– From Left to Right: Rick Hatcher, Barry Smith, Tyrone Keys, Vincent “Vinny” Lecavalier, Pam Oliver, Renee Hildebrand, Rick Ankiel, Chris Nikic, James Jones, Lisa Wagner, Fred Ridley, Luis Gonzalez and Dexter Jackson. Missing: Leiza Fitzgerald. –
TAMPA, FL — Some of Florida’s most iconic athletes were inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame at an event held Wednesday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. The 12-member class represents careers span-ning from 1979 to current and across seven different sports — baseball, bowling, fishing, football, golf and speed skating in addition to sports broadcasting. The class also included the first-ever Special Olympic athlete to join the Hall.
Comprised of four women, the 2022 class is one of the most diverse, and is representative of some of the greatest contributors to sports in the state. “This class represents some of the most impressive accomplishments attainable: a Super Bowl MVP, a Stanley Cup Champion, an Olympic gold-medal coach, a World Series champion who is also a five-time All-Star, and a Guinness World Record holder,” said FSHF board president Rick Hatcher.
– Hewell Family Fame for Fitness Award –
In addition to the enshrinement of the 2022 class, the evening also featured a presentation of the Hewell Family Fame for Fitness award, presented to Tyrone Keys and his foundation, All Sports Community Service, for their tremendous contribution helping young athletes in the Tampa area realize their dream of attending college. The evening also featured the awarding of the first-ever Bill Buchalter Spirit Award Scholarship to Foundation Academy’s Justin Williams.
– Bill Buchalter Spirit Award Scholarship –
The Florida Sports Hall of Fame 2022 Class (in alphabetical order)
Rick Ankiel – Baseball
Of the more than 22,000 players who have played Major League Baseball, there are exactly two who have hit at least 25 home runs in a single season and then (as a pitcher) won 10 games in a season. The first was George Herman “Babe” Ruth. The other – Rick Ankiel.
Rick began playing at Port St. Lucie High School where he was regarded the single best high school pitching prospect in the US. He was awarded the prestigious USA Today High School Player of the Year, Minor League Player of the Year, Sporting News Rookie of the Year and Golden Spikes Award by MLB Players Association.
Rick was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the second-round of the 1997 MLB draft. Two years later, as the #2 prospect in all of baseball, he earned a promotion to the majors where he was the youngest player in the big leagues. In 2005, he switched positions and became an outfielder, one of only 12 players in MLB History to have debuted as a pitcher and then switched to be a position player. He played all three outfield positions and suited up for the six different MLB teams.
Leiza Fitzgerald – Angler
In a 30-year outdoor career, Captain Leiza Fitzgerald was instrumental in introducing women to the sport of fishing. She helped create and implement some of the sport’s most iconic events. Her professional team “Screamin Reels N High Heels” was ranked a Top 10 Florida team, and earned a spot in the Southern Kingfish Association’s National Championships in 1998. Her two-woman redfish team was ranked as one of the Top 10 ESPN “ALL STAR” Redfish Teams in the country. In 2018, she was listed by Salt Strong as one of the top 12 lady anglers in Florida. In 2019, she was named Sportsman of the Year by The Sarasota Sportsman’s Association, the first time a woman had been named. In 2020, she was named as one of the 30 most influential female anglers (Top 5 in Saltwater) by Wildlife Enthusiast magazine. She won Annual Top Angler for Redfish from the International Women’s Fishing Association in 2020 with a repeat in 2021 when she won IWFA Annual Top Angler for Redfish, Snook and Sheephead. Leiza has affectionately been deemed “Queen of Conservation” for her tireless efforts to help improve marine fisheries.
Luis Gonzalez – Baseball
Nicknamed “Gonzo”, Luis Gonzalez played 19 seasons for seven MLB teams. His best years were with the Arizona Diamondbacks and was one of the most popular players in the organization’s history. His game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera clinched the Diamondbacks’ first and only World Series championship to date.
Gonzalez was a five-time All-Star and won a Silver Slugger Award in 2001. In addition to good power (354 career home runs), Gonzalez was known as an exceptional gap hitter. His 596 career doubles currently rank 19th on the all-time MLB list.
After retiring from baseball in 2008, Gonzalez joined the Diamondbacks’ front office in 2009 as a special assistant to the president.
The following year, the team retired his uniform number #20, making him the first player so honored by the Diamondbacks.
Renee Hildebrand – Speed Skating Coach
Renee Hildebrand is a former Vice President of the Board of Directors for USA Roller Sports and former Head Coach of Team USA-Florida.
Renee is known in the speed skating circles, both inline and ice, and her name held in the highest regard. As the founder and lead coach of inline speed team, Team Florida, her team and the skaters she’s produced are truly at home nowhere else like they are when they’re on the top of the podium.
For more than three decades, Renee Hildebrand has been training Ocala kids to become inline speed skating world champions. Three of her most accomplished former pupils on wheels have since transitioned to the ice, drawn by the challenge of mastering a new sport and the chance to chase Olympic glory: Brittany Bowe, seven-time world champion and two-time Olympian, Erin Jackson, 2022 Winter Olympic Gold Medalist in the 500 meters, and Joey Mantia, an Olympic medalist and 28-time world champion and world record holder.
Dexter Jackson – Football
Jackson was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft and went on to grab two interceptions to help Tampa beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. He was named the game’s MVP, becoming the first safety to win the award since 1973, and the third defensive back overall. Jackson attended Florida State University and was named All-ACC as a junior. He finished his college football career with 194 tackles, 7 interceptions, 16 passes defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, and blocked four field goals.
Jackson currently serves as Youth & Recreation Manager for the Tampa Housing Authority, a non-profit organization in Tampa.
James Jones – Football
James Jones played fullback for coach Charley Pell’s Florida Gators football team that posted the biggest one-year turnaround in the history of NCAA Division I football: from 0–10–1 in 1979 to an 8–4 bowl team in 1980. Jones finished his Gator career with 2,026 yards rushing, 593 yards receiving and 48 yards passing, and led the team in rushing yardage for three consecutive seasons. In 1998, he was later inducted into the UF Athletic Hall of Fame as a “Gator Great”. In 2006, The Gainesville Sun sportswriters ranked him as the No. 45 all-time greatest Gator from the first century of the Florida Gators football team.
The Detroit Lions selected Jones in the first round (13th pick overall) of the 1983 NFL Draft, and he played there until 1988. Jones finished his 10-season NFL career having played in 135 games, starting in 91 of them, rushed for 3,626 yards and 26 touchdowns and caught 318 passes for 2,641 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Vincent “Vinny” Lecavalier – Hockey
Vincent “Vinny” Lecavalier, who played 17 seasons in the NHL between 1998 and 2016, was the captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2000–2001 season and again from 2008–2013. He spent his first 14 NHL seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning before being bought out following the 2012–13 season and signing with the Philadelphia Flyers for $22.5 million over five years. He was chosen first overall by the Lightning in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft and was a member of their 2004 Stanley Cup championship team. He won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2007 as the NHL’s leading goal scorer. On February 10, 2018, the Tampa Bay Lightning retired his number 4 jersey.
Chris Nikic – Special Olympics Athlete
Chris joined Special Olympics Florida when he was only nine – starting with golf, then adding swimming, track & field, basketball and, after Special Olympics Florida introduced the sport in 2019, triathlon. Working with his coach and father, over 2½ years he transformed himself from a couch potato to an athlete doing 100-mile bike rides and 18-mile runs. He began swimming nearly three miles at a stretch, lifting weights and doing mental exercises to learn to push past pain. In November 2020, Chris became the first person with Down syndrome to complete a full IRONMAN, making Chris a Guinness World Record holder. In the months after, Chris won an ESPY and the Laureus Sporting Moment of the Year Award. He ran both the Boston and New York City marathons, wrote and published a book, and became a sought-after motivational speaker. He most recently completed the 2022 IRONMAN Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
As a Special Olympics Ambassador, Chris strives to raise awareness and promote inclusion for the Special Olympics community and others with intellectual disabilities.
