SEMO coaches, players cherish entry into Missouri Sports HOF

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
SEMO News Service photo/Fred Lynch Coach Gene Bess of Three Rivers College speaks Thursday during a news conference at the Show Me Center for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement, which will take place Nov. 6 at the Show Me Center.

In a small room on the first floor of the Show Me Center, Southeast Missouri sports royalty gathered at rectangular tables situated around a podium. The players and coaches were in town Thursday for a press conference announcing the area's 2016 inductees into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

Former Southeast Missouri State softball coach Lana Richmond, former Notre Dame soccer and basketball coach Brad Wittenborn, former Southeast track star Miles Smith, former Redhawks football standout Eddie Moss, the Capahas amateur baseball program and Scott County Central boys and girls basketball programs were among the honorees unveiled Thursday in front of a crowd of friends and family.

Other honorees included former Sikeston baseball star Blake Dewitt, former Gideon baseball player Mark Littell, former Sikeston and Missouri football standout James Wilder, former Charleston and New Madrid County Central basketball coach Lennies McFerren, former Ste. Genevieve football coach Bob Stolzer, the Valle Catholic football program and Dr. Rick Wright, a Sikeston graduate who has worked for three St. Louis professional sports teams.

Three Rivers College basketball coach Gene Bess will receive the highest honor, the Legend award, said the Hall of Fame's President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews. Bess will be the 33rd person to receive the award. His 1979 and 1992 teams, which won the National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship, will also be honored. Joe Scott, a Poplar Bluff attorney who starred for Missouri basketball, rounds out the 16 recipients. He will receive the President's Award.

All those present at the press conference got an opportunity to speak Thursday, and many were still processing the good news. They will be enshrined Nov. 6 at a ceremony held in the Show Me Center and will join approximately 600 teams and players in the Hall of Fame, according to Andrews.

"I'm still on cloud nine," Moss said after the event. "It is a great honor, and as I said earlier, I had been to a couple of them because a couple of my friends had got inducted into the Missouri Hall of Fame. But you really don't realize how special it is until your name gets called."

Moss was the Redhawks' top rusher in 1970 and 1971 and scored 16 combined touchdowns in those two seasons. He later played for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973-1976 and helped the Cardinals advance to the playoffs for three straight years as a blocking back. A 1967 graduate of Poplar Bluff, Moss finished his NFL career with the Washington Redskins. In high school, he earned all-conference honors on offense and defense in 1966, as the Mules finished 9-0. He then attended community college in Iowa for two years before joining Southeast.

Richmond coached softball for 32 seasons at Southeast and compiled an 885-710-2 record as the Ohio Valley Conference's winningest coach. Under Richmond, the Redhawks won five OVC regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament five times, including the first-ever semifinal appearance in 1991. Four of the national tournament appearances came at the Division II level.

The Redhawks also excelled in the classroom under Richmond's guidance. For six years in a row, her team ranked in the top 10 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association academic rankings and, in 2002, had the second-highest GPA in the nation. Richmond brought a former player to the press conference Thursday, Alex Ramirez-Powell. She is currently studying to be a physician assistant.

"To me, she's just the epitome of someone that you have that perseverance as an athlete," Richmond said. "She's had this perseverance in her future. Three young children, finishing up PA school and working. So I was really proud to bring her with me today."

At Notre Dame, Wittenborn led the Bulldogs to five Class 2 state titles, two in boys basketball and three in boys soccer. A teacher in the math and science departments for 39 years, Wittenborn had a 110-60 record in basketball and led the Bulldogs to consecutive state titles in 1986 and 1987.

Wittenborn took over the boys soccer program in 1991 and complied a 368-154-24 record in 21 years. He guided the Bulldogs to state championships in 2002, 2006 and 2007 and is already in the hall of fame at Notre Dame and the Missouri High School Soccer Coaches Association.

"It's very humbling," said Wittenborn, who still teaches a class at Notre Dame. "I was just lucky. I was at a great school with a lot of support and great kids -- had some really good assistant coaches."

While Smith wasn't at the press conference Thursday, he will be at the ceremony in November. Smith was a three-time All-American in the 400-meter run and earned four OVC Male Track Athlete of the Year awards. He won a gold medal at the 2005 World Championships as part of the 1,600-meter relay team and qualified for the USA Olympic Trials in 2008 and 2012. Today, Smith is an assistant coach with Memphis track and field.

With the Legend Award, Bess will be in the same company as former MLB stars Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith and George Brett, among others. Bess is the winningest coach in college basketball history with a 1,231-360 record and is a two-time NJCAA Coach of the Year. Along with the exclusive award, a bronze bust in Bess' likeness will be installed on the Legends Walkway outside of the Hall of Fame.

Bess will begin his 47th season as athletic director and men's basketball coach at Three Rivers in November.

"That's beyond what I've ever had happen to me," Bess said. "This is of course the greatest honor I've ever had and probably ever will have."

Sporting a combined 25 state championships, the SCC boys and girls basketball programs will be enshrined Nov. 6. The boys have won 18 state titles since 1976, including undefeated teams in 1988 and 1991. The girls program claimed seven titles in a 14-year period as well.

"Basketball is so deep-rooted in our community," SCC athletic director and boys basketball coach Matt Cline said. "Sometimes our girls don't get the recognition that some of us believe they deserve. For all the girls and the boys to be honored leaves you speechless."

The Capahas baseball program began in 1894, and Jess Bolen, who retired earlier this year after 50 years as manager, spoke on behalf of the program Thursday. Bolen had an 1,519-411 record and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011.

"I'm so impressed, and I'm so proud that my team was honored," Bolen said in his remarks. "Without the talent, you aren't going to win."

His wife, Mary, attended Thursday's press conference as well.

"All the years I coached, I never had an assistant," Jess said. "If I didn't have her doing all the things she's done over the years, there's no way I would have stayed with it."

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