THOMASVILLE — The Thomasville-Thomas County Hall of Fame welcomed six new members Thursday night — and after a pandemic-wracked year, did so with dozens of family, friends and supporters on hand.
“It means a lot,” Darrell Allen said of his induction.
The longtime radio voice of the Thomasville High School football team, Allen said he got into the gig in a unique way. WPAX radio station manager Len Robinson was looking for someone to take the play-by-play duties.
“I don’t know how far down the list I was, but I guess I wasn’t at the top,” Allen said. “I thought I was keeping the seat warm until they could find somebody else.”
His first game was September 1, 1989, was the first of what has become 379 broadcasts. By his own admission, the first broadcast was rocky. The station’s then news director coached him and asked him if he knew anybody who could help him along on Friday nights. Allen tabbed friend Jim Rayburn.
“We’ve been doing Thomasville football for 33 years. And we’re only 45 years old,” Allen joked.
The two have seen many changes in broadcasting and in high school football since the fall of 1989.
“What has not changed is the passion folks in this community have for high school football,” Allen said. “I’ve had great relationships for coaches, players and fans.”
Allen also said he’s gotten more out of his other activities, such as coaching, than the those he was supposed to be serving.
“I got more out of it than the kids we worked with,” he said. “I guarantee I get more out of it than the people who listen.”
Duke Bryan was a multi-sport athlete who once won a high school state golf tournament without having played the practice round at the course — because he was busy that day winning the state tennis tournament.
“I’m thankful for my parents, who also supported and encouraged me,” he said. “Sports has always been a big part of my life and taught me many valuable life lessons. I’ve had some great teammates and coaches over the years and some of my fondest memories are from that 1983 state championship.”
Bryan also praised his hometown.
“This area truly is a special place,” he said, “and that is not a cliché.”
A multi-sport star, Lindsey Booth Bader is now a coach of many sports, too.
“It’s really an honor to stand up in front of all these amazing people,” she said.
She thanked her parents, and recalled how her mother, picking her up from one of many practices, wouldn’t go through a drive-through because she had made dinner.
And as the parent of three active children, she takes pride in doing the same for her kids.
“My parents were my best role models,” Bader said. “They were best role models a kid ever had. They made sure we had everything we ever needed or wanted. It’s my dream that one day my children will say the same thing about me and my husband.”
Her husband coaches travel teams and often bears the brunt of getting the children ready when she’s at a game or a practice. Bader also thanked the coaches she had along the way.
“It’s a little overwhelming that I have been given this opportunity to learn from so many successful and talented individuals in my lifetime,” she said. “Thank you for stepping up when I needed you to, and I hope I can step up for the next generation.”
Joe Burns Jr. was first honored by the Hall of Fame as a student-athlete at Thomas County Central. He was also on hand when his dad was inducted.
Thursday night, it was the former Central star running back, former Georgia Tech great and former NFL player’s turn.
“I really appreciate y’all for never letting me be average, always pushing me to reach higher heights,” he said to his parents.
Burns remembered wearing No. 1 in middle school football and thought he’d get the same number in high school. But coach Bill Wilhelm handed him a 35 jersey.
“He said to me, ‘The number doesn’t make the player; the player makes the number.’ I took that as a challenge,” Burns acknowledged. “I thank you, because my business is 35 Consulting Group. thanks to you.”
He also recalled how TCCHS head coach Ed Pilcher got the team ready for a big moment against Marist. Pilcher called for a halfback pass from Burns. By his own admission, Burns wasn’t much of a thrower.
“I was a horrible quarterback. I couldn’t believe he called that play,” Burns said. “He said, ‘fellas, I love you, and no matter what happens on this play, you mean the world to me.’ You could feel that pressure just leave.”
When Burns got the call from Bill Raney about his induction, he was in Ghana.
“I was on a business trip in Ghana,” he said. “I saw the number. I didn’t know who it was. And It was Mr. Raney. He said, ‘are you on a mission trip?’ and I said, no, but I’m on a mission.”
Burns was in Ghana to meet with that nation’s president, who gave his group a 100-acre tract to build a smart city “and we have a plan to build 100,000 homes,” Burns said.
“That’s huge, for a kid from Pavo to be doing things all around the world.”
Burns also expressed his gratitude for the committee for his induction.
“This is really truly an honor, and I will remember this day for the rest of my life,” he said.
Dicana Harris Laurent started running at an early age, and her third-place finish in the one-mile Heritage Run got her off and running.
“That race initiated events that would lead to this moment,” she said. “It provided me an opportunity to bond with my father. It allowed me to become an ambassador for Yellow Jacket Nation. It instilled in me the courage and the discipline to always be a fighter.”
A decorated runner in high school and college, Laurent also gave a special thanks to her husband Maurice, “whom I have driven crazy for the last couple of weeks leading up to this event,” she said, “my mom and dad, for their support then, now and forever, and to my kids.
“I am profoundly grateful to stand before you tonight and accept such an honor.”
Joel Carter was a center in football but has made a name for himself as a race-walker. Also a singer, he admitted he’d rather sing than speak to the crowd.
“It is indeed an honor to be inducted with the current and past honorees,” he said.
Carter noted his parents were at every game and his father was at nearly every practice.
“You could count on one hand how many practices he missed,” he said/
He also thanked coaches Donna Garland and Charlie Ward Sr. and also said playing football had an effect throughout his life.
“Football helped me create friendships that I still have 40-plus years later,” he said. “It instilled in me a work ethic and a pride in that anything you want to do is going to be hard.”
Carter also referenced a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln — “I like to see a man be proud of the place in which he lives. I’d like to see a man live so that a place will be proud of him.”
“I’m proud to be a citizen of Thomasville-Thomas County,” Carter said, “and I hope I live a life they can be proud of me.”
All six inductees offered gratitude and respect for the ones who taught them along the way and for the community that surrounded them.
“It’s not lost on me how blessed and how fortunate and how lucky I am in my life,” Allen said. “Most of all, I’m fortunate to have a God Who loves me and has given me an opportunity to live in this community and be a part of it, and I can’t think of anything better.”