By Rubin E. Grant
James Thomas “Jabo” Waggoner has a lengthy association with the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, but he never imagined a day when he would be recognized by it.
On April 27, Waggoner will be honored as the 2019 Distinguished Alabama Sportsman at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame 51st annual induction banquet and ceremony in the Birmingham Ballroom at the Sheraton Birmingham Hotel.
Perhaps, Waggoner wouldn’t have received such a special recognition if he hadn’t missed an AHSOF board meeting last fall. He has been a board member for 26 years.
“I guess I’m the only guy left from when the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame was created (in 1967),” Waggoner said. “I was a young house member working with (Frank) Pig House when it was created, but I wasn’t on the board then. I’ve been on the board since 1993. Out of all my affiliations this is my favorite.
“I have a sports background and I love all sports so I thought it would be appropriate for me to serve on the board. I’ve really enjoyed it. I rarely miss a board meeting.”
Waggoner had to be out-of-town and couldn’t attend a board meeting last fall. While he was away, the board decided it was time for the longtime board member to be recognized for his service, bestowing on him the distinguished Alabama sportsman honor.
“I was totally surprised because there are so many people in Alabama with great sports and athletic backgrounds who are more deserving,” Waggoner said. “I was humbled and flattered. I never thought about that. It was not on my radar at all. It’s a huge honor for me and my family.”
Daniel A. Moore will be recognized as the 2019 Distinguished American Sportsman. Moore is renowned nationwide for his photo-realistic sports paintings.
Waggoner, who lives in Vestavia Hills, has served in the state legislature for nearly five decades. His political career began in the Alabama House of Representatives, where he served for 17 years from 1966-83 before being elected to his first term in the Senate in 1990.
Since 1990, he has represented the 16th District in the Alabama Senate. He was named Minority Leader in 1999 and elected to the position of Majority Leader in 2010 when the Republican Party gained control of the Senate. He has the longest record of service of any legislator in the history of Alabama.
He also is a member of the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club and is a founding member and past president of the Birmingham Tip-Off Club.
Additionally, he serves on the Executive Committee of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Faulkner University Board of Trustees, and the board of the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Waggoner grew up in Ensley and started playing sports at the YMCA. He played multiple sports at Ensley High School before graduating in 1955. After high school, he was a walk-on on the Auburn basketball team.
His brother-in-law, the late Jim Pyburn, who was a standout athlete at Ensley, played a role in Waggoner’s decision to go to Auburn. Pyburn was a two-sport star athlete at Auburn, playing football and baseball. He later played for the Baltimore Orioles and was a 2000 inductee of the ASHOF.
“Jim, who was married to my sister, was an Auburn football All-American,” Waggoner said. “I think with him and my sister going to Auburn; it influenced me to go there.”
Waggoner stayed at Auburn for two years, then transferred to Birmingham-Southern “when they gave me a scholarship,” he said.
Waggoner lettered at BSC his junior and senior seasons from 1958-60. He helped the Panthers post a 14-11 record in during his first season in 1958-59 and earned All-Tournament honors for his performance in the Dixie Invitational hosted by Rhodes College in Memphis.
“I guess I was more of a shooter than anything else,” Waggoner said. “I was a 6-foot guard. I had learned the shuffle offense from Joel Eaves at Auburn, and when I got to Birmingham-Southern, Bill Burch was my coach and was running the shuffle. I already knew a good bit about it. I could still run the Auburn shuffle blindfold. It’s embedded in my blood.”
After graduating from BSC in 1960, Waggoner attended the Birmingham School of Law and earned his juris doctor degree in 1964.
Waggoner was inducted into the Birmingham-Southern College Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and was recognized as a Birmingham-Southern Distinguished Alumni in 2013.
Waggoner and Moore join an impressive list of others who have been honored as the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Distinguished Sportsmen.