph sports. All of these people have already been inducted into multiple Halls of Fame.”
Along with Snyder, Rucker and Brown, the 2021 Hall of Fame Class also includes two-time Olympic team weightlifter Wes Barnett, Charlie Burri, Missouri Western’s First Athletics Director, Newt Hillyard, the Founder of the Hillyard Companies, Julius Hochman, Father of Boys’ Baseball in St. Joseph, two-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Terin Humphrey, Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Henry Iba and softball pioneer Cheri Kempf.
The team chosen for the 2021 Hall of Fame Class is the Meierhoffer/St. Jo Frontier Casino Fast Pitch Softball Team from 1997-2003 – a team that won four national titles during that time.
The Special Olympics Athlete of the Year included in the class is Mike Grossman, who medaled in track and field during the 1999 special Olympics.
The Sports Commission had 25 total nominees for its inaugural class. The inductees were selected by an anonymous selection committee.
Every class will include a maximum of 10 individual inductees, and those who aren’t inducted are automatically put into a pool of consideration for the next five years.
Seeing as this was the first St. Joseph area hall of fame class, Eisley says the committee wanted this group to jump off the page.
“I think our committee came out of this saying, we want this first class to say, ‘Wow! This is why St. Joseph sports is the way it is. These are pioneers,’” Eisley said. “When I was handed this list, and I looked at it and I go, ‘Golly…that’s a darn good list!”
The 2021 St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony will be held on Sunday, September 19 at the Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center.
A limited amount of tickets for the event are are on sale for $25 each and can be purchased at stjomo.com/stjosephsportscommission.
A football weekend in the fall sounds like a tough time to bring so many sports figures together. But, Eisley checked. This first induction ceremony will not overlap with Chiefs’ football.
The awards ceremony on the 19th starts at 5 p.m. The Chiefs are at the Ravens in primetime that evening.
“We did a good job of looking at the calendar, because we recognized the Royals are home that day (vs. Seattle at 1:10 p.m.), which means the Chiefs are probably away that day,” Eisley said. “The Chiefs play at 7:20 that evening, so I don’t want to hear anybody say, ‘I’m going to stay home and watch the Chiefs,’ because we planned around that.”
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