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A Hall of Fame kind of night

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Former Albany High football star Jerry Doyal talked about surrounding himself with great people, which led to his success on the gridiron and in life.

The company he kept Monday at the Albany Civic Center during the induction of the 24th Annual Albany Sports Hall of Fame Banquet would be hard to match.

"I'm surrounded by people right now that are the best Albany has to offer," Doyal said as a member of the 2010 HOF class.

Doyal, who played halfback for the undefeated and state champion Albany High football team in 1959, was joined by Margot Todd Evans, William Steven Heidt, Emarlos Leroy and Charles Jason Willcox, along with an honorary induction of the late Ernest W. Benson, in this year's class of inductees.

Leroy, the proud Monroe High School graduate who later went on to star in football at the University of Georgia and played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, proclaimed this year's class "the greatest ever."

He might have been a little biased, though. Leroy also didn't mince words when he touted Monroe Comprehensive High School "the greatest school in history."

That, of course, started a friendly feud amongst the Westover, Dougherty and Albany High school alumni in attendance.

Although, no one was going to argue with the former defensive and offensive lineman on a night when the inductees, even Leroy, were truly humbled by the city's annual Hall of Fame honor.

Doyal was joined on stage during the ceremony by his former teammate at Albany High, Heidt, who went on to star at the University of Florida.

"You have so many memories and this one is one of the good ones," said Heidt, who also was a member of the Five Man Team that won the Dixie Clown Diving Team Championship two consecutive years.

Evans was honored as a national champion gymnast at Centenary College, where she will also be inducted into the college's hall of fame next month. But it's her career these days, as a Cairo school teacher, that provided her with a message for the young athletes being honored as well during Monday's banquet.

"Be a student athlete," she told those in attendance. "Student comes first, athlete second."

Willcox told the story of how he started riding a bike when he was young alongside his father as he ran. Willcox later started running with him.

"And I had to run from my brother because he was a little bit bigger than me," he joked.

The former Westover High cross country star then ran to national success. He was inducted Monday on the strength of his cross country career at Westover and the University of Georgia, which later led to championships in national triathlons.

"I never thought I'd get this call," Willcox said of the induction. "It's truly special."

And although Benson, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2002 and later died from it, could not be their to accept the award, his two sons told of how proud he would be of the honor. Benson served as a distinguished biology professor, department chairman and President for Academic Affairs at Albany State, but also doubled on the weekend as a referee in the Atlantic Coast Conference starting in 1974, continuing to officiate even after he began chemotherapy for his cancer.

"He wasn't born in Albany, but he never intended on leaving," Benson's son, Rafer, said.

Monday's induction ceremony also honored the Albany Sports Hall of Fame 2009-10 Athletes of the Year from each area high school. They included: Jarvis Hicks (Albany High), Dontavious Brown (Sherwood Christian), Hannah Hughes (Byne Christian), Lakeisha Monique Jackson (Monroe High), Jonta Jones (Westover High), Arabian Williams (Dougherty High) and Tony Zenon (Deerfield Windsor).

Former Auburn All-American and current defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was the guest speaker and welcomed the new inductees into the 2010 Hall of Fame Class.