“I think it’s amazing to see how many talented individuals come out of our community.”
Bob Berry’s words moments before he began introducing the five newest members of the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame echoed throughout the night, as the five inductees, 20+ current Hall of Fame members attending the banquet and 14 high school seniors took center stage on Saturday evening at Berry’s Krannert Center.
The five newest members of the hall of fame were all introduced by Berry. They then had a friend, family member or coach say a few words about them before they took to the microphone.
Michelle Abernathy Lane won multiple state titles in distance running at Model before competing at Berry. For the Vikings, Lane was a 12-time All-American setting multiple school records in distance events and winning the national title in the marathon.
“One of the things that made Michelle great was that when she sees a teammate, she sees what’s possible. If she has a friend or a teammate going through a hard time, she walks with them and gets them through it. When she sees someone having great success she encourages them,” Paul Deaton, who coached Lane at Berry College, said when introducing her.
Deaton also noted something special about Lane’s national title.
Lane had finished as national runner-up three times in the 5,000 meters to McKendry College’s Sarah Korir and wanted to win the national title. So her senior year she moved up to the marathon distance.
“Michelle ran a 2:58 in South Florida in May. Second place in the event was 15 minutes later. The beautiful moment to me was the very first person to come up and congratulate Michelle was Sarah (Korir),” Deaton said. “She (Sarah) wanted to be their when she won. To me that spoke volumes for Michelle’s impact on teammates and others. She had a way of encouraging everyone to be the best they could be. And I know she continues to do that today.”
When taking the stage, Lane smiled and thanked the crowd.
“I had a lot of really good help, or I wouldn’t be standing here. My mom sitting over there. Everything I ran through whether snow, heat, or rain, she was there cheering me on. She drove to my events no matter how far it was,” Lane said. “I also had a great coach. Honestly, if any of you in this room ran the workouts I had to run in college, you would be fast too.”
West Rome High School football and track stand out Harper Brown, who also played football at Georgia Tech, was the next inductee.
Brown earned all-state honors as a punter and running back at West Rome before punting for Georgia Tech. He also starred on the track in the 100 meters, won a state title, and set the state record in the triple jump. His jump in the triple jump still stands as the fourth best jump in Georgia High School history.
“I met Harper playing junior varsity football and after just two days I realized he was going to be a special player,” Rick Cescutti, a teammate of Browns at West Rome, said when introducing him. “I am going to bring up one game. We were playing East Rome. We were down 20-8 in the fourth quarter with five minutes left. We had to score quickly. We made it to the goal line. They called the play, and Harper said just give me a little bit of room. It seemed like everything was in slow motion. I felt somebody coming off my right shoulder, and then I saw #21 (Brown) in the end zone.”
Brown spoke about how he ended up becoming a punter.
“There was a coach named Nick Hyder. He and his wife kind of took me under their wing. One day at practice, he came up to me and said you look like you have a strong leg. How about taking that bag of balls home with you and just kick around in the playground. Let me know how it turns out,” Brown said. “From that day on I was kicking the ball out of the playground. From then on, I was the starting punter”
While at Rome High, Alex Coville won state swimming titles in the 50 and 100-freestyle. Once at Stanford, Coville earned 19 All-American honors. He was a three-time Pac-10 Champion and an NCAA champion and American record holder.
His dad, Brooks Coville, talked about the NCAA title.
“One race that Beverly (Alex’s mom) and I will always remember watching is the finals of the 200 freestyle relay at the 2011 NCAA Championships. Alex and three teammates swam their hearts and their guts out in an epic battle against the University of California, which is Stanford’s long-time rival,” Brooks Coville said. “The crowd was on its feet and going absolutely crazy. Stanford out touched Cal by .08 seconds winning the event and setting a new American record. For us parents in the stands, it was very exhilarating. As I know it was for Alex and his buddies.”
When taking the stage, Coville thanked his parents for playing a huge role and supporting him when he began swimming.
“I would not be here without the support of my parents. When I showed some early talent in the pool and Rome didn’t have a competitive swim team, my mom started one. When that team found itself without a coach, my dad stepped in to be that coach,” he said. “He would help guide me through the sport until college even though he started out knowing very little about swimming. Any parent who has attended a three-day kids swimming meet knows it’s not the most fun, but I never ever heard a single complaint from my mom or my dad. I’m forever grateful for it.”
Pepperell High’s Sidney Ford was a feared force on the football field, as the tailback helped helm a talented offense for the Dragons. Ford earned all-state honors as a tailback and set yardage and scoring records that still rank among the tops in Georgia High School Football before he went on to play football at Georgia Tech.
“Sidney was a tremendous high school football player on some of the most talented Pepperell teams ever. Sidney had the natural ability to visualize the play before we ran it, the ability to make the right cut at the right time as the play was being blocked and he had the track speed to take it to the house,” David Mathis said when introducing Ford. “During his time, our offense was built around five plays. Everyone knew who was going to get the ball and where we were running it. But that didn’t matter because with Sidney as our featured back and our offensive line play, we were one of the most dominating offensive teams in the state in both scoring and wins.”
When Ford took to the stage, he talked about the impact the Lindale community had on him.
“There were so many different role models in the Lindale community. I was riding my bicycle to practice and someone caught wind of it. They told my neighbor, and they worked to get me rides to practice,” Ford said. “When it comes to an award like this for me it’s literally the community that’s truly the reflection of receiving this award. Without the Lindale community and all the coaches, there is no football for me. There is no hall of fame for me. I’m incredibly grateful and appreciate everything.”
Chad Warner has coached many basketball teams to a lot of victories, conference titles deep runs in postseason tournaments, at Shorter, Flagler and now Furman.
Former Shorter Athletic Director Bill Peterson talked about his impression of Warner when he was just beginning his coaching days.
“The first time I introduced Chad to a Shorter group, I mentioned that my dad had been Florida State’s football coach for several season. When he was there, he had some great assistant coaches. Guys like Bobby Bowden, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells,” Peterson said. “I had an opportunity to meet them all when they were young men, and Chad reminded me of all those guys when they were young. The thing those guys all have in common is they are all hall of famers. I said then that I thought there was a chance Chad Warner could be a hall of famer too. So coach, here we are. Congratulations.”
Warner took the stage having made the drive over from Furman after practice on Saturday as the Paladins are prepping to play Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
“If I’m honest. I’m a bit jealous of the four other inductees. I wanted to be inducted as an athlete. I guess I missed that mark. But for me coaching really has been a calling in my life. I knew in high school if things didn’t work out in the NBA, and they didn’t. I would go into coaching,” Warner said. “Coaches have been the greatest influences in my life. The two best coaches I’ve had were my mom and dad. They have been incredibly supportive and been with me every step of the way. My high school coach Jim Van Es, who is a hall of famer, taught me so much about life and enthusiasm.”
The night began with 14 high school seniors being honored for receiving the Rome Orthopaedic Center Student Athlete scholarships. Those individuals are Shelby Green and Kolby Dempsey from Armuchee, Abby Jacobs and Andrew Holt from Coosa, Sophi Shumate and Braden Bell from Darlington, Morgan Wood and Simon Schabort from Model, Jolie Splendore and Alex Rhoades from Pepperell, Shriya Garg and Cai Sabino from Rome and Abigail Edwards and Wesley Dyer from Unity Christian.
Nominations for the 2024 Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame are open and the committee will meet in early summer to vote on next year’s class. Those wishing to nominate someone need to send the nominee’s name and information supporting the nomination to Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation.