By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The first ever St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame Class was officially inducted at an enshrinement ceremony at Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center Sunday.
The class is comprised of 10 individuals, one team and a Special Olympics Athlete of the Year.
Officially created last November, the St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame recognizes individuals, families and teams that have made a significant impact on sports history in Buchanan County.
The inductees were carefully selected from a large pool of candidates by the St. Joseph Sports Commission, led by chairman Brett Esely.
To be eligible for selection, the individual must have been born in Buchanan County, must have made their sports career or accomplished their feat in Buchanan County or must be contributing to sports in Buchanan County at the present time.
The class includes Lafayette High School graduate and legendary Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder, Benton graduate, Nebraska football legend and former Carolina Panther Mike Rucker, MLB veteran and Central alum Byron Browne, along with two-time Olympic team weightlifter and Benton alum Wes Barnett.
"I want to thank my friends, my family and my teammates," Barnett said. "Really the city of St. Joseph who has always been behind me and supporting me along the way."
Snyder, who retired from coaching at Kansas State in the 2018 season, is also a College Football Hall of Fame inductee. Of all of the accolades and honors Snyder has accumulated over his historic and illustrious career, he says being honored by his hometown this way is the best award he's ever received.
He especially thanks his mother, Marionetta, who raised him in a one-room St. Joseph apartment.
"St. Joe has been so prominent in my life," Snyder said. "I was born here and raised here. And I think about, as you do, people who are truly special in your life. I think it's so neat that you're having this (Hall of Fame). I look at this wonderful group of people here and congratulate each and every one of you."
Also included is Charlie Burri, Missouri Western’s First Athletic Director, Newt Hillyard, the Founder of the Hillyard Companies, Julius Hochman, Father of Boys' Baseball in St. Joseph, two-time Olympic gymnastics medalist Terin Humphrey, Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Henry Iba and softball pioneer Cheri Kempf.
"There's a lot of value in celebrating folks from St. Joseph who have made an incredible impact in sports," said Kempf, who was a 1980 state softball champion at Mid-Buchanan and three-sport athlete at Missouri Western. "Brett (Esely), thanks for hanging in there with me and getting all of the details locked up. And the (selection) committee, I celebrate you. You have a great future in front of you."
The team chosen for the 2021 Hall of Fame Class was the Meierhoffer/St. Jo Frontier Casino Fast Pitch Softball Team from 1997-2003 - a team that won four national titles during that time.
The Special Olympics Athlete of the Year included in the class is Mike Grossman, who medaled in track and field during the 1999 special Olympics.
The Sports Commission had 25 total nominees for its inaugural class. The inductees were selected by an anonymous selection committee.
Every class will include a maximum of 10 individual inductees, and those who aren't inducted are automatically put into a pool of consideration for the next five years.
Anyone can nominate an athlete or team for the St. Joseph Sports Hall of Fame by getting in contact with the St. Joseph Sports Commission.
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