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HOF inductees influenced many

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS Hall of Fame inductees display their plaques. From the left, are Ken Rice, Larry Clark, coach Spencer “Onion” Davis and Ernest Riles.

Four men who were outstanding in their sport and a positive influence on untold numbers of Decatur County young people’s lives through the years became the first inductees into the Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night.

The instillation reception and banquet took place at Bainbridge College’s Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center.

Former highly successful Bainbridge High School Bearcats head football coach Spencer “Onion” Davis and former major league baseball shortstop and third baseman Ernest Riles were the first two inductees. Riles led the Middle Georgia College Warriors to consecutive Junior College World Series championships in 1980 and 1981 and was named junior college world series most valuable player in 1981 and “USA Today” American League rookie of the year with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1985.

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS Hall of Fame Coach Spencer “Onion” Davis second from left, front, gets together with some of his 1955 and 1956 Bainbridge High School Bearcats football players. From the left, front, are Cecil Simpson, 1956, coach Davis, his assistant and future Bearcats head coach Sam Williams, Wallace Cato, 1955, and Mickey Doss, 1955; back, Ty Bennett, 1956, Fred Alford, 1956, Ben Rogers, 1955, and fellow Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ken Rice, 1956.

In his remarks, coach Davis, who was also an outstanding minor league left-handed baseball pitcher, and led the Bearcats to a perfect 10-0 regular season record and Region 1AA championship in 1960, emphasized that everyone has got to have a goal that they respect and go after it.

His outstanding 1960 running back tandem of fullback Fred Barber and halfback Ed Varner were on hand to congratulate him.

Also inducted were Jones-Wheat Elementary School Principal Larry Clark, who played defensive back for the Hutto High School Tigers, the Bainbridge High School Bearcats and the Morehouse College Maroon Tigers and led the Bearcats to Region track championships in 1987, 1990, 1991, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 and Sub-Region championships in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

Clark stepped down as head track coach in 2006 and turned the track program over to one of his former top sprinters Larry Cosby.

With Cosby as the head coach and Clark as his top assistant and adviser, the Bearcats won five more Region championships in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In 2010, they also won the state Class AAAA championship under coach Cosby.

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME inductee Larry Clark, eighth from left, gets together with his family at Saturday night’s Hall of Fame induction banquet. From the left, are Clark’s mother, Ossie Thompson; his brother, Patrick Clark; his aunt, Hester Mills; his nephew, Thomas Clark III; his sister-in-law, Maria Clark; his brother, Thomas Clark Jr.; his wife, Shirley Clark, coach Clark and his daughter, Shirelle Clark.

The second annual Larry Clark Invitational track meet, which is named in his honor, will be Saturday, March 12, at the Bainbridge High School Track.

Clark recalled how Ralph Jones, who gave the welcome Saturday night, asked him to join his varsity football coaching staff when he was named Bainbridge High School Bearcats head football coach and athletic director in 1981.

“After coach Jones asked me to join his football staff as a defensive backfield coach, he dropped something else on me,” Clark said. “He asked me to become head track coach.”

In 1982, when Jones’ Bearcats football team won the State Class AAA championship with Clark on his staff, hurdler Fred Thomas received Clark’s track program’s first track scholarship to Albany State University.

Clark also coached hurdler Ty Akins, who earned All-American honors with the Auburn University Tigers track team and is now running the hurdles in professional track meets around the world.

The 2003-2004 Bainbridge High School male senior athlete of the year, Akins won the 60-meter and 110-meter championships his senior season. He was also a wide receiver on the Bearcats football team.

Riles, who played for coaches Rick Anderson, Doug Tucker and Stan Killough with the Bearcats and hit the 10,000th home in the history over the Giants franchise in New York and San Francisco, said “God blessed him by guiding him to the right place at the right time.”

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS Hall of Fame inductee Ernest Riles, center, renews acquaintances with a couple of old friends. On the left is Tomie Reynolds, Riles’ third base coach when he played with Oakland Athletic, and on the right is Ben Rogers, his athletic director when he led the Middle Georgia College Warriors to consecutive Junior College World Series championships.

“My high school coaches and my Middle  Georgia coach Robert Sapp all taught me a lot of baseball as a youngster,” he said. “The work ethic they taught me helped me get to the big leagues.”

When the Brewers drafted him in 1981, they sent him first to a minor league team in Butte, Mont.

“I experienced a kind of severe cold weather that I had never experienced before, but I persevered and made it to the major leagues.”

Also inducted Saturday night was former two-time All-American Auburn University Tigers offensive tackle Ken Rice, an outstanding two-way performer playing tackle on defense and running back on defense for coach Davis’ Bearcats in the 1950s.

He was named the outstanding offensive lineman in the Southeastern Conference as a junior and senior in 1959 and 1960. He was also named the conference’s most outstanding defensive lineman in 1960.

Rice played professionally with the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders. He has already been elected to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and he is on the ballot for this year’s College Football Hall of Fame.

He told the audience Saturday night that his induction into the Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame meant more to him than any other recognition he had received.

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS Hall of Fame inductees coach Spencer “Onion’ Davis, left, and Ken Rice, center celebrate with Rice’s wife, Billie Ann, and Bearcats former assistant and head coach Sam Williams, right.

“I am very humbled tonight,” he said. “The other awards and recognition’s are great honors, but this is home and going into the Hall of Fame with coach Davis is really special. He is an outstanding man and role model for me and many others he has touched.”

During Auburn’s march to the  2010 Bowl Championship Series (BCS) college football national championship, Rice received the 2010 Walter Gilbert Award, the highest award the Auburn athletic department gives to former athletes, during halftime on Oct. 23 game between Auburn and the Louisiana State University Tigers at Auburn’s Jordan-Haire Stadium.

The award is given annually in memory of Auburn’s three-time All-American center who went on to become vice president of Texaco’s European Oil Operations.

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS Hall of Fame inductee coach Spencer “Onion” center, has a happy reunion with three of his former Bainbridge High School Bearcats football players. Ed Varner, left, and Fred Barber, third from left, were the starting halfback and fullback on his 1960 team that had a perfect 10-0 regular season. On the right is his former Bearcat offensive tackle Henry Metcalf.

Decatur County Board of Commissioners Chairman Butch Mosley congratulated the honorees on behalf of the board.

Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame board of directors President Steve Bench announced that the Hall of Fame’s permanent home where the plaques of the four inductees and future inductees will be displayed is at the Bainbridge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitors Information Center.