That was the reaction of most who entered the high school cafeteria on Saturday, May 24, for the inaugural Coalgate Athletic Hall of Fame banquet.
The place had been transformed into a palace fit for kings and queens with the decorating skills of Jennifer Horton and Dawn Adcock. The first-ever inductees included Jack Ward, class of ’43, Ernest Paul Fanning, class of ’48, Coach Donald Mike Mayer, class of ’59 posthumously, Elvin Sweeten, class of ’60, Joe Avanzini, class of ’73, and the 2004 girls state champion track team. The entire group of Lady Wildcats was in attendance, including Megan Sims, Constance Thompson, Hillary Holliday, Teran Mixon, Echo Adcock, Kacee McCulley, Jenna Airington, Jamaica Pebworth and Lauren Sandmann.
“I was overwhelmed with the attendance, as we were expecting 130-140 people at best. The final tally showed 172 people attended the event,” said Steve Hudson, a 1970 CHS graduate who helped organize the event.
The banquet got under way following a reception for the crowd to meet with the inductees and 1956 graduate and keynote speaker Tom McDaniel. The master of ceremonies for the Inaugural banquet was 1967 graduate John Hudson.
The banquet began with door prizes of floral arrangements provided by Leslie Robson from The Flower Garden, along with an autographed football signed by Dallas Cowboy Hall of Famer Bob Lilly. That was followed by a congratulatory video message from Southern Methodist University head basketball coach Larry Brown — the only coach to have won both an NCAA championship (with Kansas in 1988) and an NBA championship (with the Detroit Pistons in 2004).
Harry Tunnel, class of ’59, then presented the first Donald Mike Mayer scholarship to Wildcat senior athletes Shelby Martindale and T.J. Maynard.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony began with J. D. Smith, who was the presenter (and former teammate of) for Jack Ward.
In succession Ernest Paul Fanning was introduced by his son, Ernie, in an emotional presentation.
The 2004 Coalgate girls state champion track team was presented by Trent Bourland, class of 2000, and Kacee McCulley gave a beautiful acceptance speech on behalf of the team. Elvin Sweeten was next and was welcomed into the exclusive club by a former teammate and former superintendent of Coalgate Schools, Dr. John Linton.
Former basketball coach Bob Parkhill gave a glowing recollection of the outstanding career and contributions to the community of inductee Joe Avanzini. He was serenaded by Mariah Carey’s “Hero” and was gracious in his remarks to the people who had inspired him when he was a youngster to become the best that he could be.
The final recipient was the late coach Donald Mike Mayer, who died of Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 40. Jim Cox gave a stirring synopsis of the career and friendship that he shared with Mayer, and the acceptance speech was shared by his daughter, Jamie O’Shields, brother Tom Mayer and sister Audrey Mayer, a 1972 graduate.
The evening was getting late, but Tom McDaniel re-energized the crowd with the topic “A Night to Remember” in reference to the Hall of Fame inductees and their great accomplishments that they had as athletes at Coalgate High School and beyond.
McDaniel was a former valedictorian and outstanding athlete for the Wildcats and later at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. He previously served as vice chairman of Kerr McGee Corporation and president of both Northwestern Oklahoma State and Oklahoma City University. He currently is president of American Fidelity Foundation in Oklahoma City and is very active in the community serving on numerous boards and commissions.
The program concluded with HOF committee member Jim Page, a 1968 graduate presenting a gift to outgoing HOF representative Bill Avanzini for his year of service. Coalgate principal Chris Hall was then presented the first Hall of Fame plaque to be placed in the trophy case at the gymnasium by Steve Hudson.
Hall ended the night with closing remarks about the ceremony and a new beginning that has now been established at Coalgate High School.