My favorite sports day of the year

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It's almost like Christmas when you were a kid as far as I'm concerned.
One of my favorite sports days of the year is the day following the selection of the Cannon Courier Sports Hall of Fame inductees.
That's the day I get to call all of the inductees to inform them of their selection into the Hall of Fame.
Like kids on Christmas Eve who pester parents until they get to open at least one small gift to give them something to do until the big day, I generally get a couple calls in the night of the selection if possible.
Yes, it could wait until tomorrow but I can't wait.
The anticipation of hearing the excitement, humility and sheer joy on the other end of the phone is what it's all about, and I never am disappointed.
This year's class is loaded with outstanding inductees. I have enjoyed multiple conversations with each but one certainly stands out.
It is most exciting that this class of inductees includes a mother/daughter combination in Gloria (Parker) Stewart and Beth (Stewart) Stark.
Upon calling Gloria the morning following the selection, I informed her who I was and that I was calling on behalf of the Cannon Courier Hall of Fame committee. Before I could say anything more, Gloria said, "Beth made it didn't she?"
Mom was so excited because she thought the call was in regard to daughter Beth.

"She really deserves this," Gloria said. "So, is she in the Hall of Fame?"

I replied, "yes, but the news is even better. You are also being inducted into the Hall of Fame."

There was a brief moment of silence. Gloria was hoping for news that her daughter made it. She wasn't thinking about herself and was caught off guard.

"I can't tell you what this means to me," she said.

It was then I realized how special this particular day is for me. The genuine love from Gloria regarding her daughter was indeed special. That will forever remain one of my favorite calls.

There have been some great conversations through these first four years. I recall talking to Vicky (Todd) Baxter for more than an hour when calling to inform her of being selected in 2012. One could sense she swelled with pride as she talked about teammates and the glory years.

She was humbled.

Never got to talk to Coach Mike Mayfield about his induction into the Hall of Fame due to his untimely passing; however, I always enjoyed talking with him the two previous years about his former players that were inducted.

Each time one of Mayfield's players were selected it was as though he had been selected. He smiled, told a couple stories and quickly turned the conversation to which of his former players should be at the top of the list for the following year.

Long after Mayfield had finished coaching, he still was there fighting for his players.

I believe that's what made Mike Mayfield a Hall of Fame coach. He would be exceedingly proud of this year's football selection, Al Smith. One person probably happier is Bobby Smith, Al's father. He just beams when you mention Al Smith and the Hall of Fame.

The first induction class was loaded in 2011. I vividly recall my talks with Deena Thomas, daughter of inductee Steve Bullard. The crackle in her voice as she talked about her dad is something I continue to hear as I think about Hall of Famers. Bullard has passed away months earlier.

Talking to Julie Powell for the first time in 20 years was certainly a treat. If there is going to be a Hall of Fame in Cannon County, you can rest assured Julie Powell is going to be in it. She was in that first induction class in 2011 and accepted with the same grace and humility she displayed as an athletes representing Cannon County.

I learned Coach Robert A. Harris doesn't like to talk about himself. Since I figured that out, I just talk to him about his former players. He can talk about them for days. I've come to enjoy every talk I am fortunate to have with Robert A. Harris. He is a wealth of knowledge and has such passion for his players and Lionette basketball.

Talking with Tom Dillard was special. I talked with him several times throughout last spring regarding the Hall of Fame. Dillard was one of the best. Period! He also played during a difficult time as our country was coming to term with race relations. Dillard has an opportunity to become the first African American scholarship athlete to attend college at Mississippi, but opted to get married and begin a career.

What stands out about Dillard is the respect of which he spoke when talking about former players and coaches. He never talked about race. He never talked about having it tough. He just cherished the good times and appreciated that he was selected to be a Hall of Famer.

How can you not talk about the contributors? Arna Smithson, Harold Patrick, Teddy Taylor and, now, Bill Smith represent the first four to enter the Hall of Fame in that category. I truly appreciate the humility and pride displayed by these men. They didn't contribute to become Hall of Famers. They did it because they care.

That's what makes their contributions to sports even greater.

It seems the quality all 22 selections share is humility.

This writer is humbled each time he has the opportunity to speak with them.

I'm already looking forward to next year's calls.

(Tony Stinnett is sports editor for The Cannon Courier. He is a three-time Tennessee Sports Writer of the Year.)


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