Ridgeland inducts first Athletic Hall of Fame Class

Ridgeland seniors Markeith Montgomery and Haley Sandridge were presented the inaugural Vonn Bell Awards from the award's namesake at the end of the first-ever Ridgeland Athletics Hall of Fame ceremony. (Photo by Scott Herpst)

Nearly 300 Ridgeland fans, parents, community supporters, teachers, administrators and athletes, both past and present, were on hand at the high school on Saturday night for a special event nearly three decades in the making.

The Ridgeland Athletic Department inducted its first Hall of Fame Class, a 14-member group that included former athletes, coaches and community contributors.

“It’s been 30 years and it’s time,” Ridgeland Athletic Director Robert Stinson said. “We have a great tradition and a great history and it’s time to honor the people who cemented a great legacy here and who have given back.

“It’s special to see them all come back, even people who thought they may have been overlooked, to be recognized for what they did for Ridgeland and this community and to be touched by it. We were nearly at capacity this year and, hopefully, we can match this and do even better next year.”

Members of the first Hall of Fame class were nominated by the community and selected by a Hall of Fame Committee, made up of current coaches, teachers and administrators, along with alumni.

The inaugural Hall of Fame class included Ridgeland’s first football head coach, the late Bill Sandberg, the late Arnold Eaves, who did the public address for Chattanooga Valley and Ridgeland football games, longtime Rossville and Ridgeland state championship coach Sharon Vantrease and longtime teacher, coach and Ridgeland supporter Martha “Bama” Smith, along with former Rossville High standouts Wink Baker and Pete Summers in the community contributors category.

Former Ridgeland athletes going into the Hall in the first year were football players James Turner, Nick Price and Tyrone Davis, girls’ basketball stars Latrice McLin and the late Connie Buchanan, boys’ basketball standout Bryan Richardson and softball star Cindy Ross.

The inductees or representatives of their families received standing ovations from all in attendance before making short acceptance speeches. Those 13 inductees had been previously announced.

The 14th and final member of the 2018 Hall of Fame class was Ohio State football All-American and current New Orleans Saints’ safety Vonn Bell, who was inducted at the end of the ceremony.

Bell was on hand to present the newly-formed Vonn Bell Award to the top male and female student-athletes at Ridgeland for the current school year. The Vonn Bell Award is part of the school’s Student-Athlete of the Month program, which was also put together by the Hall of Fame committee.

“It’s feels good to be back home, first of all,” Bell said. “It’s a humbling, breath-taking moment, but it’s a surreal moment also. I’m just blessed to be a part of this and have this opportunity to give back to the community. Man, what an honor.”

“It’s awesome and it’s amazing just to see how many people believed in you all four years,” said girls’ winner Haley Sandridge, who will play softball at Chipola (Fla.) College. “It’s an honor to get this award and to be named the first one to get it. I really hope they keep this going and that this will be a big deal in the lives of many more student-athletes down the road. Hopefully it will motivate them to do the best that they can do.”

Boys’ winner Markeith “Butter” Montgomery said he was honored to win the award.

“It feels great, especially since I looked up to (Bell) when I was little, and now to get the award from him is great,” said the future Kennesaw State football player. “I want to build my own foundation and maybe one day get into the (Ridgeland) Hall of Fame myself.”

Other finalists for the award were Katie Carruth and Whitney Boehm on the girls’ side and Jalyn Shelton and Jacob Mariakis on the boys’ side.

Nominations for the Hall of Fame will continue to be taken yearly and will be active for a period of three years. Committee officials said the plan is to induct around 10 new members in each subsequent year. Nominations can be made by anyone in the community and the decisions will be made by the Hall of Fame Committee.