Photo by Bill Roseberry
Pictured are all the members of the 2015 Alton Athletics Hall of Fame. The group was honored Wednesday at AHS.
Maybe I’m a little biased as an Alton High grad, but I think the Alton Athletic Hall of Fame is awesome.
It’s a great way to remember and honor the great athletes that helped shape the school’s sports landscape and I think more prep programs should do it.
This year’s group at AHS — the fifth class of the HOF — included two teams and eight individuals, six players, one coach and the first friend of athletics to be inducted. The Nov. 25 festivities kicked off with a short meet and greet in the Alton High Commons, while the main attraction happened at halftime of the Redbird boys’ basketball opener. All of the ‘15 inductees met at half court, got their plaques, had their resumés recited and received thunderous applause from the crowd.
This year’s class included: football players Larry Ceppenati and Frank Holmes, baseball/football player Gary Hagen, trackster George “Pee Wee” Hunt, basketball/football player Mike Jeffries, basketball player Larry Smith, football coach Ed Yonkus and friend of athletics Dave Delawder, along with the 1958-59 boys’ basketball team and the 1968 football team.
Yonkus, Hunt and Jeffries are all deceased but had family members present at the ceremonies.
“This is an incredible honor,” Delawder said. “I was shocked when I found out I was going in. I couldn’t believe it.”
Delawder taught biology in the Alton School District for 34 years while working as a statistician for numerous Redbird boys’ basketball coaches. He also started a tutoring program for athletes for awhile and housed nine foreign exchange students, including hoops standouts Ruben Cotto, Leo Gomes and Fernando Coloneze.
“I’m from Galesburg and they’re noted for basketball and I went to Knox College and tried out for basketball and I was never good enough to make the team,” Delawder said. “But they convinced me to stay and do stats.
“I just love basketball from growing up in Galesburg.”
Yonkus was 44-20-3 in seven years at the helm of Alton football, including arguably the two greatest teams in school history — the 10-0 team in 1970 and the 9-0-1 team from ‘68. Both are members of the Alton HOF, with the ’70 squad enshrined in 2012 and the ’68 unit elected this year.
“Ed Yonkus turned our whole program around when he came in,” Frank Holmes said. “It took him a couple years to get it going, but he had the right combination of players and the main thing about Ed is you could relate to him. He could get you to get out there and play for him because you wanted to play for him.”
Holmes was connected to this year’s class threefold: as an individual, a member of the ’68 team and a player under Yonkus.
“It’s a great honor for me,” Holmes said. “It’s not something I’d considered and from the heart, this isn’t just about me, it’s all the people that supported me — teammates, family, friends.”
Holmes was an All-American coming out of AHS and went on to play football for the Iowa Hawkeyes, where he started two seasons at running back.
Hagen, Jeffries and Ceppenati were also members of the ’68 football squad under Yonkus as well as individual inductees this year.
Jeffries was the quarterback in football and a potent scorer for the Birds in basketball. He still ranks in the top 10 in scoring.
Hagen, a standout tight end, was also a great pitcher for the Redbird baseball program. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 12th round of the 1969 MLB Amateur Draft out of Alton.
Hagen, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound righty, pitched for three years in the Atlanta farm system.
Ceppenati was a standout offensive lineman for the Alton football program.
Hunt was also a standout athlete in the ’60s at Alton. Hunt finished second in the 880-yard run in 1962 and 1963 individually for the Redbirds.
Holmes, Ceppenati, Jeffries, Hagen and Hunt were All-State players.
The strong ’60s flavor brought a lot of people back together after a lot of years.
“It’s been 47 years and it’s really been a terrific ride for me,” Holmes said. “I haven’t seen some of these guys in 40 years.”
Former Alton boys’ basketball head coach Stan McAfoos was a member of the ‘58-59 boys’ basketball team that was inducted. That team finished the season with a 26-2 record and entered the postseason as the No. 1-ranked team in Illinois.
Finally there was Smith, the youngest of the ‘15 entries at 47. One of the most famed hoops players to come through Alton, Smith was an All-State performer and Co-News Gazette Player of the Year with former University of Illinois and NBA star Nick Anderson as a senior in high school. Smith went on to stand out at U of I and led the ’88-89 Final Four team in assists. Like Jeffries, he remains a top 10 all-time scorer at AHS.
He reveled in the HOF honors at his alma mater.
“Alton is very rich in basketball and growing up in a basketball family, I saw it first-hand,” Smith said. “The community backs the teams up and supports them and coming up that’s all I dreamed about. I couldn’t wait until I got up there and performed at West Gymnasium. Once I got there I tried to put on the best show possible for the fans and my family.”
That’s what all these honorees did for Alton; they put on the best show they could while wearing the Redbird uniform. They left their imprint on us as fans and as a community, so now let’s applaud them as they are forever linked to the sports program they helped mold.
Take a second next time you’re at AHS, stop by the Wall of Fame outside the gymnasium and take a gander at the numerous plaques to find out what these great athletes were all about.
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