VALDOSTA –– After great athletic careers, legacies players leave behind are remembered long after their playing days are done.
Nine former Valdosta Wildcats athletes were inducted into the VHS Wildcat Hall of Fame at the VHS Performing Arts Center Saturday night.
Among the inductees was the late David Waller Sr. Waller’s wife Sharon, accepted the Hall of Fame plaque in his honor.
Waller served as a member of the VHS Touchdown Club for over 50 years. During this time, the Touchdown Club became the backbone for the Wildcats’ football program. Waller spent countless hours and years raising money for the Wildcats program, which allowed players to attend many football camps, helped cover travel costs for the team and equipment for the program. Waller also served 22 years on the Valdosta Board of Education and held many offices on that board. In 1993, Waller received the Businessman of the Year Award for the state of Georgia from then-governor Zell Miller.
In 2004, Bazemore-Hyder Stadium was rebuilt and the Wildcat Museum was established by Waller as a place for fans to come and see all the history of the Wildcats’ legendary program. To this day, that museum bears the name, The David S. Waller Museum at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium.
Next up was former Wildcat great Charles Daniels was honored. In 1970, Daniels became a pioneer as the first black team captain in program history. Daniels was a six-time Player of the Week and American Insurance Player of the Year. Daniels started all four years at halfback for the Wildcats and also played many other positions including inside linebacker, middle linebacker, safety, cornerback, quarterback, kick returner and fullback. Daniels was a member of the 1969 Wildcats state and national championship team and played for legendary coach Wright Bazemore. Over his career, Daniels earned the nickname, “Night Train” for his dominating and powerful running style.
A highlight of the ceremony was a tearful, inspirational speech by former Wildcat defensive end and center Paul Hogan, who played for the Wildcats from 1997-2000.
“Nick Hyder used to say, ‘Run 100 feet. Think you can’t run another one, and then run one more,’” Hogan began. “You’ve got to have a little pain to improve, you can’t cheat greatness. Understand that everything matters. There’s way more grind than shine. If you put the work in, it starts in your mind –– about the attitude you choose regardless of your circumstances.”
Going into his junior year at Valdosta, Hogan went through camp and his first game as a starting defensive end. The following Monday morning, Hogan stepped out of bed and couldn’t walk because his shins felt like they were broken. That summer, Hogan had been training with shin splints and the pain he felt when he got out of bed was his shins eventually fracturing. He was put on anti-inflammatory medications and four weeks later, Hogan returned to the field. After three days of practicing in full pads, Hogan noticed bruises all over his arms and his forehead was purple from the friction of his helmet.
Days later, Hogan was showering when he noticed broken blood vessels all over his body. As it turned out, Hogan later found out his blood platelet count had dropped to 9,000 –– the average person has 150,000-300,000. Platelets are meant stop the bleeding. Hogan was told by his doctor that it was a wonder he was still alive after going through three days of practice. At first, it was feared Hogan had developed leukemia but it was later diagnosed as an allergic reaction to the medications he was taking.
Hogan’s parents slept on the floor in the hospital and Hogan recalls telling them, “If God did not take me, he must have something planned for me.”
“I could’ve pouted and said, ‘I quit’,” Hogan continued. “But I had to control my attitude no matter the circumstances.”
During his college recruitment, Hogan was told by schools that he was too small and too slow.
“Other people’s opinions do not define me,” Hogan said. “A moment where you make a bad decision does not define you. Allow your experiences to shape you and develop you. Telling me I couldn’t do something just fueled the fire. Focus on what you can control and just how hard that you’re willing to work.”
Hogan persevered and earned a scholarship to Alabama. Hogan credits former coach and Hall of Fame committee chairman Jerry Don Baker for getting the most of him during his playing career. In college, Hogan had two more knee scopes, a sprained MCL, a stress fracture in his back and seven concussions as well as multiple dislocations and broken fingers.
“But a struggle is a chance to grow,” Hogan said. “It’s a mindset, because everybody will have failures and struggles. God gave me this body, I just had to provide the can-do attitude. Being a Christian gives you so much freedom. The saying, ‘The best warriors die before they go into battle’ is so true. ... Look forward to being uncomfortable and being challenged because that’s when you’re getting better. No one is ready-made –– sometimes it takes a while.”
Hogan currently serves as the Senior Assistant Football Strength & Conditioning Coach for the reigning NCAA College Football National Champion Clemson Tigers.
Represented by VHS Athletics secretary Tracy Jackson on her behalf, the late Ernestine Jackson was one of two female inductees to join the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Jackson began working for the Valdosta City Schools System as a lunchroom worker at VHS in 1975. Jackson became a staple with the football program for the Feed the ‘Cats initiative, spending countless hours preparing meals as the team cook for the ‘Cats. She cooked for the team for all their camps and after practices, sometimes starting at 4 a.m. and cooking until well after midnight and then getting back to work the next day.
