But the evening will not just be about plaques and accolades. Each person recognized by the Hall of Fame has a story to tell.
Whether it’s an exceptional athletic accomplishment or tireless effort behind the scenes, the Hall of Fame is about the recognition of passion and commitment to sport.
Few stories exemplify that more than that of Richard Vonalbade Gammon, who will be receiving a special citation from the Hall of Fame.
Gammon, a Rome native, attended the University of Georgia, where he played on some of UGA’s earliest football teams. He quarterbacked the team in 1896, then played fullback and on defense for the 1897 team. That team won their first two games, against Clemson and Georgia Tech. The third game was against the University of Virginia, played in Atlanta on October 30.
Early in the second half, with Virginia running the ball, Von Gammon charged into a large group of players in an attempt to make the tackle. When the play was over and the players unpiled, Gammon lay motionless on the ground.
He was rushed to Grady Hospital but died of his injuries hours later.
News of his death quickly spread around the state, causing shock and outrage. The Georgia legislature was in session at the time and on Nov. 1 a representative introduced a resolution outlawing football in the state. It passed by a vote of 91-3.
The three schools in Georgia with football teams — Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Mercer — all voluntarily disbanded.
A newspaper headline read “DEATH KNELL OF FOOTBALL.” The Georgia Senate followed with a vote outlawing football on November 18. It passed 31-4.
The bill only needed the signature of Georgia Governor William Y. Atkinson to become law, and end football in the state.
Then something unexpected happened. Von Gammon’s mother, Rosalind Burns Gammon, intervened. She knew about the movement to abolish football, and despite her grief at her son’s death, did not want the sport outlawed. She penned a letter to her local representative, which read in part:
“It would be the greatest favor to the family of Von Gammon if your influence could prevent his death being used for an argument detrimental to the athletic cause and its advancement at the University.
His love for his college and his interest in all manly sports, without which he deemed the highest type of manhood impossible, is well known by his classmates and friends, and it would be inexpressibly sad to have the cause he held so dear injured by his sacrifice. Grant me the right to request that my boy’s death should not be used to defeat the most cherished object of his life.”
When Governor Atkinson was made aware of her letter and her feelings, he refused to sign the resolution, and the movement to ban football in Georgia ended.
Mrs. Gammon is now revered in Georgia lore as the woman who saved college football in the state.
“It’s stories like that of Von Gammon that are what the Rome-Floyd Hall of Fame is all about,” said Lisa Nash of Rome Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority. “We don’t want people to think of this as a museum with some old photos. These are wonderful stories of very remarkable people in our community’s sporting history.”
Aside from Gammon’s special recognition, this year’s inductees are Jackie Miller Walburn for amateur athlete, Felton Creamer, Robert “Bob” Grizzard and Vernon Grizzard for meritorious service.
Names that would be instantly recognized for heroics on the national sports scene may be found on the Hall’s honor roll, along with others who have left indelible marks as hometown heroes and benefactors. Perhaps it is the latter group to whom the Hall of Fame means most.
Frank Pinson, inducted in 2008 for meritorious service, said, “I was inducted into the Hall of Fame exactly one year after my father, Jack, passed away. He was honored in 1989 as a professional athlete and for service to the sports community. This honor allowed me to join him, two uncles (Harry Boss and John Pinson), and two cousins, Bill Pinson and Len Traylor, in the Hall of Fame. But, to me, the honor is secondary to the opportunity to give back to our great community through projects we sponsor (annual golf tournament, the new barbecue Roast on the River), that will ensure the sustainability of the Hall of Fame for past and future members.”
Don C. Law became a Hall of Fame member in 2003 in honor of his career as an amateur athlete. He says, “Rome and Floyd County is a great place to grow up in and participate in organized sports. Many caring coaches and excellent facilities contributed to my invitation to the Hall of Fame. This honor allows me to work with fellow members in helping young athletes enjoy the same opportunities I had.”
Outstanding amateur athlete Steve Catanzano, inducted in 2002, echoes the sentiments of Law. “Involvement in sports provides so many benefits from youth to adults. The Hall of Fame continues through its recognition and scholarships to encourage athletes in Rome and Floyd County to strive for excellence. It is a privilege and honor to be a part of this group as it continues to move forward in service.”
In 1997, Randy Davis, whose radio voice has been so familiar to local sports fans, said, “Selection as a member of the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame is the single most important award I have ever received. I participated in just about every sport available while growing up in Rome. Football, baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, even bowling. None with success mainly because of lack of size and talent. But I truly loved them all. To continue to participate I learned all I could about each sport so I could talk about them on radio. Lee Mowry, who was the best sports announcer I ever heard on any level, was my childhood hero and was the first broadcaster selected to the Hall. My goal was to follow in his footsteps and continue the tradition of sports coverage in Rome. When I was notified that I, too, had been selected in 1997, the feeling was overwhelming and 16 years later it still is.”
Incoming member Jackie Miller Walburn, more than 50 years ago a basketball star for Armuchee High School, West Georgia College and the Atlanta Tomboys AAU championship teams says, “The Hall of Fame is obviously dedicated to the proposition that it is important to preserve the history of sports in our community. Membership brings honor to an individual, of course, but by extension it salutes entire communities. Long ago, sports at Armuchee High was like a magnet drawing together students and families widely scattered about the northern region of Floyd County, from Glenwood to Texas Valley, Everett Springs and The Pocket. We were a rural school, but we were proud of what our teams accomplished locally and in state tournaments. This wonderful award after such a long passage of time will rekindle wonderful memories for teammates, coaches, families and friends.”
Along with Walburn, Felton Creamer, Robert (Bob) Grizzard and Vernon Grizzard will be inducted for meritorious service to local sports and special recognition will be given in memory of Von Gammon. Twelve area high school athletes will be honored and two will receive the John Pinson Jr. Scholarship award.
Lifetime Acheivement inductee, Jerry Shelton said “membership in the Rome-Floyd Sports Hall of Fame signifies recognition of lifetime achievements/contributions to sports in the local community. It further means there are concerted efforts to increasing educational opportunities for area students via the funding of several student scholarships on an annual basis. Thus, such an entity as the Sports Hall of Fame is a major asset to both Rome and Floyd County.”
Event coordinator Lisa Nash said the Hall of Fame program has provided more than $40,000 in scholarship money to extraordinary student athletes. The Hall’s scholarship fund has traditionally funded only college-bound high school seniors for academic, athletic and community achievements. This year the program is being expanded to provide scholarships to children in need for all RFPRA activities, including Challenger Sports, youth athletics and other youth programs.
Nash said a few tickets ($30) remain for the Hall of Fame event and can be purchased online or in-person at Rome-Floyd Parks & Recreation Authority, 300 W. Third Street.