Pam Oliver – Sports Broadcaster
Renowned as a trailblazer in the sports media landscape, Pam Oliver long ago established herself as one of the premier sports reporters on network television. She has contributed to Fox Sports’ coverage of eight Super Bowls, was the lead feature reporter on Fox NFL Sunday for many years, and served as co-anchor of FSN South’s “Southern Sports Report” from 2000 to 2003. Prior to joining the network, she was an ESPN reporter, gaining football experience covering the NFL Playoffs and NFC Championship Games. In addition, to her duties as feature reporter on “NFL Prime Monday,” Oliver covered each Monday Night Football matchup. She was a multi-sport athlete at Niceville High School in Niceville, FL and became a college All-American in both the 400-meter and mile relay at Florida A&M University.
Fred Ridley – Golf
While attending the University of Florida, Fred Ridley played for the men’s golf team and was an alternate the year the Gators won the NCAA national tournament in 1973. In 1975, Ridley won the U.S. Amateur, the preeminent amateur golf tournament in the United States, where he defeated Keith Fergus in the 36-hole final, having beaten Curtis Strange and Andy Bean in previous rounds of the match-play championship. At the end of 1975, Ridley was ranked the #2 amateur in the country by Golf Digest. Ridley never turned professional and remains the last U.S. Amateur champion to have never become a professional golfer.
Ridley was elected president of the United States Golf Association (USGA) in 2004. He has also served as co-chairman of the International Golf Federation. On August 23, 2017, Augusta National announced that Ridley would succeed Billy Payne as chairman of the club.
Barry Smith – Football
Barry Smith was born and raised in Miami and was a standout, two-sport athlete (football and track) at Miami Coral Park HS. He was All-State and honorable mention All-American at wide receiver and a state champion high hurdler. To this day, he is among the 100 top all-time HS football players in Dade County. At FSU, he was a two-sport athlete – running on the record-breaking High Hurdles Shuttle Relay team as well as a 1st Team All-American Wide Receiver, and NCAA leader in TD receptions and reception yards. He broke all FSU season and career scoring records and held the record for most TD catches of any receiver in the state until 1987.
Drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers (1973) he went on to be NFC Rookie of the Year finalist and Green Bay Packer Man of the Year in 1975. In 1976, he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the franchise’s inaugural season. He was traded to his hometown Miami Dolphins the next year, however the return to Miami was cut short as Smith contracted polio during preseason camp. He was inducted into the FSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1979 and made the College Football Hall of Fame ballot in 2021.
Lisa Wagner – Bowling
Lisa Wagner is one of the best women bowlers in the country. By the 2000 season, Lisa Wagner was the all-time women’s professional tournament titlist with 32 wins. Wagner was the 1996 USBC Queens Tournament champion. She also won five USBC Women’s Championships titles: an Open Division all-events title in 1988, Open Division doubles titles in 1982 and 1992, and Classic Division singles and doubles titles in 2001. Wagner was named Woman Bowler of the Year four times by the Bowling Writers Association of America. Wagner also was named 1980s Bowler of the Decade by both Woman Bowler magazine and Bowling Magazine. In 1996, she was inducted into the Women’s Professional Bowling Hall of Fame. At the start of her pro career, Wagner was named 1980 Rookie of the Year by the Ladies Professional Bowlers Tour. Among her professional titles were the 1983 Greater Milwaukee Open, the 1988 U.S. Open and the 1999 PWBA Storm Challenge.
The Florida Sports Hall of Fame attraction is housed in the MidFlorida Events Center in Port St. Lucie, FL. Visitors can walk among and view more than 60 memorabilia exhibits from some of Florida’s most well-known sports stars, including legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus; Coach Bobby Bowden; National Hot Rod Association legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits; golfer Andy Bean; tennis great Chris Evert; football legend Bob Griese, and many more. For more information, visit www.FlaSportsHOF.org.
About the Florida Sports Hall of Fame
Celebrating its 61st year, The Florida Sports Hall of Fame was started by the Florida Sports Writers and Sportscasters Association to recognize and honor Florida’s greatest sports figures and events and leverage this col-lective celebrity to promote fitness awareness, education and sports activities among our state’s youth and adults. Equally important is the promotion of the qualities of discipline and honor among sports participants.