Although Mobile and Baldwin counties are separated by a large body of water, the two communities share a unique culture. The neighbors can often find common ground on topics such as food, music and sports.
That is one of the main reasons the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame has expanded its ballot to include athletes who have called the entire Alabama Gulf Coast their home. The inductees for 2017 now include three more honorees with Baldwin County connections.
Peter Albrecht, president of MSHOF, said it only made sense to look at potential candidates from both sides of Mobile Bay. He said the issue was first discussed with the selection of Kenny Stabler, who starred for Foley High School but spent many years as a resident of Mobile.
“I think that just reflects the expanding nature of the Mobile metro area,” Albrecht said. “The Eastern Shore and Baldwin County now are intricately connected with the Mobile area in many facets of life and it certainly includes athletics.”
The newest inductees include Jason Caffey, John Finley, Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich, Ann Schilling, Dave Stapleton, Lawyer Tillman and Jerrel Wilson. Of those, Rosandich, Schilling and Stapleton have ties to Baldwin County.
“It’s another tremendous class, representing the very best from five sports,” Albrecht said.
Also distinctive about this class is the selection of Finley as a “special contributor.” Well known as a community leader after opening Finley’s Pharmacy in 1950, he supported many African-Americans’ athletic endeavors.
“There are many ways that people have contributed to the Mobile sports scene over the years, without being a player or coach,” Albrecht said. “Mr. Finley was certainly a pillar of the community who advanced the athletics opportunities and careers of many young people.”
Inductees will be honored during the 2017 MSHOF Induction Banquet at 7 p.m., on Thursday, April 6, at the Battle House Hotel in downtown Mobile. Tickets can be ordered by calling 251-709-0310 or visiting MobileSportsHallOfFame.com.
Here is a quick glance at the newest class, including comments from the introduction event at the RSA Battle House Tower, which hosts the exhibit:
Jason Caffey — One of Mobile’s most honored athletes ever, Caffey was Alabama’s Mr. Basketball and a McDonald’s All-American in 1991 after playing at Davidson High School. An All-Southeastern Conference performer, he helped the University of Alabama reach the NCAA playoffs three times.
Caffey continued his success after being drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bulls. The squad, led by Michael Jordan, captured back-to-back NBA titles. Caffey also played with Golden State and Milwaukee. During his nine years in the pros, he scored 3,368 points and pulled down 2,022 rebounds.
“I was just a 5-[foot]-11 point guard in middle school,” Caffey said, “but then shot up to 6-[foot]-7 and had all the coaches coming to Texas Street to see me play. I want to thank everyone for this honor. This is something I always wanted.”
Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich — Rosandich’s largest impact on the local athletic scene was bringing the United States Sports Academy from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to the University of South Alabama in 1976 and eventually to its current location in Daphne in 1986. He served as president and CEO of USSA for 43 years until 2015, when he became its president emeritus.
The MSHOF staff said the Academy led the development of the installation of South Alabama’s first 400-meter all-weather track, a sports medicine center, a human performance lab and a fully equipped strength and conditioning center. Rosandich, who has coached in 50 countries, helped to found Operation Bounce-Back, a cardiac rehabilitation program helping Mobilians who suffer from cardiovascular illness.
“My father regrets he could not be here today, but he wanted me to extend his warmest greetings and heartfelt thanks for this honor,” said Dr. T.J. Rosandich, who now serves as president and CEO of the Academy. “While he has received many honors, he said this is the most meaningful because it comes from his adopted hometown.”
Ann Schilling – Schilling’s induction into the MSHOF could have been earned as either a player or a coach. As an athlete at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School, she helped the Mobile team to state volleyball championships in 1978, 1979 and 1981, plus in girls’ basketball in 1978 and 1980. She then carried her skills to play both sports at Auburn University.
With her bachelor’s degree, Schilling joined the staff at Bayside Academy in 1987. Since that time, her clubs have a record of 1,388-371. Bayside has won 21 state volleyball titles during that time, including a state record 15 in a row. She has sent more than 50 athletes to the college ranks.