Tracy Jackson began her speech quoting the lyrics to the song, “Let the Life I’ve Lived Speak for Me.”
“‘May the life I live speak for me, May the life I live speak for me, when I’m resting in my grave there’s no words to be said. Let the work I’ve done speak for me,” Tracy Jackson said to the crowd. “Wildcat family, the work that Ernestine Jackson has spoken for her tonight.”
The other female inductee was Roseziner Jackson, who starred on the track team, basketball team and cheerleading squad for the Wildcats from 1978-81. Jackson led the Wildcats to consecutive state championships in women’s track in 1979 and 1980. Jackson was a region and state champion in the long jump, mile relay and the 440 relay. Her accomplishments include numerous titles in the 100-yard dash and the 220-yard dash. Jackson was voted Most Outstanding Track Athlete and was an All-American Honorable Mention Athlete in 1981. Jackson won the cheerleading award for football, was co-captain of the cheerleading team for basketball and played basketball as a freshman and junior.
As a student-athlete, Jackson was also a Senior Superlative and a member of the student council.
“I’d like to thank my teammates,” Jackson said. “Without them, none of this would be possible. As I reflect on my years as a member of the first Valdosta High girls track team, I recall Coach Jerry Don Baker teaching us traits such as: being on time for practice, working as a team and keeping our eyes on the finish line. At track meets, he would shout, ‘Go Zing Zing, go!”
Following Jackson was O.D. Netter Jr. After starting his career as a wide receiver for the ‘Cats, Netter moved to the defensive side of the ball at safety in 1971. Under Bazemore, Netter and the ‘Cats won the region championship, the South Georgia championship, the state championship and the national championship –– cementing the legacy of the 1971 team as perhaps the greatest VHS football team of all-time. After football, Netter moved to Fitzgerald to serve as vice chairman of the county commission and other ventures in the community.
Netter Jr. was presented by Hall of Fame committee member Alvin Payton, with whom he shared a story about.
“We’ve been friends for years,” Netter said of Payton. “He was laying carpets, I was flipping hamburgers –– neither of us intended to play football for Valdosta High School. But Coach Bazmore pulled us into his office and said, ‘Ya’ll are gonna play football or you’re gonna get an F’. ... I’ve been blessed all my life. I remember a lot of things that went on at that time –– the ‘71 Wildcats was the best team ever in high school. I tried to get Denzel Washington to play me. I had opportunities in my life to do a lot of different things.”
After Netter, Lynn Roberts was honored. A four-year starter at defensive back for the Wildcats from 1976-79, Roberts was selected as defensive captain as a senior and was voted Best Defensive Back. In 1979, Roberts led the ‘Cats to a 14-0-1 season –– netting a region championship and state championship. After his career at Valdosta, Roberts played one season at Livingston University –– now known as the University of West Alabama –– before joining the U.S. Air Force, where he retired after 20 years of service in the armed forces. Roberts was awarded the Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Outstanding Unit Award in his military career.
The final two inductees were James Wakefield and Cecil Whitehead.
Wakefield began his career at VHS as a freshman in 1981 as a special teams player. During his sophomore year, Wakefield saw his playing time increase as he moved to the defensive line –– which became Wakefield’s claim to fame. During that year, Wakefield won the Dynamite Goodloe Most Improved Award. Wakefield was a prominent player on the 1981, 1982 and 1984 region championship teams and the 1982 state championship team. In 1984, as a senior, Wakefield helped lead the ‘Cats to a perfect 15-0 season where the team won both a state and national championship. Wakefield also starred on the wrestling team, where he won three region titles.
Whitehead starred as a three-sport athlete at VHS –– playing baseball, football and basketball for the ‘Cats from 1972-75. In baseball, Whitehead was named Most Valuable Player from 1973-75 and made the All-Region team during those years as well. In basketball, Whitehead was an MVP and All-Region selection in 1974 and 1975. As a football player, Whitehead was named Most Outstanding in 1974 and an All-Region performer. After graduating, Whitehead attended Valdosta State University where he became an All-American and All-Conference player for the Blazers. In 1978, Whitehead led Division II in home runs and RBIs. Whitehead went on to play Major League Baseball for the Baltimore Orioles for two years before enjoying a long, fruitful career in Major League Softball –– winning 25 national championships during his career and was named National Softball Player of the Year in 1990.
Following the event, Hall of Fame committee chairman Jerry Don Baker spoke of what brining back the Hall of Fame meant to him.
“Well, what this means to me is that this Hall of Fame was lost for a long time,” Baker said. “I took it on myself to talk with the Touchdown Club and said, ‘Look, we need to bring this back.’ I didn’t want it to die. We have too many great athletes that come out of Valdosta High School that we need to get in the Hall of Fame. We’ve got to start somewhere so we formed our committee and worked hard at raising the funds to put this on and I’m just proud of the way it turned out. I’m proud of all our inductees –– they all represent Valdosta High School very well and we hope to continue to do this in the future.”