(press release) The late James L. “Bucky” Wolford is this year’s selection for the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame’s highest annual honor, the Presidents Award. It formerly was named for one of the organization’s past presidents, Fred Gregg.
Wolford, who died of cancer in 2017 at the age of 70, will be honored at this year’s hall of fame banquet Feb. 24 at the Chattanooga Convention Center, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Five other special award winners also will be featured, including Rhyne Howard and Isaiah Mack as the Catherine Neely and Reggie White area athletes of the year, and 19 new members will be inducted into the hall.
Linda Carter and Sam Woolwine will receive the Betty Probasco and Walt Lauter awards for lifetime sports-related achievement and service, and East Hamilton senior Alen Karajic is getting the Morgan/Morris Award for success despite extraordinary adversity.
The 2020 inductees, previously announced, are Rick Allen, James Beach, Jeff Clark, Earl Condra, siblings Gloria Scott Deathridge and Terry Scott, Greg Dennis, the late David Douglas, Jim Foster, Julie Garner, David Hannah, Brent Johnson, Lee Pride, Judy Rominger Pruett, Joe Scruggs, Mike Turner, Ted Turner, Wendy Oakes Wilhelm and Darryl Yarbrough.
Tickets for the event cost $40 and must be reserved by Feb. 17 through Laura Pitman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-304-3208. Tables for eight can be reserved for $320.
Wolford made a huge mark in the world of malls and other retail development, and he continually shared his success and leadership skills with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where he played football from 1966 to 1969 (the first three years as the University of Chattanooga) and graduated as a double major in math and education.
He came from Kimberly, Alabama, a tiny coal-mining town near Birmingham, and was a college football star, scholar and ROTC leader. He had 13 career interceptions, long fumble and kickoff returns for touchdowns against Auburn and Ole Miss and as a running back a career average of 5.2 yards per carry. He led the Mocs in rushing in the 9-1 season of 1968.
A member of both UTC’s athletics and entrepreneurship halls of fame, Wolford was generous to the school with time as well as money — among other things, serving as a UTC and UT trustee, a chairman of the UC Foundation and a lifetime trustee of the foundation.
He endowed a Mocs football scholarship in his coal-miner father’s name, and UTC’s strength and conditioning center is named for the Wolford family.
After a dazzling basketball career at Bradley Central High School, Howard became an instant star at Kentucky. The 6-foot-2 guard was All-Southeastern Conference and the freshman of the year in the SEC and nationally, after averaging team highs of 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game and totaling 75 assists and 68 steals. She’s averaging 23.9 points and 6.4 rebounds this season for the 12th-ranked Wildcats.
Mack, who came to UTC from Northwest Whitfield High School and became the Southern Conference defensive player of the year and an All-American as a senior in 2018, can take pride in being a sack master like his new award’s namesake, Reggie White. Mack totaled 222 tackles, 41 for lost yardage and 21 sacks as a Moc. The male athlete of the year signed with the Tennessee Titans and played in five games as a rookie, making 1 1/2 sacks and a key fumble recovery. He’s No. 2 at defensive tackle on the unofficial depth chart.
Carter coached basketball for 26 years at Red Bank Middle School, where she still teaches health and physical education, and won regular-season and/or HCAC tournament titles half of those. She was the league coach of the year 13 times in basketball and five in softball, which she coached 13 years with a 116-53 record, five HCAC season titles and two second-place finishes and four each tournament firsts and seconds. She’s also an accomplished golfer.
Woolwine came to Chattanooga from West Virginia in 1968 and joined the News-Free Press sports staff, and he retired in 2003 as executive sports editor of the merged Times Free Press but continued to write weekly columns until 2009 and occasional freelance reports since. He retired to run the Chattanooga Classic professional golf tournament, having directed many tournaments — including the 1996 NCAA nationals won by Tiger Woods at The Honors Course — during his years as the newspaper’s golf writer. His experience and expertise included many other sports, and he was very involved in youth athletics and community, state and national organizations.
Karajic was a 2019 TSSAA Mr. Football kicker semifinalist, a local Best of Preps first-teamer and a Jacksonville State scholarship signee after going 6-for-10 on field-goal tries with a 46-yard make and a 38-yard punting average — in his first year of American football. He studied YouTube videos of successful kickers and punters and worked with former Tennessee Volunteers kicker James Wilhoit, who said, “Alen’s length on field goals and kickoffs is phenomenal. He might have the biggest upside of anyone I have ever coached. … His frame and legs give him the ability to kick the ball farther than anyone in the state.”