The fourth annual class for the Alton Athletics Hall of Fame was inducted on Nov. 26 at halftime of the Redbirds’ game against Jacksonville in the Alton Tip-Off Classic to a rousing ovation from fans.
I had the pleasure of attending the mixer in the commons inside AHS prior to the basketball game and had the honor to chat with some of the new Alton HOFers, too. It’s a doozy of a group for the growing Redbird fraternity.
Nine individuals and one team were inducted into the elite community of athletes, spanning 67 years of athletics at AHS and covering 12 sports. The diverse class also became the first where all honorees are still living and the first to represent the sport of wrestling. As a graduate of Alton High myself, I was proud to be a part of the extravaganza.
Two wrestling representatives were sandwiched around a strong field of athletes, starting with arguably the greatest grappling coach the state of Illinois has ever seen in 1940 Alton grad William “Red” Schmitt, and one of the best wrestlers ever to don the red and white in ‘07 grad Wade Lowe.
In between were: 1956 grad Gene Velloff (boys’ basketball), 1960 grad Floyd C. Raglin (football, boys’ track and field), 1972 grad Bobby Everage (football), 1979 grad Brad Baker (boys’ soccer, baseball), 1992 grads Camie and Carrie Bechtold (girls’ golf, girls’ tennis, girls’ soccer, girls’ basketball and volleyball), 2002 grad Rob Simpson (boys’ tennis) as well as the 1984 boys’ soccer team. Only Velloff and Baker were unable to attend the induction ceremonies.
The ‘84 soccer team, posting a 15-6-1 record, was the only ever to qualify for state at AHS. It was well-represented at the ceremonies. Members of the team were: Joey Bowen, Pat Hoag, Larry Stutz, Brad Baker, Joe Herzon, Kris Grabner, Scott Gibbons, Jimmy Johnson, Mark Cowgill, Margy Durham, Craig Lombardi, Mark Dunbar, Rance Long, Jill Harris, David Condrey, Joel Thiel, Dave Middleton, Andy Scanlan, John Sloan, Troy Campbell, Andy Abromovich, Brian Sisk, Rusty Coumard, Chris Milford and Brian Eickoff.
I got a chance to have nice talks with Schmitt and Raglin during the mixer. Both were excited to be honored as HOFers at their alma mater. Schmitt was especially stoked to see wrestling get recognized in the sports annals at AHS.
Unlike others recognized in this year’s class, Schmitt made most of his fame outside of Alton. He was a head coach at Granite City High School from 1951-85, where he won an Illinois Coach of the Year in 1976 and a National Coach of the Year in 1977 and led the Warriors to state gold in 1965. Overall in his coaching career, he was 602-84-5 in nearly four decades. The Godfrey resident was never too far from his Alton roots though, helping to revitalize the wrestling program when it was shelved at AHS, paving the road for guys like Lowe to achieve stardom.
Lowe went on to finish third and fifth at state as a Redbird and then won a national championship wrestling at McKendree.
There were so many of those stories from this HOF class. Everage was a member of the 10-0 Alton football team from 1970; the Bechtold twins combined to earn 21 letters during their time as Redbirds.
Raglin boasted about sending sons, daughters and grandchildren through the Alton School District and watching them earn success as Redbirds, too. He still bleeds red and white the same way he did on the gridiron and track back in his day as a prep athlete.
It really was a family affair on induction night. These athletes have gone on to become pillars in the community — coaches, teachers, lawyers, business owners, spouses, parents, grandparents. They all got to come together for one night and be recognized at the institution that began molding them into what they would become.
As an Alton grad, I applaud the decision to form a committee to recognize these great Redbirds with a HOF. It was a great night for all the inductees and a great night for fans, friends and family to share it with them.
Congratulations, you’re all HOFers now and no one can take that away from you; wear it with pride and wear it with respect, Redbirds.