Not even COVID, several date changes, a venue change and a 16-month delay could dampen the enthusiasm, the applause and the emotions as the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame finally got the chance to induct its 2021 class and honor two years’ worth of student scholars at Berry College’s Krannert Center on Saturday evening.
On a night that saw lots of laughter, a few tears and several standing ovations, the final hall of fame inductee of the evening, Brian Smith, might have best summed up the overall feelings when he accepted his induction plaque.
“There is something that I heard Vince Lombardi say that I use as my mantra. I even did a sermon about it. He focused on excellence. He said nobody is perfect, no team is perfect. He wasn’t a perfect coach. But he said if you pursue perfection enough, you might just catch excellence,” Smith said. “I encourage everybody here, especially the student athletes in the room to strive to be excellent and don’t ever settle for average. That’s why Tim, Lee-Anda, Chris, Lee and myself are in the hall of fame. We all chose not to settle for being average. Instead we all ran until we got hold of something called excellence.”
The 2021 class includes Tim Garrett, Lee-Anda Hutchens, Chris Jones, Lee Mitchell and Brian Smith. The class was originally unveiled in the Fall of 2020, but COVID and venue changes forced several delays.
The delays failed to dampen the event’s spirit though as the five inductees were honored as well as 28 local high school scholar athletes who received the Rome Orthopaedic Center Pinson Family Athletic Scholarships. This year marked the 22nd year the scholarships have been given to a male and female student athlete from each local high school and all told more than $85,000 has been given in scholarship money.
Because there was no banquet last year, the students from 2021 and 2022 were all announced at the banquet on Saturday evening.
The list of students includes: Hannah Dellis, Caleb Hammond, Kameron Parker and Delany Steen from Armuchee, Addie Blake, Terry Curry, Johan Alvarez and Emma Payne from Coosa, Tanya Maples, Luke Lewis, Landon Liddle and Sarah Tunnell from Darlington, Ellie Getchel, Pierce Fincher, Braxton Sims and Jessie Schroeder from Model, Jacey Blanton, Thomas Vincent, Jon Shields and Ellie Cox from Pepperell, Abby Payne, Bryant Wilkinson, Isaac Vardy and Lucia Loarca-Garcia from Rome and Anne Marie Plant, Drew King, Bailey Parks Mohler and Tiffany Creel from Unity Christian.
After honoring the students, the ceremony switched to the newest hall of fame class. Master of ceremonies Bob Berry read out a short list of the inductee’s achievements. The inductee then had someone introduce them with a few words before they received their plaques.
Garrett, who starred at East Rome High School and Emory College on the basketball courts, was introduced by his high school coach Andy Akin, who is also a member of the hall of fame.
Akin recounted a key moment from a big game between East Rome and Central Carrollton. During Garrett’s time at East Rome, the Gladiators met Central-Carrollton in the region title game three consecutive years. In Garrett’s senior year, the game went into triple overtime and several key players for East Rome had fouled out, leaving Akin with no other choice than to sub in a junior varsity player with almost no varsity experience.
“When the player went in the game, Tim pulled him aside and told him just give me the ball. He did and Tim won the game that night. That’s the kind of player Tim was,” Akin said.
But Akin said Garrett is far more than the stats or the records.
“The thing about Tim Garrettt is that all of his honors are great, but he is so much more than just those honors,” Akin said. “It is my honor to have coached him. I kind of tear up when I think about it. It was 40 years ago. What I most admire about Tim is the man that he has become.”
When accepting his honor, Garrett turned to his family, who occupied almost four tables, and thanked them for being his support.
“What I would like to say to all the young ones is, it’s so important to be able to find good people to talk to and to mentor you. When I think about my coaches, I don’t just think of them as coaches but as family. Forty years later, I still talk to my coaches. Not just about sports but about family, health and life,” he said. “I’m blessed to have my family here. My grandmother is over there all the way down to my niece’s baby. This entire path, they’ve been behind me, and I’m so blessed to have them.”
Hutchens dominated the basketball court at Model High and then Berry College, and her high school coach Martha Hufstetler introduced her.
“I had just finished up at Berry playing basketball and getting my degree, and I got the job at Model. I was bit nervous but God played a factor, because he sent me Lee-Anda Hutchens and that made my career a lot more illustrious,” she said. “She was the complete athlete. She had speed, she could jump and she had innate ability that she used to the best of her ability. Perhaps the thing that separated her from other athletes was her tremendous work ethic. Nobody worked harder than her. She always came in with her game face on even in the offseason.”
