By Lee Davis
Upon hearing the news that the city of Vestavia Hills was going to announce the establishment of a Sports Hall of Fame, I must admit I was just a little bit skeptical.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the concept in general – on the contrary, I thought it was a sensational way to instill pride in a community. But too many times I have seen city and community Halls of Fame turn into either promotional vehicles for local politicians, or free commercials for local businesses.
But when I saw the list of the charter members of the Vestavia Hills Sports Hall of Fame, my concerns were immediately dashed. Every single inductee in the Class of 2010 truly contributed to athletics in the over-the-mountain communities, and in Vestavia Hills in particular.
Just as importantly, all of them have a true love for the city from which they came and have given back to it much more than they ever took from it.
All of the members have close ties to Vestavia Hills High School, which is also a good thing. This may sound quaint in an era of travel ball and AAU teams, but I still think the local high school should be at the hub of a town’s sports scene, and I’m glad that the committee members respected that view as they made their selections.
The class is divided into coaches/administrators and athletes, with one additional position called the Distinguished Citizen Award.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the inductees:
Buddy Anderson – Anderson was an obvious choice. He joined the staff at Vestavia High School in 1972 and became head football coach in 1978. Since then, Anderson has compiled a 271-111 record while leading the Rebels to state championships in 1980 and 1998. Vestavia also reached the state championship game in 1978 and 1979.
Anderson serves as athletic director and has built the overall Rebel athletic program into one of Alabama’s best.
When Anderson was elevated from an assistant’s position to the head coaching job 32 years ago, some grumbled that the Rebel program needed a “big” name. Three decades later, there is no bigger name in Alabama high school athletics than Buddy Anderson.
Fran Braasch – One of the true pioneers of women’s athletics in the state, Braasch coached basketball at UAB and Pizitz Middle School before taking over the high school program in the 1980s. She directed Vestavia to a 511-170 record, a state championship in 1987 and five Final Four appearances. Just as importantly, her charismatic personality and media-friendly charm made Braasch an outstanding ambassador for the school and for girls’ sports in Alabama.
Sammy Dunn – Dunn was another obvious choice. Possibly one of the most successful coaches in the history of Alabama high school athletics, he led the Rebels to nine state baseball crowns from 1991-2000, including seven in a row from 1994-2000. Dunn’s 1998 squad won the mythical national championship. His overall record at Vestavia was an astounding 647-146. Dunn is one of two posthumous inductees into the Vestavia Sports Hall of Fame.
Thompson “Mutt” Reynolds – After a highly successful career as the football coach at Birmingham’s Ramsey High School, Reynolds was hired as head coach and athletic director at Vestavia in 1970. He is considered the father of the Rebel athletic program. Two of the young coaches Reynolds hired to Vestavia’s athletic staff in the 1970s were Anderson and Dunn. Reynolds is the Hall’s other posthumous inductee.
Casey Dunn – A 1995 graduate of Vestavia, Dunn earned All-American honors in baseball at Auburn University as a catcher in 1999. Dunn began his coaching career at Spain Park High School, where he posted a 59-41 record before moving to Samford University. He has led the Bulldogs to three consecutive 30-win seasons. Dunn is the son of the late Sammy Dunn.
Trey Hardee – A 2002 Vestavia graduate, Hardee won the 2009 World Decathlon in Berlin and holds the unofficial title of “The World’s Greatest Athlete.” He is only the third American to win the World Decathlon title. Hardee also earned All-American honors in track and field, first at Mississippi State University and later at the University of Texas. In 2004, he won the SEC championship in the decathlon.
Chris Hammond – A 1984 Vestavia graduate, Hammond was a standout pitcher for the Rebels and played for Gulf Coast Community College and UAB. He went on to a 16-year major league career, which included stints with the Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins, Boston Red Sox, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres. He pitched for New York in the 2003 World Series, throwing for two innings and not yielding an earned run.
David Jordan – A 1980 Vestavia graduate, Jordan was a three-sport star in high school. He later earned All-SEC honors as an offensive guard at Auburn University, where he opened holes for future Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson. Jordan played for the New York Giants for three years, including 1986 – the season the Giants won their first Super Bowl title. He concluded his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1987.
Suzanne Olcott Serrano – A 1999 Vestavia graduate, Serrano earned All-American honors in softball at the University of Alabama in 2001. She led the Crimson Tide softballers to the 2000 College World Series. Serrano is active in coaching, presently serving as head softball coach at Briarwood.
Jay Waggoner – A 1991 Vestavia graduate, Waggoner was a three-sport star for the Rebels. He later earned All-American honors in baseball as a first baseman for Auburn University. Waggoner led the Tigers to the College World Series in 1994 and is still one of the most prolific hitters in SEC history. He later played in the Detroit Tigers organization.
Jeanne Wilson – A 1986 Vestavia graduate, Wilson is one of the most accomplished wheelchair athletes in America. A three-time world champion and 12-time national champion in weightlifting, she holds national records in two weight classes.
