VALDOSTA — Valdosta High School has had a lot of great athletes over the years. Enough now for its own Hall of Fame.

The Valdosta Sports Hall of Fame will induct its first class on Thursday. Seventeen former Wildcats will go into the Hall on that evening.

The ceremonies will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the James H. Rainwater Convention Center.

“This event is designed to recognize the contribution Valdosta individuals have made to the rich athletic tradition our community is known for,” said a statement released by the Valdosta Touchdown Club, the sponsor of the event.

The inaugural members of the Valdosta Sports Hall of Fame class are: Buck Belue (Valdosta High Class of 1978), John Bond (1980), Coleman Rudolph (1989), Alton Hitson (1991), Keith Middleton (1977), Lisa Jones Thomas (1980), John Robert O’Neal (1954), Gary Rowe (1973), Dana Brinson (1985), John Lastinger (1979), Todd Peterson (1988), Greg Talley (1987), Libby Carter Deavours (1954), Paul McNeal (1954), John Porter (1984), Willie Webb (1953) and Foy Norwood (1964).

How impressive is this Hall of Fame class? Of the 17 inductees, 15 were All-State, and nine were All-Americans, either at Valdosta or in college. Rudolph was All-America in both high school and college, and Thomas was a two-time All-American at VHS.

“This is a very impressive list of former Wildcats, and a very deserving list,” Hall of Fame committee chairman Doug Henderson said. “You can look at this list, and honestly, every one of these people deserves to be in there.”

From 1978-99, there was a Valdosta-Lowndes County Sports Hall of Fame, sponsored by the Valdosta-Lowndes County Sports Commission and the Valdosta Boys and Girls Club. In that Hall, athletes from all schools in Valdosta and Lowndes County were included. This Hall will be for former Valdosta High athletes only.

“We feel this is a good time to start the Hall of Fame again,” committee member David Waller said. “We have 17 inducted for the first year, because there are so many that deserve it now. Next year, we’ll have 10 or so.

“From 1978-1999, practically all of the people that were in there were Valdosta people. Maybe all but about 15 out of 110.”

All of the former Wildcats inducted into the Valdosta-Lowndes County Sports Hall of Fame during its 22-year existence have automatically become Valdosta Sports Hall of Famers. Each Hall of Famer who played for Valdosta has his plaque hanging in the Valdosta Wildcat Museum, located at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium. The Class of 2007’s plaques have now been hung (the inductees will each get their own matching plaque).

But there are still a lot of Valdosta athletes waiting to be inducted.

“There is not one player in the Hall of Fame who played for Coach (Nick) Hyder. It’s all guys who played for Coach (Wright) Bazemore and before him,” Waller said. “We’re overdue. And there are a lot of guys who played for Bazemore who deserve it.”

Not surprisingly, most of the first class of inductees are former Valdosta football players. Of the 17 athletes, 15 played football for the Wildcats. The only two that didn’t play are the two women. But the committee plans to make this a Hall for all VHS sports, not just football.

“We’re going to make a conscious effort to include other sports, and both men and women. This is not just a football Hall of Fame,” Henderson said. “We’ve had so many great football players, which is why most of our inductees were football players, but we also want to include the other sports.”

Five of the inductees will be second-generation Hall of Famers. Coleman Rudolph’s father (Jack), John Lastinger’s father (Johnny B.), John Robert O’Neal’s father (Lonnie), Libby Carter Deavours’ father (Paul Carter) and Lisa Jones Thomas’ father (Edward Jones) are already in the Hall of Fame.

The initial city-wide sports Hall was discontinued eight years ago due to a lack of funding. But several Wildcat supporters got the idea to start a Hall for former Valdosta athletes, like Valdosta State has.

“We feel that there needs to be a Valdosta Hall of Fame,” Waller said. “There have been a lot of great athletes play for Valdosta, and we feel they need to be honored. Valdosta State has theirs, and I’m sure Lowndes will have theirs one day. We need ours.”

Every Hall inductee will be there, except for Peterson, who is currently doing mission work in Bombay, India.

“I’ve talked to every one of them, and they’re all real excited,” Waller said. “They’ll all be here but Todd Peterson, and his parents will be here to accept for him. Some of them are coming in from out of state. We’ll have a great group of athletes together that night.”

The 17 members of the Class of 2007 were selected by a committee of people, each of whom has been around Valdosta High for many years. They are: Henderson, Jerry Don Baker, Jack Rudolph (a Hall of Famer himself), Marsha Rudolph, Mike Nelson, Vic Ledbetter, Donnie Albritton, Dennis Herrington, Franklin Bailey, James Nolley, Berke Holtzclaw, Waller and Jack O. Howell.

“We had a committee of people that have been around the Wildcats for a lot of years. We went outside the Touchdown Club to get people to help us,” Henderson said. “We felt there was no better place to go than some of the coaches. We felt that no one knows more about Valdosta football than Jack Rudolph, and we got him and his wife, and Coach Baker on the committee. We initially had a list of 51 names, and we narrowed them down to 17.”

To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, an athlete must have stopped playing at Valdosta at least 15 years ago. Thus players from the 1990-91 school year were the most recent eligible this year; next year, players from 1991-92 will be eligible. Coaches must have spent 15 years at the school.

The return of the Hall has gotten plenty of support in the Valdosta area. All of the tickets have been sold (many to corporate sponsors, who purchased tables for the event), and the Convention Center is expected to be packed.

“The community has really backed us on this,” Henderson said. “That was one of our main worries. Hopefully this will bring the Valdosta High community together.

“This is a great way to honor a great group of athletes.”

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