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Americus-Sumter set for inaugural Hall of Fame induction

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AMERICUS -- Americus and Sumter County is filled with tradition in sports.

From seven high school football championships at Americus High to NFL players to difference-makers in the community, six people will be recognized Saturday at the 2011 Extravaganza Gala & Athletic Honors Program at Georgia Southwestern's Storm Dome.

Jimmy Hightower, Alton Shell, Dan Reeves, Chan Gailey, Kent Hill and Victor Green will be the first class inducted into the Americus-Sumter County High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

"I think it's long overdue," Americus-Sumter athletic director and head football coach Michael Pollock said. "We have a lot of things that need to be recognized so people won't forget. With a place that is as tradition-rich as this place, this is something we need to have."

Members of the Americus-Sumter County Schools Athletic Alumni Association selected the class. Pollock said the specific criteria for being nominated and selected is still being ironed out, but this first class was easy to pick.

"These six didn't need any credentials," he said. "Coach Shell and coach Hightower have been a part of this community for so long. You can't mention Americus High School anywhere in Georgia and those two names don't come up. Without those two individuals, Americus football would not be what it's been known for. Those two guys led the charge."

Organizer Dr. Shirley Green-Reese, a Sumter High School grad and former Albany State athletic director (Associate A.D. from 90-93, and A.D. from 1993-98), couldn't agree more.

"This is something that folks tried to get started two years ago and it never happened, but it's something a town like this that's so rich in athletic history and culture truly needs," Reese said. "We're so very excited with this being our first year, and we plan to do it every year in the future. It's the start of something big for Americus-Sumter."

Hightower coached the Panther football team from 1960-1970, compiling a 101-16-4 record, which included undefeated seasons and state championships in 1962 and 1965.

Shell took over for Hightower, leading the Panthers during the next 20 seasons and compiling a 169-66-1 record. His 1974-75 teams finished 14-0, claiming another two state titles.

Reeves and Gailey both played for Americus and have gone on to be successful coaches. Reeves played in the NFL from 1965-1972 and has been a head coach for the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

He led the Broncos to three Super Bowl appearances (1986-87, 1989) and the Falcons to one (1998).

Both Reeves and Gailey played quarterback in college -- Reeves at South Carolina and Gailey at Florida. Gailey has been head coach at Samford, Troy and Georgia Tech as well as an NFL head coach for Dallas and now, Buffalo.

Hill played at Georgia Tech and then in the NFL from 1979-87 with the Los Angeles Rams and Houston Oilers. He started 114 of 132 games on the offensive line and made five Pro Bowl appearances.

Green played at Akron and then 11 seasons in the NFL with the New York Jets, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints. He scored three defensive touchdowns in his career and was named to the New York Jets All-Time Four Decade Team.

The weekend's events will start with a meet-and-greet on Friday from 4-8 p.m. at the John Pope Technology Center at South Georgia Technical College. Then the gala and honors program on Saturday will include the Hall of Fame inductions.

Tickets are $15 for Friday and $25 for Saturday. Pollock said it will be a big weekend for all athletics in Americus and Sumter County.

"You can get out and rub elbows with classmates and people you haven't seen in a long time," he said. "Saturday night will be a culmination and celebration of accomplishments within the school system, particularly the six individuals that will be recognized.

"Athletics and extracurricular activities -- they have to have donations and community support, with a physical presence and financial support. If you got every person that graduated from one of the high schools that played sports to donate $1, we'd have more money than we'd know what to do with. We want to reach out and be more accessible to people being able to give.

"A lot of times, people want to give and don't know how to give. We've had a great response so far."