An enthusiastic sellout crowd was at the Sawgrass Marriott on Nov. 8 as the Florida Sports Hall of Fame welcomed five new members into its ranks at its annual induction ceremonies.
Joining the Hall were former NFL Man of the Year Warrick Dunn, retired PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem, Atlanta Braves great Chipper Jones and Heisman Trophy winner and world-wide sports icon Tim Tebow. Joining the group posthumously was LPGA star Colleen Walker.
“This Class is incredibly special,” Florida Sports Hall of Fame President Barry Smith said. “Their accomplishments on the playing fields and in athletic administration certainly made them more than deserving of the honor. But in many cases those achievements paled in comparison to what they accomplished off the field. Through the efforts in their communities, as well as on a national — and in some instances a world-wide — stage, these individuals have made the world a better place.”
Flanked by her son Tyler, Colleen’s husband Ron Bakich accepted the award on her behalf. “After being diagnosed, Colleen’s goal was to return to the tour and play good golf,” Bakich said. “She felt if her return to the tour inspired others inflicted with cancer it would be a good thing. I know she is looking down and smiling right now.”
Dunn left Florida State as the Seminoles all-time leading rusher before embarking on a successful NFL career where he rushed for more than 10,000 yards and scored 62 touchdowns.
He earned three Pro Bowl berths and was an Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was also named recipient of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award for his community service work.
Among many charitable endeavors, Dunn created a Home for the Holidays Program where he provides down payments to single parents that allow them to purchase fully-furnished homes. To date, Dunn has made it possible more than 150 single parent families to own their own homes.
“My mother worked two jobs with the goal of owning her own home. Being a single parent and trying to raise a family, she was never able to save enough for a down payment and she died before the dream of home ownership could become a reality,” Dunn told the crowd. “I decided that if I was ever put in position to help others with that dream it would become my life’s mission to do so.”
Finchem, who succeeded Deane Beman as PGA Tour Commissioner and held the post from 1994 to 2016, ushered in a new era of profitability and popularity for the Tour. He was credited with the creation of the Fed Ex Cup Playoffs and the Presidents Cup; as well as numerous initiatives, including The First Tee.
He praised his predecessor and the PGA Tour staff for making his induction possible. “Deane really set the table for everything that happened after I took over,” Finchem said. “His vision and leadership set everything in motion. I am really accepting this award for the entire PGA Tour Staff. We have an incredibly talented and dedicated world-class staff that executes their mission to the highest standards. They are simply the best in the world at what they do.”
Finchem also praised the work of all the inductees and thanked the Florida State Hall of Fame. “The community initiatives put into practice by the people I share this stage with is truly inspiring. We don’t hear enough about the good athletes and teams do and I truly appreciate the Hall for providing a platform to get these stories out.”
A career .303 hitter, Jones played 19 years for Atlanta —helping that team to 12 division titles and one World Series Championship. He slugged 468 career home runs, was an eight-time All-Star and won a National League MVP Award. He was one of baseball’s all-time great switch hitters.
Considered a sure-fire first-ballot Baseball Hall of Fame when he becomes eligible, Jones re-lived growing up in Pierson, Fla. and attending Bolles High School. “In our backyard was a fernery and the edge of it was my Fenway Park wall. My dad would pitch to me and every time I would hit a baseball over that wall my dad would make me switch to the other side.”
Jones said the fernery motivated him in other ways. “Whenever I got bad grades or got into any trouble I was sent out there to pull weeds,” Jones said. “It certainly motivated me to want to get out of Pierson and out of the fern business,”
He added that he was proud of the Jones Family Foundation and its work with children’s causes. “When you are young you appreciate getting awards and recognition, but when you get older you realize those things aren’t very important. I felt truly blessed to be given a talent that has rewarded me in so many ways,” Jones said. “But with that gift comes a responsibility to help others.”
A former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time SEC Player of the Year at the University of Florida, Tebow stole the show during his acceptance speech. He praised the on-field athletic accomplishments of Walker and Jones; before comically feigning disgust with Dunn’s playing career before acknowledging his greatness as a player.
He then recognized the community service efforts of each inductee, thanking Finchem for the millions of dollars raised for charities through the PGA Tour before adding a personal note of thanks to the Commissioner for allowing him to use Sawgrass for his charity golf tournament.
He then thanked Dunn for his Home for the Holidays program and the Jones Family Foundation, paying special homage to its work for children’s causes.
“None of us got here by ourselves,” Tebow said. “Instead we represent everyone whoever invested time in us and helped get to this point. And we have a responsibility to pass that along. It never should be about what we get but about what we give.”
In addition to the induction of the five, the Hall also gave special recognition to the 1967 Coral Gables High School football team on the 50th anniversary of its state and national championship and also presented Shriners Hospitals for Children-Tampa, its annual “Fame for Fitness Award.”
Smith also announced a new partnership with the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, before noting the 2018 Florida Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies would take place next November in Pensacola, Fla.