SMITH COLUMN: UGA HOF dinner

Published 11:30 am Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Georgia Chapter of the National Football Foundation, the nation’s largest chapter for many years, staged its annual awards banquet earlier this week at the Athens Country Club with Lenn Chandler, chapter President, getting the program underway.

There was emphasis reserved for scholar-athletes as the chapter also recognized a number of luminaries, highlighted by honoring Verne Lundquist, longtime CBS broadcaster, and Steve Hatchell, President and CEO of the National Football Foundation.

With the popular Lundquist, fresh from calling the action at the 16th hole at the Masters, spending the weekend in Athens (he was also recognized by the UGA Athletic Association at the halftime of the G-Day game on Saturday), there was considerable socializing which allowed for back porch conversation with two seasoned raconteurs — Lundquist and Hatchell.

Lundquist, along with Michael Burnett, CEO of the Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, were honored with the chapter’s Distinguished American Awards. Hatchell was recognized for his Contribution to Amateur Football Award.

One of the most admired young men on the Athletic Association premises, Mark Christensen, a member of Ron Courson’s sports medicine staff, was also recognized for his “contributions to amateur football.” It was a high moment as Christensen was the recipient of a standing ovation following Courson’s introduction.

The banquet began with a video produced by the NFF on the values of the game of football. The video was followed by a live auction, ably stewarded by Louis Tonsmeire of Cartersville, which got the event moving forward in a festive mood.

A near full house of honorees, sponsors and loyal supporters at the Athens Country Club was a reminder that the Georgia chapter of the NFF, has come a long way since its inception in 1986. This was the 36th annual dinner and was one of the best attended.

The event attracted Athletic Director Josh Brooks and former AD,Vince Dooley, who was on hand to recognize the Frances Wood Wilson Foundation scholar athletes.

John Parker, one of the Super Gold Sponsors, presented the J. Reid Parker Post Graduate awards to six former Bulldog athletes, recognized for post graduate achievement, an impressive group including Howard Hudson of Augusta, Knox Culpepper of Atlanta, Robert Edwards, Sandersville, Larry Brown, Oglethorpe County and Virgil Cole, Madison.

Jesse Hickey of the Turner Family Foundation, presented the Jack Turner Award which honors the UGA outstanding senior football player at UGA who is defined by his exceptional accomplishments and varied interests — a well-rounded Georgia man; Stetson Bennett, given an extra year of eligibility owing to COVID, was the winner of the Jack Turner Award this year.  Jeff Petrea of Georgia Power, recognized the two local public high schools Cedar Shoals (Dreco Thomas, athletic director) and Clarke Central (Jon Ward, athletic director) for their Play it Smart honorees, Juan’Darion Silas and Will Richardson for their fine record as student athletes.  Each player receives a scholarship grant provided by Barb and Carl Parks. Fred Butler of Coca-Cola presented the Coca-Cola Helping Hand award to Madison Sanders, executive director, of Family Promise of Athens and Robert Miles, of the UGA Football Administrated Staff, presented the Billy Payne Award to John Fitzpatrick. Matt Brinkley of CPC advisors, presented Steve Hatchell, with the Chapter’s Contribution to Amateur Football. Hatchell complimented the chapter on its growth and development and pointed out how the game of football had provided outstanding leaders who benefitted from leadership skills they learned from college football, the greatest of games.