Distinguished Citizen Award
Dr. Michael Chandler — Chandler has worked as a team doctor for the Rebel program since 1987.
The class will be officially inducted into the Hall of Fame at a banquet to be held Sept. 2 at Vestavia Country Club, as part of events honoring the 60th anniversary of the city’s incorporation.
Despite my earlier misgivings, I’m delighted to see the Vestavia Sports Hall of Fame become a reality. Hopefully the other Over the Mountain cities will follow suit with halls of their own. ❖
Propst Embodied Hoover Revival
By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Writer
When John Propst entered Hoover High School as a young ninth grade linebacker in the fall of 2006, his school’s football program was at the top of the world. That previous December, the Bucs – under the direction of Propst’s uncle, Rush – had won their fourth consecutive state 6A championship.
There seemed to be no end to what some were calling America’s greatest high school sports dynasty. Some even suggested that Hoover football was almost too good for the rest of Alabama, and that perhaps the Bucs should join a national super-conference for America’s elite prep programs. While that speculation proved to be just talk, it showed the perception of Hoover’s dominance to the rest of the state.
But a strange thing began to happen during Propst’s freshman season: The Bucs’ football machine began to show signs of rust. Prattville defeated Hoover decisively in the 2006 state title game, knocking the Bucs off their championship perch for the first time since 2001.
A year later, Hoover was plagued by off-the-field distractions, and the 2007 season ended with a loss to archrival Vestavia Hills in the state 6A quarter-finals.
The following year saw an old era end and a new one begin. Josh Niblett was brought in from Oxford to replace Rush Propst, who resigned after the 2007 season. In Niblett’s first season, Hoover returned to its familiar spot in the state championship game but lost to Prattville again.
So going into their senior season of 2009, John Propst and his classmates – who had entered high school with such high hopes four years before – were facing their last shot at earning a state championship ring.
“You play football at Hoover to win a state championship,” said Propst. “And here we were as seniors and hadn’t done it yet. We definitely went into the year with something to prove.”
Propst and his teammates rolled through 15 games like men on a mission. Hoover routed Gardendale and Homewood in its first two games before staging a dramatic 30-27 win over Camden County, Ga.
The Bucs scored easy shutout wins over Thompson and Oak Mountain, setting the stage for an epic confrontation with cross-town rival Spain Park. The Jaguars jumped to a 21-0 halftime lead, but Hoover rallied for a thrilling 24-21 win.
The Bucs took Mountain Brook’s measure 30-0 and seemed to be invincible. Vestavia wasn’t impressed, however, and stunned Hoover 30-27 to hand the Bucs their first defeat.
It would also be their last.
“Vestavia was a wake-up call,” Propst said. “It reminded us that we still had a lot of work to do.”
Hoover rolled through the remainder of the regular season, swept through the playoffs like a hurricane and won its first state championship since 2005 with a 28-23 win over old nemesis Prattville at Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
“We wanted to get Hoover back to where it belonged,” Propst said. “That was our goal from the beginning. It was nice to be able to graduate knowing we had put the program back on top.”
An argument can be made that without Propst, Hoover never would have reached the throne room. As an all-state linebacker, he sparked a Buccaneer defense that earned four shutouts. Propst was so dominant that he was chosen by the over-the-mountain coaches as the 2009 Over the Mountain Football Player of the Year – an honor that had always gone to either a quarterback or a running back in previous seasons.
Because of Propst’s superb play on the field, he epitomized the Bucs’ return to glory. His overall excellence and commitment toward achieving his personal and team goals make him the choice as the Over the Mountain Journal 2009-2010 Boy Athlete of the Year.
Hoover softball star Madison Dickey was named the Over the Mountain Journal 2009-2010 Girl Athlete of the Year.
“I’m really honored to be picked as Over the Mountain Athlete of the Year,” Propst said. “That’s an honor I never really thought about being in consideration to receive.
“When you look at all the great athletes in this area, it makes it all the more special. I’m proud to accept it on behalf of Hoover High School.”
Propst believes that team unity was a big factor in the Bucs’ successful championship run.
“We seemed to have been more together than we had been in the past,” Propst said. “The team was like a family, and that had a lot to do with our success.”
Propst earned a football scholarship to the University of Tennessee and has spent much of his summer in Knoxville.
“I’ve absolutely fallen in love with the place,” he said. “I’m in the mix at linebacker. There are two guys ahead of me, so I don’t know if I’ll be playing special teams or even be red-shirted. Whatever happens, I just want to do whatever possible to help the team win games.”
Whatever happens in his college career, Propst said he would always look back on his years at Hoover as a special time in his life.
“The great memories will always be there,” he said. “First, I’ll always have the great relationships with my teammates and coaches from all the times we spent together at practices and games. And then I’ll remember the hard work that had gotten us where we wanted to be.
“Maybe best of all is the feeling that we were the senior class that restored the Hoover dynasty.”
Propst will have one more memory to add to his list: He’s the Over the Mountain Boy Athlete of the Year.