The newly minted Georgia High School Football Hall of Fame held its inaugural induction ceremony Saturday night, honoring 45 of the state’s greatest athletes.

Inductees received Hall of Fame jackets, a medal presented by the Georgia High School Association and a plaque that will be displayed at Mercedez-Benz Stadium. The College Football Hall of Fame hosted the event.

Individuals were voted into the Georgia High School Hall of Fame by a 36-person committee comprised of former and present coaches, athletic directors, principals, business leaders and media, according to the Hall of Fame. Candidates for induction must be at least eight years removed from high school or retired from professional football.

The ceremony began with the honorees and/or their representatives walking a red carpet at the College Football Hall of Fame. Founder and Chairman I.J. Rosenberg greeted the audience, while Bill Hartman and Matt Stewart – board members and stalwarts of high school football coverage in Georgia – were the masters of ceremony. The extravaganza was an unprecedented gathering of the athletes who’ve shaped Georgia’s athletic reputation.

Each honoree was individually introduced as an MC shared his backstory with the crowd. The inductee or representative walked to the podium while the top song from his senior year played. If the individual was present, he’d answer one question related to his high-school career (sometimes rooted in humor). Family, friends and coaches were among those to appear on an absent inductees’ behalf (for instance, Hines Ward’s coach at Forest Park, Mike Parris, represented him).

Twenty-two of the living 35 inductees attended the event, while several others submitted video messages. Those who attended included: Buck Belue, Monte Williams, Otis Sistrunk, Larry Kinnebrew, Eric Zeier, Charlie Dudish, Garrison Hearst, Terrence Edwards, George Maloof, James Brooks, Ron Simmons, Andre Hastings, Chip Kell, Eric Berry, Champ Bailey, Clarence Scott, Stan Rome, Richard Dent, Bill Curry, Charlie Ward, Matt Stinchcomb and Herschel Walker.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Walker was the lone unanimous inductee. He’s one of the highest-profile Georgia Bulldogs in history and was the best player on the 1980 national championship team. The Heisman winner first starred at Johnson County.

Charlie Ward, who won a Heisman Trophy with Florida State, played for Central High (Thomasville). He also delivered the closing speech on behalf of the class.

Pro Football Hall of Famers inducted included Ray Guy (Thomson), Calvin Johnson (Sandy Creek), Bailey (Charlton County) and Dent (Murphy High). Johnson couldn’t make the ceremony but submitted a video. His parents represented him.

Guy was the lone special teamer inducted. Guy is commonly considered the best punter in NFL history, making seven Pro Bowls, earning six first-team All-Pro honors, and winning three Super Bowls over a 14-year career with the Raiders. But in high school, he was also a quarterback, running back, linebacker and safety.

Belue, a Valdosta product, quarterback of Georgia’s 1980 team and excellent baseball player, is one of the most recognized local names over the past few decades. He’s also been an integral part of Atlanta sports radio since 2000.

Parkview’s Jeff Francoeur was a two-sport sensation in high school. He chose baseball, earning a 12-year career in the majors (six seasons with the Braves). Francoeur is currently a Braves broadcaster with Bally Sports South and national broadcaster with TBS. He missed Saturday’s event because he’s part of the broadcast crew for the Yankees-Astros American League Championship Series.

Francoeur recorded a video from Yankee Stadium thanking the committee and his past teammates and coaches. He signed off with: “Don’t worry, I’m going to let these people here in New York City know what Georgia High School football is all about.”

Credit: AJC staff

Credit: AJC staff

David Pollack (College Gameday) and Takeo Spikes (SEC Network) also missed the event due to broadcasting commitments. Pollack (Shiloh) and Spikes (Washington County) were top-tier linebackers at Georgia and Auburn, respectively. Both received their jackets during their broadcasts, which were later aired during the ceremony.

“I didn’t think the jacket was going to be here,” Spikes said. “I felt bad I couldn’t make it. … But it means a lot.” Spikes continued, praising a handful of other inductees and discussing the discipline required from high-school athletes to reach such a performance level.

Pollack was emotional receiving his jacket in Eugene, Oregon, and jokingly asked to “move on to the next segment.”

Shannon Sharpe, the pride of Glennville, was another prominent name inducted. After playing collegiately at Savannah State, Sharpe was a four-time first-team NFL All-Pro and won three Super Bowls. One of the best tight ends in NFL history, Sharpe parlayed his on-field success into a media career, co-hosting FS1′s “Undisputed” with Skip Bayless.

Berry (Creekside), a former Tennessee and Chiefs standout, was the youngest inductee at 33. Creekside was one of three high-school teams that attended the event. Berry had a meet and greet with the students following his presentation.

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD

The mention of Lt. Clint Castleberry (Boys) received a thunderous applause and standing ovation. Castleberry was an All-American at Georgia Tech (1942) before setting aside his football aspirations to join the U.S. Army Armed Forces. Castleberry died on assignment in 1944 at age 21. His No. 19 remains the only retired number in Georgia Tech history. Castleberry’s cousin Chris represented him Saturday.

Rome, another two-sport standout and Valdosta product, spent much of his speech Saturday lauding famed Wildcats coach Wright Bazemore, who first turned Valdosta into a national powerhouse. Rome was Valdosta’s best athlete, getting drafted into the NFL and NBA.

Rome held the state record for receiving yards (4,477) for nearly 50 years until Jaden Gibson (Rabun County) recently broke that mark. After Rome was honored, he met Gibson, who missed his homecoming to attend the event. The two took pictures together.

While Rome’s record fell, Williams still owns his. He ran for 8,844 yards at Commerce, making him Georgia’s all-time rushing leader by 736 yards (over second place Washaun Ealey).

Peachtree TV will air a special on the ceremony Nov. 6. The Georgia High School Sports Hall of Fame plans to introduce new members each year.

Below are the 45 inductees (*attended Saturday’s event):

William Andrews, Thomasville (submitted video for presentation)

Champ Bailey, Charlton Co.*

Buck Belue, Valdosta*

Eric Berry, Creekside*

Mel Blount, Lyons Industrial

Emerson Boozer, Laney

James Brooks, Warner Robins*

Clint Castleberry, Boys

Bill Curry, College Park*

Richard Dent, Murphy*

Charlie Dudish, Avondale*

Pat Dye, Richmond Academy

Terrence Edwards, Wash. Co.*

Jeff Francoeur, Parkview (submitted video for presentation)

Stan Gann, Northside-Atlanta

Ray Guy, Thomson

Andre Hastings, Morrow*

Garrison Hearst, Lincoln Co.*

Andy Johnson, Athens

Calvin Johnson, Sandy Creek (submitted video for presentation)

Chip Kell, Avondale*

Larry Kinnebrew, East Rome*

George Maloof, Marist*

Bob McWhorter, Gordon Institute

Larry Morris, Decatur

Jim Parker, Ballard-Hudson

David Pollack, Shiloh (video shown)

Tracy Rocker, Fulton (submitted video for presentation)

George Rogers, Duluth (submitted video for presentation)

Stan Rome, Valdosta*

Clarence Scott, Trinity*

Shannon Sharpe, Glenville

Ron Simmons, Warner Robins*

Otis Sistrunk, Spencer*

Takeo Spikes, Washington Co. (video shown)

Bill Stanfill, Cairo

Matt Stinchcomb, Parkview*

Fran Tarkenton, Athens (submitted video for presentation)

Darius Walker, Buford

Herschel Walker, Johnson Co.*

Charlie Ward, Thomas Co. Central*

Hines Ward, Forest Park (submitted video for presentation)

Monte Williams, Commerce*

Rayfield Wright, Fairmont

Eric Zeier, Marietta*