Three years ago, members of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame induction committee looked to the east side of the Mississippi for athletes who may previously have been overlooked.
They found enough quality resumes from athletes both professional and amateur to warrant a second induction ceremony annually in Illinois.
“We recognized the volume of athletes and administrators that exist in the expanded metro-area,” said Greg Marecek, president of the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. “We felt a need to honor those in Southern Illinois who otherwise might not be recognized for their achievements and influence on St. Louis sports.”
The 2019 class is arguably the best yet, including some of the most accomplished athletes from East St. Louis. The newly-released list includes NFL veterans Eric Wright and Bryan Cox, former NBA star LaPhonso Ellis, and Olympic champion Dawn Harper, all of East St. Louis.
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Also included will be former Major League Baseball player Ray Fosse and the late, long-time volleyball coach at Mater Dei Catholic High School, Fred Rakers. The Knights program, which has captured seven state championships and is currently headed by Rakers’ son, Chad Rakers, will receive special recognition.
Those five and eight others will be honored at Gateway Classic Cars in O’Fallon on Feb. 11. Tickets are $90 per person or $720 per table of eight. They are available by calling 618-558-4361, online at stlshof.com or by mail at St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, PO Box 190833, St. Louis, Mo., 63119
St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2019
Bryan Cox, a 1986 graduate of East St. Louis High School, was a three-time All-Pro linebacker with five NFL teams, notably the Miami Dolphins, and earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the 2001 New England Patriots. He’s worked as an assistant coach and television football analyst.
Eric Wright, a graduate of Assumption Catholic High School in East St. Louis, played 10 NFL seasons after being drafted out of the University of Missouri in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft. He earned four Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers and was an All-Pro selection at cornerback in 1984 and 1985.
LaPhonso Ellis is a product of East St. Louis Lincoln High School Class of 1987. After leading the Tigers to consecutive state basketball championships and playing four years at Notre Dame, he was drafted fifth overall by the Denver Nuggets of the NBA. In 11 seasons with four NBA teams, he averaged 11.9 and 6.5 rebounds per game. He currently works as a college basketball analyst on ESPN.
Ray Fosse, was the first draft pick ever by the Cleveland Indians in 1965 out of Marion High School. Despite a career marked by injury, he won two Gold Glove awards as a catcher, made two All-Star Games and won two World Series rings with the Oakland A’s.
Dawn Harper-Nelson, graduated from East St. Louis Senior High and earned a degree in psychology while also being named an NCAA All-American at UCLA. She won a gold medal at the 2008 Bejing Olympics and silver at the 2012 London Games. Harper-Nelson retired from international competition this year at age 34.
Sandy Montgomery was a pitcher for the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville softball team from 1982 to 1985 and remains the Cougars’ all-time leader in ERA, saves, shutouts and no-hitters. She became the program’s head coach just four years later and, in 29 seasons amassed 1,026 wins against just 519 losses (.664 pct).
Jeff Luechtefeld turned down an offer to play basketball at SIU-Carbondale, not far from his Okawville home, to instead attend Saint Louis University, the alma mater of his father and coach, Dave Luechtefeld. He was a three-year starter for the Billikens and averaged 12.9 points and 5.6 rebounds as a senior.
Mike Reis, a graduate of the TV-Radio program at SIUC, is in his 40th year as the voice of Saluki athletics. The Cincinnati native has been recognized by three halls of fame and was the Illinois Sportscaster of the Year of 2011, as selected by a nationwide vote of peers.
Robert Smith, the former Greenville College coach, has had influence in the spread of baseball internationally. He worked as a consultant to three former presidents and is principally responsible for introducing baseball as an Olympic sport.
Fred Rakers graduated from Mater Dei Catholic High School in 1963 and, until his death in 2013, was known as a “walking, talking billboard” for the school. Moreover, he built from scratch a state volleyball power that reached the final four 14 times and won six championships under his leadership. His 35-year record as head coach is 1,046-200.
The Hall of Fame also has partnered with Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities to present the Mannie Jackson Award for significant contributions to sports and those who need direction in life. The first recipient will be Ted Savage, an East St. Louis Lincoln High School graduate and former MLB player who currently serves St. Louis Cardinals Charities.
Jamie Auffenberg also will be honored for his contributions to the Hall of Fame.