Thursday, July 24, 2008
Photo by Wandoo Makurdi
The Sports Hall of Fame was introduced after Gen. James L. Jones — then commandant of the Marine Corps — challenged Semper Fit to develop an avenue to better publicize the Marine Corps Sports Program and the successes Marine athletes have enjoyed throughout the years, and the first sports hall of fame ceremony was held in June 2001 at the Marine Barracks 8th and I in Washington D.C. On July 18, seven years later, the four athletes were added to an elite group of 25.
‘‘If you take a look at the people who we are honoring today, they are quality athletes,” Conway said of football greats Eddie LeBaron and Ernie Stautner, legendary baseball player and coach Hank Bauer, and former Olympic track & field medalist Joshua Culbreath.
‘‘Is it the Marine that makes the athlete or is it the athlete that becomes the Marine?” Conway rhetorically asked the audience in his opening speech. ‘‘What I’d like to believe is that when they do become Marines that we add to their skills, that we give them discipline. We give them a sense of purpose as they get older in life ... that they may go on and do great things.”
Culbreath, the 1956 Olympic bronze medalist in the 400m hurdles and former 440-yard hurdles world record holder, credited his service in the Marine Corps for helping him attain his accomplishments.
‘‘It is one of the greatest honors I’ve had bestowed upon me,” Culbreath said. ‘‘I have had many, but the Marine Corps was one of the things that was very dear to my heart.” Culbreath was the only Marine on the 1956 Olympic Track and field team, and set his world record while still a Marine. ‘‘Those things were very precious to me, and they happened while I was in the Corps,” Culbreath said.
The athletes were chosen by a selection committee chaired by the Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman. Other members of the committee included the director of Personal and Family Readiness Division Maj. Gen. Timothy Larsen retired; the director of Public Affairs Division at the Pentagon, Brig. Gen. Robert Milstead; the Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Carlton W. Kent and the branch head of Semper Fit, Lt. Col. John Langford. Kent was in attendance to present the award recipients with a framed certificate.
LeBaron, a former Major who earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his heroic efforts in the Korean War in 1950, was selected for his accomplishments as a quarterback in his 11-year career with the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys. Despite his 5-foot-9-inch. frame, which earned him the nickname ‘‘The Littlest General,” LeBaron was name the National Football League rookie of the year in 1952, and went on to become a four-time NFL all-star.
‘‘To be inducted with a group that I admire and who were great players and great Marines ... it’s just a great honor to be coming in with them,” LeBaron said. ‘‘I enjoyed my days as an athlete and I enjoyed my days as a Marine.”
Bauer, who passed away Feb. 9, 2007, was a three-time Major League Baseball all-star and a member of the New York Yankees Dynasty that won seven World Series and nine American League titles in 10 years. His record 17-game hitting streak in a World Series still stands today. Bauer also later coached the Baltimore Orioles to its first World Series title in 1966. As a Marine, Bauer earned two Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars in his nearly three-year service in World War II.
A representative of the family who accepted his induction in their behalf said Bauer’s family was deeply touched and grateful to receive the accolade because he valued his accomplishments as a Marine more than his personal and athletic accomplishments.
Carol Stautner Hinds, the daughter of Ernie Stautner, attended the ceremony with her family to accept her father’s award. In 14 seasons in the NFL, Stautner made the Pro Bowl nine times as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers and was an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys’ ’71 and ’77 Super Bowl winning teams. Stautner was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and remains the only Steeler to have his jersey officially retired.
‘‘To have the Marines recognize him the way they have for his career in football is just very touching, and we really appreciate it,” Stautner-Hinds said.
The 2007 Marine Corps athletes of the year were also honored at the ceremony. Second Lieutenant Justine Whipple was named the top female athlete thanks to her achievements in the triathlon.
‘‘It is such a humbling experience,” Whipple, who only became a professional triathlete a year ago, said. ‘‘To be in this presence is just incredible, and to become a part of this, and become part of history, it’s quite an honor.”
‘‘It’s a huge honor to be amongst such great and distinguished former Marine athletes,” Gunnery Sgt. Kenneth Young, the male athlete of the year said. Young, who’s been cycling for two years said he first became interested in running, and then cycling as a proactive step to meeting the Marine Corps standards. ‘‘So to go from barely meeting the Marine Corps fitness standards to three years later being named the top athlete is a huge honor for me,” Young said.
Some former inductees also attended the ceremony including 2005 inductee for wrestling Lloyd Keaser.