By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
The St. Joseph Sports Commission officially unveiled the 2023 St. Joseph Area Sports of Hall of Fame Class on Wednesday.
The St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame recognizes individuals, families, teams, entities or significant feats/accomplishments that have made a significant impact on sports history in Buchanan County.
To be eligible for selection, the individual or team 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 currently.
The 2023 Hall of Fame Class includes College Football and NFL tight ends Dwayne Blakley and Martin Rucker, Elite Track & Field/Cross Country Runner Ann Marie (Brooks) Chappell, tennis legend Kathleen (Heckman) Winegardner, Olympic Weightlifter Pete Kelley, World Class Amateur Golfer Brad Nurski, High School Coaching Legend Paul “Pop” Springer, NFL assistant coach Chris Tabor, Major League Baseball Pitcher and Coach Jim Wright, the 1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball State Championship team and Special Olympics Area Athlete of the Year Jane Wood.
An anonymous three-person committee selects this Hall of Fame Class. The St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame has been in existence since November 2020.
The committee selected these 10 inductees in a field of 54 nominations.
The 2023 class will be enshrined on Sunday, August 27 at Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center at 5 p.m. with a social hour starting at 4 p.m.
The Second Annual Bill Snyder Woman of Impact Award will be presented again this year at the ceremony by former Kansas State football coach and St. Joseph native Bill Snyder.
The award is named in Coach Snyder’s honor as a tribute to the impact his mother made on his life and also the impact of women in sports in celebration of Title IX.
A limited amount of tickets for the enshrinement event will go on sale in late June for $25 per person. They can be purchased at stjomosports.com.
The enshrinement ceremony is happening a month earlier than normal, because the inaugural St. Joseph marathon comes up Sunday, September 23.
2023 ST. JOSEPH AREA SPORTS HALL OF FAME CLASS BIOS
Dwayne Blakley – College Football and NFL Tight End
Blakley was a three-year letterwinner at Central High School, competing in football, basketball and track. He was selected Second Team All-State his senior year in basketball and he signed to play football at Missouri. Blakley played at Mizzou for four seasons, recording 79 receptions for 868 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was named honorable mention all-Big 12 following the 1999 season. After spending two seasons in NFL Europe, Blakely spent four seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons, appearing in 59 games including nine starts recording 21 receptions including one touchdown. Blakley was inducted as a member of the inaugural Central High School Hall of Fame in 2012.
Ann Marie (Brooks) Chappell – Elite Track & Field/Cross Country Runner
Chappell started her legacy as a three-time All-State cross country runner at Central High School. She won the 4A State title her senior season. On the track, she garnered six more all-state selections and was a record holder in both the 1600 and 3200 runs. She continued her career at Mizzou, and was a four-time Big 12 Conference Champion, earning Academic All-American five times, a NCAA National Championship (2001 indoor medley relay team) and was a four-time All-America performer. Brooks was inducted into the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008 and the inaugural Central High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
Kathleen (Heckman) Winegardner – Area and National Tennis Legend
Winegardner is in rare company locally as one of few area athletes that have ever won four state championships in any sport. Her elite run began in 1978, as she teamed with her sister Mary Ann and won three consecutive doubles titles. She capped off her senior season with a singles title in 1981. She played three seasons for the University of Minnesota, earning All-Big Ten honors in both singles and doubles in 1983. She still holds the record for most doubles victories in a season (36 in 1982-83) and is sixth all-time in singles victories with 33. She played her senior season at the University of Colorado where she competed for a National Championship after winning the Big 8 Championship at #1 singles. Following college, she continued to compete at an elite level, winning the Colorado State Open 11 times and the Denver City Open 6 times. Winegardner is a member of the LeBlond High School Hall of Fame, Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame and the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame.
Pete Kelley – Olympic Weightlifter
Kelley carried the Olympic torch through St. Joseph as it made its way to the 1996 games in Atlanta. Kelley began lifting at the Wesley Center in 1988. Four years later, due to his performance on the Junior World Team, he accepted an invitation to be a resident and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. At the training center, Kelley quickly established himself as not only one of the best lifters in the country, but in the world. He was a three-time member of the Junior World Team including being a United States Junior Champion. In qualifying for the U.S. Pan American games, he won a Gold Medal in the snatch lift and placed third for total Kilos. At age 22, Kelley became the youngest member of the Olympics team at the Atlanta games and broke two American records during the meet - one in the Clean & Jerk and a total weight record, which led to a 14th place finish overall. Following the Olympics, Kelley continued to compete nationally for the next nine years. He was ranked No. 1 in the United States in his weight class in 2004. Pete was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2018.
Brad Nurski – World Class Amateur Golfer
Nurski began his elite career at Benton High School, where he was a four-time MEC Conference Champion. He took his talents to Missouri Western, where he was an All-MIAA selection three times, All-Region twice and became the first MWSU player to qualify for NCAA Regionals as an individual. Nurski was inducted into the Missouri Western Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013. Nurski has owned amateur golf in St. Joseph and beyond for the past two decades. He is a 14-time Fairview Club Champion, 7seven-time St. Joseph Country Club Champion, six-time St. Joseph City Champion and winner of 13 local club invitationals. On the state level, Brad has won 10 Missouri Golf Association Championships, including the prestigious Missouri Amateur three times (2010, 2017, 2018), which led him to twice being named the Missouri Player of the Year. Nurski has competed numerous times nationally and internationally as well including a runner-up finish in the USGA Mid-Amateur in 2014. This past year, Nurski competed for Team USA in the prestigious Concession Cup at The Real Club Valderama in Spain and helped the Americans win in come from behind fashion.
