State sports hall of fame welcomes Nashville legends

Friday, February 19, 2010 at 1:47am
Staff Reports
Rhodes, circa 1955

A pioneering black golfer, a Negro Leagues legend and a two-time NFL Pro Bowler are making their way into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame.

The Nashville trio of Ted Rhodes, Norman 'Turkey' Stearnes and E.J. Junior are joining eight other outstanding Tennessee athletes and coaches as part of the 2010 induction class, which will be honored Friday night at the Renaissance Hotel downtown.

“This year's banquet will feature an outstanding class of athletes," said Wayne McCreight, president of the TSHF. "We'll have a former NFL great, a NBA standout, a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the first African-American professional golfer. I guarantee everyone who loves sports an exciting evening…an evening you'll never forget.”

For Rhodes and Stearnes it is a posthumous honor, but Junior plans to be on hand at the event which also will honor college and professional athletes of the year.

A graduate of Maplewood High School, Junior played for Paul 'Bear' Bryant at the University of Alabama, winning two national titles (1978-79) and an SEC Player of the Year award. After graduating, the then-St. Louis Cardinals made Junior a first-round pick and he went on to earn a pair of Pro Bowl in his 13-year NFL career.

Since retiring, Junior has impacted many lives — as an ordained minister, working with youth in the Miami area, and in various coaching and front-office jobs in the NFL. Currently, he's the head football coach for the Central State Marauders in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Rhodes, also born in Nashville and a graduate of the city's public schools, blazed a trail for African-American professional golfers. He learned the game of golf during his teenage years caddying at Belle Meade and Richland Country clubs and hitting shag balls at Nolensville's Sunset Park, East Nashville's Douglas Park and Watkins Park in north Nashville.

In 1948 he played in the U.S. Open at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles and became recognized as the first African-American professional golfer, although many tour events were closed to him — he played primarily on the United Golfers Association tour winning the Championship four times.

By the time the PGA rescinded its whites-only clause in 1961, Rhodes had retired from competitive golf. He returned to Nashville and mentored several black PGA golfers, including Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford. A month after his death at age 55, the Cumberland Golf Course in Nashville was renamed in his honor.

Nashville native 'Turkey' Stearnes began his baseball career pitching for Pearl High School, before dropping out following his father's death to help support his family. He continued his baseball career playing for the Knoxville Giants and Nashville White Sox before launching a standout career in the Negro Leagues.

Other inductees for 2010 are: John Stanford, an outstanding pitcher at Middle Tennessee State University in the 1950s and later the school's athletic director; John R. Hall, a Vanderbilt University Academic All-American and co-captain of the 1954 football team, and in later years serving as chairman of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust; Dale Ellis, a two-time All-American at the University of Tennessee (twice SEC Player of the Year), who later enjoyed a lengthy NBA career; Charlie Coffey, a UT football standout and successful coach; Lin Dunn, regarded as one of the most successful women's basketball coaches ever; Rocky Felker, a five-sport letterman at Brownsville High School and outstanding coach at Mississippi State; Bill Dupes, a standout OVC player and coach; and Harley 'Skeeter' Swift, .a stellar prep, college and ABA basketball player.

Along with the inductees, several individual and team honorees will be recognized at banquet. Tickets are $125 and still may be available. For information, call the TSHF office at (615) 242-4750.

The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame is a statewide, nonprofit organization founded to honor and preserve outstanding sports achievements in Tennessee.