Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony a Huge Success

Kim Wade

Friday, March 10th, 2017

On Feb. 25, the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame honored eight highly accomplished athletes during their annual induction ceremony held at the historic Macon City Auditorium. The group included football player Keith Brooking, golfer Laura Coble, tennis coach Manuel Diaz, football and track athlete Willie Gault, basketball player Matt Harpring, football player Garrison Hearst, athletic leader/golf coach Liz Murphey and football player Jeff Saturday. 

The induction ceremony was part of a weekend-long event that also featured the GSHF Golf Classic at Idle Hour Country Club and the GSHF’s annual FanFest at the museum. Sportscaster and GSHF inductee, Phil Schaefer, served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

According to GSHF president, Derek Waugh, the weekend was an overwhelming success for the Macon-based museum which is the country’s largest state sports museum at 43,000 square feet and has been in existence for more than 50 years.

“It was a fantastic ceremony,” Waugh said. “One of the great things is that all weekend we had all seven of our living inductees engaged with every single thing we did. What made it so special is the quality of character of our inductees and our special award winners.”

He said the event was a sellout and the ceremony was packed to capacity.

“It was definitely the most well-attended induction ceremony we’ve had. …  I think the event is inspiring because you get to see people who are not only great athletes, but people who do not take the gift they have been given as an entitlement. It’s a very humble group.”

And Waugh added that this was his first induction ceremony to oversee since he took over as president and he was just as excited to meet these Georgia athletes as everyone else. Despite earning a law degree in college, Waugh said he left his career in law because his passion has always been in sports.

“The love of my life is really sports,” he said. “I was super blessed… to get a job in college basketball at 25 and really since then I’ve made sure I’ve stayed doing something I’m passionate about. … I know I’ll never get rich … but I can’t think of a day where I woke up and didn’t want to do what I’m doing.”

And it’s that passion that drives Waugh to really focus on the mission of the GSHF to make “a difference in the lives of our youth and honor the struggle, perseverance and achievement of our state's best teams, athletes and coaches.”

He said a big part of the weekend was the free FanFest event at the museum because it gives the museum a chance to connect with younger sports fans. “We do youth outreach all the time. We have kids come to the hall. … Ultimately going out to tell the stories of our athletes is the key and using our platform to inspire is our ultimate mission.

“… Kids love sports and kids can get a ton out of sports. If I had not played athletics, I  would not have nearly enjoyed my life the way I did. I learned more playing athletics than I learned in school. That is really the overall aim with this.

“Georgia is one of the best athletic states in the country, and all of our inductees are good people who want to give back.”

And while Waugh noted that the athletes honored at the ceremony had achieved great fame during their careers, they were all humble and welcoming and more than happy to offer some personal stories during the event.

“You look at someone like Willie Gault who obviously has some God-given gifts … and who was just so humble and appreciative. He’s done everything from two Olympics, won the Superbowl ... and he couldn’t have been more appreciative.

“Garrison Hearst was one of the top three running backs to play at Georgia and he just couldn’t have been a nicer guy. He talked about the surgery he came back from where he was given little chance to even walk again and then went on and rushed 1,000 yards in the NFL.”

And while Waugh said fundraising is a big part of maintaining the success of the museum, he said his overall mission for the weekend was to see people learn that Georgia has some really great athletes. 

“We have some super people that have taken these gifts and used them for good and were very approachable. I have been in athletics for 30 years now, and you don’t always find that.”