Area standouts, teams, coaches inducted into Missouri Sports HOF

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Three Rivers College men’s basketball coach Gene Bess adresses the crowd during the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo.
SEMO News Service photo/Chris Pobst

For 11 individuals, three programs and two title-winning teams, the honor became official Sunday afternoon, as the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame held its enshrinement for the Class of 2016 at the Show Me Center.

The list of inductees, who all have ties to the Southeast Missouri area, was publicly announced exactly a month earlier in a small room near where the enshrinement ceremony was held. Some were unable to attend the earlier press conference because they lived too far away, but on Sunday, everyone was present.

Former Southeast Missouri State softball coach Lana Richmond, former Notre Dame soccer and basketball coach Brad Wittenborn, former Southeast Missouri State track star Miles Smith, former Redhawks football standout Eddie Moss and the Capahas amateur baseball program were among the people and programs honored at a luncheon.

Other members of the Class 2016 include former Sikeston baseball star Blake DeWitt, former Gideon baseball player Mark Littell, former Charleston and New Madrid County Central basketball coach Lennies McFerren, former Ste. Genevieve football coach Bob Stolzer, Scott County Central boys and girls basketball, the Valle Catholic football program and Dr. Rick Wright, a Sikeston graduate who has worked for three professional sports teams in St. Louis.

Three Rivers College basketball coach Gene Bess received the highest honor, the Legend award, while his 1979 and 1992 national championship teams were also inducted into the hall of fame. Former Missouri basketball standout Joe Scott, a Poplar Bluff attorney, got the President’s Award. Both Bess and Scott had already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Former Sikeston football star James Wilder was unable to attend the ceremony after being involved in an auto accident about three weeks ago, and he will be officially enshrined at a later ceremony, according to MSHOF President and Executive Director Jerald Andrews.

Sunday was the MSHOF’s sixth commencement held away from Springfield, the organization’s home. The honorees all joined about 600 teams, players and coaches already in the Hall of Fame. A short video with narration and insights from friends, players and coaches introduced each inductee. They then got an opportunity to speak from a podium on a raised dais for several minutes.

“This honor is almost overwhelming to me as you can tell,” said an emotional Wittenborn. “... In conclusion, thank you to everyone, and what a thrill it is for me.”

As a boys basketball coach, Wittenborn won the 1986 and 1987 state championships. He transitioned to boys soccer in 1991 and compiled a 268-154-24 record as the coach until 2012. Notre Dame won the state championships in 2002, 2006 and 2007.

Smith was a five-time All-American at Southeast and was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s Male Track Athlete of the Year four times. He even won a gold medal on the United States’ 4x400 relay team in the 2005 IAAF World Championships.

“Every time he stepped out on the track, it seemed like he was running faster and faster and faster,” former teammate Alonzo Nelson said in a video. “I was just amazed by his natural ability to run fast and have fun doing it.”

With Smith leading the way, the Redhawks also enjoyed success as a team. They won the OVC Outdoor championships in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

“He accomplished a whole lot in a short period of time -- a whole, whole lot,” Nelson said. “When we got to SEMO, the boys program wasn’t necessarily known as a winning program. It hadn’t won conference since probably the ‘80s.”

When Southeast hired Richmond in 1981, she was just 23, and it was a Division II program. In the beginning, she even drove the team bus. That all changed, she joked, when she hit a deer on one road trip.

For more than a quarter of the century, Richmond guided the Redhawks. She helped the program complete a successful transition to Division I in 1992 and ended her Redhawks career in 2014 with a record of 884-710-4, including five OVC regular-season and tournament championships.

“We went from a time of being Division II and not even having a field, a locker room or even a good van to travel in -- actually we traveled in what we called the bubble bus to now she has built the program to where they have their own field,” former player Dr. Connie Simmons said in an introductory video. “They have their own locker, and SEMO is one of the best programs that has been built over the years.”

The Capahas are the oldest semi-pro or amateur team in the nation, and for the last 50 seasons, Jess Bolen was the coach. Bolen, who retired earlier this year, spoke on the program’s behalf.

“It’s not about me,” Bolen said. “The only credit I want for anything is I did recognize talent when I seen it, and I was able to put the team on the field in position to succeed. It’s their honor. It’s the team’s honor. It’s Cape Girardeau’s honor to have a team that lasts so long at a high rate of excellence.”

Moss starred at Poplar Bluff before attending Southeast after two years in community college, but growing up, he always wanted to play basketball at Three Rivers for Coach Bess. That changed when the schools desegregated just before his sophomore year. He transferred from the city’s all-black school to Poplar Bluff, where he caught the eye of Mules football coach Jim Lohr.

Moss went on to play for Southeast for two seasons before he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. He ended up playing for the St. Louis Cardinals (football) from 1973-76, and then finished his career playing two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

Bob Stolzer was honored for his time as the football coach at Ste. Genevieve -- from 1989 to 2015 he went 206-94. Stolzer also has ties to the Cape Girardeau area. He was a lineman at Southeast and later a graduate assistant from 1975-76. He was also an assistant coach at Cape Central from 1978-1979.

Scott County Central boys and girls basketball have won a combined 25 state championships, including 18 on the boys side. Former players and coaches were in attendance Sunday, including legendary boys coach Ronnie Cookson.

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