Martin Rucker – College Football and National Football League Tight End
A three-sport start at Benton High School who garnered numerous accolades, Rucker took his talents to Missouri where he started all but one game of his four-year career at the tight end position. He totaled 203 career receptions which ranks second on the all-time career list at Mizzou, which totaled 2,175 yards and 18 touchdowns. His recognitions were many including second-team Freshman All-American, Consensus first-team All-American along with first-team AFCA and AP All-American his senior season. Rucker was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns in which his career spanned five seasons competing on five different teams.
Paul “Pop” Springer – Legendary Three Sport High School Coach
A legend on the south side for more than three decades, Pop was a coach for all seasons, recording a high level of success on the gridiron, the hardwood and the track. He came to St. Joseph from Nebraska in 1925 and quickly became a trailblazing icon in the coaching profession. In his career, he coached 889 contests combined in football and basketball amassing 566 wins (150 football, 416 basketball) and in all three sports. He enjoyed the pinnacle achievement of coaching his teams to compete for a championship which included: Class B Track & Field State Champions in 1928, Track & Field State Runner Up in 1929, Boys Basketball State Champions in 1931 & 1941 and a Football Peanut Bowl Appearance in 1946. As a tribute to his memory and legacy, the gym at Benton High School bears his name.
Chris Tabor – National Football League Coach
A graduate of Benton High School, Tabor was a three-year starter at quarterback for Benedictine, where he graduated from in 1993. He instantly went to work at his high school alma mater as an assistant on the football team. The next season, he joined the junior college ranks as a running backs coach at Hutchinson Community College, then immediately became an offensive coordinator at Central Methodist for two seasons. Tabor then made a big jump to the staff at Mizzou, where he spent three seasons. He was then the head coach at Culver Stockton in 2001 before jumping to the FBS ranks at Utah State for three seasons and then two more at Western Michigan in 2006 & 07. Following the '07 season, Tabor was given a shot in the NFL for the first time, working as Assistant Special Teams Coach for the Chicago Bears Dave Toub, who's now an associate head coach for the Chiefs. Tabor has spent 15 seasons in the NFL working as a Special Teams Coordinator. He's currently in his second season with the Carolina Panthers. Tabor was inducted into the Benedictine Athletes Hall of Fame in 2021.
Jim Wright – Major League Baseball Pitcher & Coach
Wright began his career as a two-sport athlete at Benton High School, where he was a four-year letterwinner on the baseball field and a three year letterwinner on the basketball court. Almost immediately upon graduation, he was selected in the fifth round of the 1973 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. He spent seven seasons in the Phillies farm system, amassing a 65-33 career record, a resume that included throwing two no hitters, winning pitcher of the year at all three levels of the minor leagues and was the Triple-A Cy Young Award Winner. Wright’s chance in the Major Leagues came with the hometown Kansas City Royals, as they selected him the 1980 Rule 5 Draft away from the Phillies. He made 24 appearances for the Royals over the next two seasons, appearing in 23 games recording a 2-3 overall record with a 4.04 ERA and 36 strikeouts. Following his playing days, Wright joined the coaching ranks, spending 32 seasons as a pitching coach at the Triple A and Major League Levels with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. He officially retired in 2014 following 41 seasons in pro baseball.
1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball State Champions
Coming off a runner-up finish in Class 3A a season earlier, the 1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball Team reached the pinnacle achievement the following season, winning a state championship. The Irish finished the season 28-3 and defeated Joplin Memorial High School 87-82. The team was led by Head Coach Mel Clark and Assistant Coach Steve Neff, who used the team’s success the previous season in coming up just one game short as a motivator. The starting five included Jimmy Tillman, Hubert Beattie, Allen Stillman, John Embray and Charlie Brown. Other members of the team included Bob Cobb, Keenan Brockett, Chris Silcott, JC Stanley, Randy Rush, Steve Bundy, Bo Tillman, Greg Lie and managers Steve Shores and Scooter Tillman. Tillman and Beattie were both named first team All-State. Clark was named Coach of the Year.
Special Olympics Area Athlete Of The Year presented by the Hook Family – Jane Wood
Jane’s mother started the Special Olympics program in St. Joseph 45 years ago. Shortly after, she began her journey to SOMO fame. Wood has been a four-sport athlete, competing in softball for more than 25 years. She also competed in swimming and track & field. However it was bowling where Jane established her fame. She attended numerous area and state bowling competitions, bringing home several gold medals over the years. She was key in getting the Special Olympics Unified Partner program up and running. She was also one of the first athletes selected to be a partner with a non-Special Olympics athletes to bowl in competition. Jane has always loved being a part of a team and as she put it “my teammates depend on me to be there and help.”