The Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame celebrated a night of champions Thursday at the Fresno Convention Center's Valdez Hall.
The inductees included Bruce Bowen, a three-time NBA champion with San Antonio; Dan Gladden, who won two World Series rings with Minnesota; Courtney Dale-Boldt, a UCLA All-American who pitched the Bruins to the 1999 national title; and Memorial's 1971-72 and '71-73 Tournament of Champions basketball teams.
Also ushered into the 53rd class: Ickey Woods, who helped lead Cincinnati to the 1989 Super Bowl; Fresno High baseball coach Ken Papi, owner of 580 wins and a Central Section title; Lorenzo Neal, considered one of the best fullbacks in NFL history who played in the 2000 Super Bowl with Tennessee; and Bob Barnett, the Central Section's sports historian who has chronicled athletes from the 1980s to the present.
Highlights and insights from the ceremonies:
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- Neal, the pride of Lemoore and Fresno State, on growing talk about including him in the NFL Hall of Fame:
"If it happens, it happens. Just hearing my name mentioned leaves me humbled."
Neal arguably is the best blocking back in NFL history. In his 16 seasons, he cleared the way for 1,000-yard rushers 11 straight seasons.
Fullback is no glamour position and is actually being phased out these days. So, what kept him going? "For the players, NFL meant 'Not For Long.' We didn't have guaranteed contracts. That got me up at 5 a.m. working out."
- After the wild Game 6 of this year's World Series, many began calling it the greatest – even better than the Twins' 1991 epic over the Braves in seven.
Gladden begs to differ, and who could blame him. In Game 7, he stretched a bloop single into a double and scored the winner on Gene Larkin's single in the bottom of the 10th.
"This year was outstanding, fun for the fans, but '91 I believe was the best of all-time," said Gladden, who later won a title playing in Japan.
Gladden has spent the past 11 years as the Twins' radio color man. It's a job he fell into after stints as a roving instructor in the majors.
"My first interview was with Paul Molitor. I handed him the mike and he talked for 30 minutes. I thought, 'Hey, this job is easy.' "
- Woods, like Bowen is an Edison High grad, and these days he's owner and coach of a women's football league team. He also began an asthma charity after the recent death of his 16-year-old son from the illness.
"I do it to keep his name alive," said Woods, who told the touching story of the day his son died.
As for his coaching gig: "It's different coaching women. They hold a grudge. You've got to approach them different."
- Dale-Boldt is the third from her family inducted into the Hall. Her great-grandfather and grandfather, Joe Dale Sr. and Joe Dale Jr., are members, too.
Joe Dale Sr., she said, sponsored the first lighted softball field in the U.S.
Dale-Boldt, who also starred at Bullard, will begin her first season as Clovis North softball coach. Asked if the game has changed much since her UCLA days, she answered with one word, "Totally."
"They changed the balls and the bats are more hi-tech, so there's more offense."
- Clifton Pondexter, the imposing center on Memorial's two state championship teams, became Chicago's first-round draft choice in 1974 but only played three seasons.
He's hopeful the current NBA lockout will end sometime around the new year.
"They'll get it resolved," he said. "And it won't hurt the NBA. They'll pick back up better than ever."
- Papi is listed as co-baseball coach with son Jason, but joked that his role is "in the rocking chair doing what I can do. Jason is the head coach."
Though Papi has dialed it down, he still runs the prestigious Fresno Baseball Classic. But, for how many more years?
"Until I can't make it onto the field, or Jason doesn't want me around."
Jason's response: "Then it's when he can't make it out there."
- Barnett, another Edison High grad, has spent the past 27 years pouring over prep sections in the Fresno Bee, meticulously tracking down stats from boxscores and team scorebooks.
Barnett said his favorite record is Washington pitcher Joe Cartwright's 34 strikeouts in a 13-inning win against Sanger in 1915.
He lists Edison's 1963 state track championship as the most thrilling even he ever witnessed.
Stan McDonald won the discus, Alvin Mann the 100 and 180 low hurdles, and Lemoore's Tommie Smith captured the 440.