“I would like to thank the committee for this,” said Schilling, the National Federation of High Schools’ Coach of the Year in 2010. “I am so honored to be a part of this class. This means to the world to me.”
Dave Stapleton — A Fairhope native, Stapleton arrived on the University of South Alabama baseball team after playing two years at Faulkner State Community College. He left his mark with the Jaguars, who went 30-8 during 1974 and an incredible 52-14 mark in 1975 (at one point being ranked No. 1 in the nation). Stapleton hit .361 during his career and set USA single-season records in doubles, RBIs, at-bats and hits.
Stapleton was drafted by the Boston Red Sox, but spent several seasons in the minors. Finally getting a chance midway through the 1980 season, he made the most of his opportunity by batting .321 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs as the starting second baseman. He would finish as the runner-up in the American League’s Rookie of the Year balloting.
He remained a Red Sox starter at first base through 1983 before assuming a reserve role. He would often be a late-inning defensive replacement at first base, but was not in the crucial Game 6 of the 1986 World Series when Bill Buckner misplayed Mookie Wilson’s grounder to allow the New York Mets to rally and eventually win the championship.
“I want to thank the committee for voting me this prestigious honor,” said Stapleton, who had a .271 career batting average in the Major Leagues with 41 home runs and 224 RBIs. “When I look at the wall behind me displaying all the previous selections, it just shows what a great honor this is.
“I never thought I would be invited. I watched from Baldwin County and watched all the great athletes selected. This is a dream come true for me.”
Lawyer Tillman — A star basketball player at LeFlore High School, Tillman went on to be a four-year starter at Auburn as a wide receiver. In 48 games, he caught 93 passes for 1,808 yards and 14 touchdowns. He is best remembered for scoring on an 8-yard reverse with just 32 seconds to play in the 1986 Iron Bowl that gave the Tigers a 21-17 victory over Alabama.
Tillman was the initial pick in the second round (31st overall) by the Cleveland Browns in the 1989 NFL Draft. He played tight end and wide receiver for the Browns while appearing in 32 games. He concluded his career with the Carolina Panthers in 1995.
“First, I want to give honor to God, because none of this would have been possible without Him,” Tillman said. “I am told good things come in threes. First I was part of Auburn’s Walk of Fame, next the Hall of Fame at my high school and now the Mobile Sports Hall of Fame. Thank you, guys, for this honor.”
Jerrel Wilson — Born in New Orleans, Wilson played football at Murphy High School. After two years at Pearl River Community College, he went to the University of Southern Mississippi where he was a punter, placekicker and linebacker.
After earning All-American honors for punting, the man nicknamed “Thunder Foot” was drafted in 1963 by both the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. He selected the Chiefs, and played with them in two Super Bowls. When the leagues merged, Wilson was named to the AFL’s All-Time Team. He played his 16th and final season with New England in 1978.
Wilson, who passed away in 2005, was named All-Pro seven times. He holds the record for most seasons leading the league in punting average. In fact, he won more punting titles, had a superior best single season average and a better career average than Ray Guy — a fellow USM graduate who is the only punter in the NFL Hall of Fame.
No family members were present at the news conference, but they are expected to attend the induction ceremony.
John L. “Doc” Finley — After receiving a Bronze Star for meritorious service during World War II, Finley went on to earn a degree from Xavier University’s School of Pharmacy. He later opened Finley’s Pharmacy on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard less than a half-mile from where he grew up.
In addition to many projects to help his community, he did much for the local athletic scene. He sponsored basketball, baseball and bowling teams; supported the YMCA Boys Club; and was on the committee that brought Historically Black Colleges and Universities to play in Mobile.
With a lack of coverage for African-American athletes in the 1960s, he started the “John L. Finley Award” to recognize those achievements. After school desegregation, the award was open to all races. In fact, fellow inductee Ann Schilling was the Finley Award winner for Superb Achievement as a Coach in 2004 and 2012.
“Our family really appreciates this honor,” said John Finley III, speaking for his father, who passed away in 2002. “My dad did all he could do to give someone a hand. I never remember him ever saying ‘no’ to someone.”