ALBANY - The Albany Sports Hall of Fame ushered in another stellar class Monday and celebrated a milestone with its 25th edition of the city's finest athletes.
Five new inductees headlined a night when the city's Hall of Fame ceremony looked back at its first class in 1987, a group of 15 members that began a tradition of honoring athletic excellence.
Guest speaker Loran Smith started the show with anecdotes from his past as an author, journalist and, of course, a sideline reporter for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and the recipient on the other end of Larry Munson's "Loran, Whataya Got?" each fall Saturday in Athens.
Smith's tales of moonshine and run-ins with famous athletes through the years kicked off a night that celebrated five Albany athletes who went on to accomplish greatness.
Ulysses Wilson was the first black athlete from Albany to sign a professional sports contract, a fourth-round pick by the San Diego Padres in the Major League Baseball Draft, but he remembered Monday at the Civic Center where it all started.
Wilson, who stared at Monroe High School from 1965-67 and went on to shine at Florida A&M, recalled hearing the news from his American Legion Post 512 coach that he would be the starting shortstop. The confidence he gained from then on pushed him to excel, eventually earning an invite to Major League spring training, where he played against Hall of Fame members Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey.
"I always wanted to play like Willie Mays or play with Willie Mays," Wilson said. "One out of two ain't bad."
Mark Williams didn't realize how special winning a national championship with Georgia Southern University football was until he recollected on the achievement in his wiser years. The former Westover High offensive lineman (1991-95) went on to collect a Division I-AA title with the Eagles in 1999 and was a consensus All-American in Statesboro. Now an offensive line coach at Mountain View High in Gwinnett County, Williams urged the young athletes in attendance not to take the opportunities they are given for granted.
"Appreciate what you have now as well as the great town of Albany," Williams said. "You don't realize how special something is until years later."
Gary D. Lee's father taught him early on that extra-curricular activities in sports were just that - "Extra after finishing your school work," he said, remembering a hard lesson learned when sports were taken from him for a bad grade.
Lee, who was born in Warner Robins and is now the city's executive director of redevelopment, was a standout on the gridiron at Westover High in the 1980s and received two scholarships to Georgia Tech, one for football and one for track & field. His 95-yard kickoff return in 1985 that beat Georgia is still the thing of legends on The Flats. Lee embraced Albany as his home Monday night and thanked those who helped him along the way.
"Albany cut my teeth in sports," said Lee, who was later drafted by the NFL's Detroit Lions. "I was fortunate to have example after example of people to look up to. (Albany) played an important role in raising a man."
Missie Milton Brock went toe-to-toe with three brothers growing up in Albany. She took a beating as a young girl, but it made her into a star multi-sport athlete at Albany High from 1975-1978.
"I have three brothers to thank for the bruises and the black eyes," she joked Monday. "It was rough growing up, but in the end they became my biggest sports fans."
She thanked her mother, a music enthusiast, who allowed her to play sports because she "couldn't sit still long enough to play the piano."
Brock would go on to lead a powerful Valdosta State Lady Blazers basketball team and then coached basketball, softball, cheerleading and several other sports throughout the state after graduating. She was named the offensive player of the year and given the Miss Lady Blazer Award in Valdosta, where her team traveled across the country to play the best in the nation.
Judd Biasiotto packed a punch in his 130-pound frame. The Albany powerlifter and bodybuilder has set 101 state records, 47 region records, 23 American records, 16 national records and 14 world records. In 2000, he was named as one of the top fifty lifters of the millennium by Powerlifting USA.
Yet, no one wanted to believe he could do it drug free. People said it was impossible.
"When people say something is impossible, what they're saying is it's impossible for them," said Biasiotto, who is award-winning author and has worked as a sports psychologist with the Kansas City Royals, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cincinnati Reds. "I'm humbled by this award. I don't know if I deserve it, but I'm going to take it."
In addition to the inductions, the star prep athletes of "now" were also honored Monday. The Albany Sports Hall of Fame 2011 Athletes of the Year were Tim Pierce (Albany High); Eugene Watkins (Dougherty High); Jessica Burks (Monroe High); Kyle Pride (Westover High); Kasey Sanders (Byne Christian); Banks Kinslow (Deerfield-Windsor); and Javaz Williams (Sherwood Christian).