When taking the stage, Hutchens took a second or two before speaking to soak in the moment. Her big smile flashed as she spoke.
“It’s a surreal moment for me. I feel like I’ve come full circle here at Berry College and being inducted into the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame, because it’s like being at home for me. When I was playing, I didn’t envision this night, and I definitely didn’t envision this honor. I just really wanted to always win,” she said. “The thing that made all the difference for me was the support from my teammates, my coaches and my family. I didn’t have a lot growing up, but being able to have that amazing support made all the difference for me.”
Jones starred at both Coosa High and Carson Newman before playing for several years with the Dallas Cowboys. His dad, Mike Jones, mentioned a couple of things that probably helped his son achieve his dreams.
“One day Chris was at Coosa Middle School watching his older brother practice football. There was a football on the sidelines, and he picked it up and he started kicking it. From that time on, that was all he ever wanted to do,” he said. “When he was in the second grade, like most young boys, he told us he was going to play in the NFL. My wife told him to make sure he had a Plan B, but I’m pretty sure he never had a Plan B. He worked hard at Coosa, and did well at Carson Newman. But Chris isn’t one to look at the record books. He never wanted the fame, he just wanted to play. When he got the call from the Dallas Cowboys in 2011, he never looked back.”
Jones, appropriately enough wearing a cowboy hat, spoke about that drive to always compete and working hard playing a big role in his success.
“Growing up with my brother, he’s seven years older than me. We’d go play basketball, and I got swatted a few times. I was just trying to find a way to do things. I could run around him real quick and get a steal and maybe go get two points and not get completely washed. I think that was my biggest thing. I was hard headed, and I wanted to do something. I wasn’t going to let anybody or anything tell me no,” Jones said. “To be selected for this honor and to be able to share the stage with this group of athletes is humbling. More importantly the other inductees are great people and true Romans.”
Mitchell, who starred for Pepperell and the University of Georgia in baseball before playing several years for the Florida Marlins’ farm system, was introduced by his sister, Katie Thomas.
“Growing up as the sister of two phenomenally talented brothers, I spent a lot of days, weekends and evenings growing up at baseball fields all over the state. I had a front-row seat for all of Lee’s accomplishments and accolades,” she said. “Even though Lee has held titles like MVP, All-Star and All-American for most of his life, his most cherished titles are husband, dad to three girls, son, brother and coach,” she said.
She recounted how Mitchell took over the coaching reigns for Unity Christian’s middle school baseball team this year and managed to take a squad that not many people thought would maybe even win a game and advance all the way to the league championship.
Mitchell began his acceptance speech telling everyone he’s an emotional guy, and that he wouldn’t talk long.
“Thank you to everyone here and all of these other athletes. I had a privilege to know a few of you growing up. Thank you for my family for coming, and for my coaches. I know a lot of you are here. Thank you guys for being good role models,” he said.
Mitchell paused for a few moments, cleared his throat and told everyone that if he didn’t stop he wasn’t going to be able to make it through the rest as the crowd rose with one of several standing ovations from the night.
Smith, who starred at Pepperell and UAB before briefly playing football in the NFL, was introduced by his mother, Cynthia Smith, who talked about her son’s imagination serving as huge force in driving him to succeed.
“His dad was his number one fan and he would cheer him on. The harder Brian pretended to be a NFL player, the more it sparked his imagination. Sometimes he would be Emmitt Smith, sometimes he would be Jerry Rice. He came up to me one day and said mom I’m going to be a cowboy one day. I told him that was great,” she said. “Finally his dad came to me and said you realize he means he’s going to be a Dallas Cowboy right? So I realized I had to step my game up and become more interested in his game.”
Smith related a few stories including one that reinforced the meaning of hard work for him at a young age.
“As a freshman I didn’t know if I was going to get a chance to play with my brother. He came to me that year (his senior year) and told me this is my last year, and I want to play with you. But he messed up. He got in trouble. But he showed me something. That no matter how much you mess up, there is always hope for change,” Smith said. “As a punishment, he ran a mile after practice every day in full gear in 100-degree weather in order to earn his spot back on the team. He did it to get to play with me. That meant a lot to me.”
The event ended with Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Director Todd Wofford reminding everyone that sports start at a young age and that several of the inductees began playing sports with the recreation department. He thanked the five inductees and the student athletes for being great.
The next Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame banquet is tentatively set for late February or early March 2023. The 2023 induction class will be announced in the fall.