Four inducted into Sports Hall of Fame

Published 4:36 pm Wednesday, March 7, 2012

DECATUR COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME honores get together with their plaques. From left, Fred Barber, Debbie Gant Sullen, representing her late father coach Alfred Gant, Pam Martin-Wells and Ralph Jones.

A national champion bass angler, a late coach of two state champion basketball teams, a state football champion coach, and a star high school and college running back were inducted into the Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night at Bainbridge College’s Charles H. Kirbo Regional Center.

Those four inductees were Pam Martin-Wells, Ralph Jones, Fred Barber and the late Alfred Gant.

Martin-Wells, who has won 19 professional bass fishing titles and five angler of the year awards, was introduced by Larry Prevatte, a.k.a. Don Day, the host of “Adventures Outdoors,” which is televised on a Montgomery, Ala., station.

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Before bringing Martin-Wells, who is a member of the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame and has had 56 top-five finishes and 62 top-10 finishes, to the microphone, Prevatte read some congratulatory messages from other bass fishing legends.

One was from Kevin Van Dam, the top mens bass angler, and two others were from Ray Scott and Trip Weldon, the founder of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS).

Scott said he was sure that Martin-Wells’ late mentor and Fellow Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame member Jack Wingate, who they both loved and respected so much, was looking down on her. Wingate passed away in December 2011.

During her remarks, Martin-Wells talked about how much Wingate, who was her first sponsor, her parents Jimmie and Pat Martin, and her husband Steven have meant to her.

“I grew up fishing,” she said. “When we were growing up, my mom and dad would pick me up after school on Friday and we would go fishing.

“I am just a country girl who enjoys fishing. We have a great asset in Lake Seminole.”

Martin-Wells concluded her remarks by telling a story that touched her heart.

“I received a letter from a lady in New Jersey who said her daughter wanted to be the next Pam Martin-Wells,” she said. “She also enclosed a picture of her daughter, who had Down syndrome. That letter and picture really humbled me and made me realise how important it is to be an example for young people.”

The family of Gant, who led his Hutto High School Tigers to state basketball championships in 1953 and 1959 and won numerous district championships in basketball and football, was in attendance Saturday. He was introduced by his brother, Dr. James Lamar Gant, retired dean of edeucation at Florida State University, who talked about his brother’s love for education and sports.

“My brother was a very strong man with great character and spirit,” Dr. Gant said. “He was also a great family man who loved his wife and two daughters.”

Following Dr. Gant’s remarks, coach Gant’s daughters, Debbie Gant Sullen and Nancy Gant Gray, went to the podium.

“We lost our father much too young,” Sullen said. “But he and my mom taught my sister and I to live our lives according to Christian values.”

“Our dad always had time to support our activities and be there for us,” added Gray. “He and my mom always taught us to live our lives to the fullest.”

The third inductee to the podium was coach Ralph Jones, who led the Bainbridge High School Bearcats to the 1982 State Class AAA football championship.

He was introduced by Roy Simpson, who along with late Bearcats head football coach Prescott Forsyth, who hired him to come to Bainbridge as part of his coaching staff, brought the 1982 games to fans on WAZA Radio.

As Bainbridge High School head football coach and athletic director from 1981 to 1987, Jones compiled a record of 54-21-1, the highest winning percentage in school history.

Jones, who led his alma mater, the Cairo High School Syrupmakers to the 1990 State Class AAA football championship, was inducted into the Grady County Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

As Decatur County School Superintendent in 2009, he was named Superintendent of the Year by the Georgia Association of Educators.

In his remarks Saturday night, Jones recalled some of the happy highlights of his 1982 Bearcats state championship run.

“I rember losing to Mitchell-Baker in the rain 19-7, at home and then defeating them 35-22 in Camilla in a must-win Region 1-AAAA championship win,” he said. “I remember shutting out Cairo 7-0 in another must-win on the road. The winning touchdown came on a pass from quarterback Bobby Walden to wide receiver Phillip Bryant.

“I also remember a goal line stand in Cairo when they tried to run over our best lineman, Jimmy Holton, four straight times and he stopped them every time.”

The final inductee of the night was former Bainbridge High School Bearcats and University of Georgia outstanding running back Fred Barber, who is also a member of the University of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame. He was introduced by longtime Georgia Bulldogs football sideline reporter Loran Smith.

A charter member and speaker with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Barber was a member of coach Vince Dooley’s first Georgia Bulldogs team in 1964. He is the Bainbridge High School Bearcats second-leading rusher of all time with 3,357 yards. Barber played under former Bearcats head coach Spencer “Onion” Davis, who was a member of last year’s first Decatur County Sports Hall of Fame class.

An All-State fullback with the Bearcats in 1959, Barber scored 42 touchdowns and converted 17 extra points. A three-sport athlete, he was also an All-State catcher for the Bearcats baseball team and an All-State sprinter for the Bearcats track team.

Saturday, Barber talked about the many positive life lessons he learned from Davis.

“We would always have a team meeting at coach Davis’s house the night before a Friday game,” he said. “He would give us all a game plan and he would write little positive messages in the margins, like ‘make good grades,’ ‘respect others’ and ‘be good to your mom and dad.’”