“Elegant” is the way one banquet attendee described the banquet decor, and words like amazing, inspiring, incredible and magical were used to describe the event as a whole. Guests were treated to a delicious buffet, catered by Ebony Delights, and fond trips down memory lane as fellow guests and friends introduced the inaugural class of Hall of Famers.
After Hall of Fame Board Chairman Richard VanLandingham prepared the packed house for the evening at hand, R.B. Gainous and Dan Jones introduced the first inductee, Bobby Walden. Walden, a 1957 graduate of Cairo High School lettered in track, football and basketball at CHS and went on to become known as the “Big Toe From Cairo” during a stellar intercollegiate career at the University of Georgia and a professional career with the Edmonton Eskimos. the Minnesota Vikings and the Pittsburgh Steelers. His teams won Super Bowls in 1974 and 1975, and he was an All-Pro selection in ’74.
Both Jones and Gainous shared their boyhood memories of a young man who grew up not far from the site of the night’s banquet. Both recalled how Walden would kick footballs into pecan trees to shake the nuts loose for gathering by the family. R.B. Gainous remembered that, when Walden’s leg was broken in a football game in Adel, Ga., he cried on the way home from the game after seeing his childhood hero sidelined by such a painful injury.
In his acceptance speech, Walden spoke of how breaking his leg solidified his choice to be a Georgia Bulldog. “I had offers from several colleges. They all went away when I broke my leg, but Georgia coach Wally Butts told me I had a scholarship whether I played a down or not, so you can see why my heart is with the Georgia Bulldogs,” Walden said.
Walden went on to play in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos and led the team in punting, rushing and receiving. The next stop for Walden was the Minnesota Vikings. “I was traded to the worst team in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we went on to win the Super Bowl in 1974 and 1975,” said Walden.
An emotional Walden, thanked his family and friends for the Hall of Fame honor. “This is very special to me and my family! I want to thank everyone here tonight, and those who have been so good to me through the years,” Walden said. In a surprise conclusion to Walden’s induction, his son, Bobby Jr., took the podium to pay tribute to his father as well. “My father has always been my biggest fan, he pushed me to be the best at everything I do. I discovered early on that I have a special place in my heart for music, as well as athletics. In the last few years I’ve been writing songs, which I dearly love, and I wanted to tell my dad tonight how proud I am of him and everything he’s accomplished. So tonight, I want to give him my first guitar I ever owned, because I know how proud he is of me,” said the younger Walden.
Next was Gary Bishop, Bill Stanfill and Sidney Gainey who recalled fond memories of the late coach Tommy Taylor. Taylor, who passed away in 2001, was Cairo’s Superintendent of Recreation from 1953 to 1973, and coached and taught at Cairo High School from 1957 to 1973. Taylor’s recreation teams won 16 state championships and his Cairo High School teams brought home 13 state track titles and two state basketball titles.
Bishop, now living in Houston County, Ga., shared how Taylor could take ordinary people and bring out extraordinary results. “Sure, there were great athletes along the way, but coach Taylor had a way of bringing out the best in everybody he coached. He always seemed to find a way to win – he could beat you with his team, and then take your team and beat his team – that’s the kinda coach he was,” said Bishop.
Sidney Gainey remembered his former coach as a man who demanded the best from his players, but did it in a way that “made you want to give him everything you had. He was a master at winning track meets. He knew what the final score was going to be before we even went to the meet, and most of the time he was pretty close to the final tally. Most of the time, we were so far ahead on the first day of the state meet it was mathematically impossible for any other team to outscore us on the second day,” said Gainey.
Fellow inductee Bill Stanfill took the microphone and shared his memories of coach Taylor as well. “Coach Taylor took a bunch of country boys from Calvary, Reno, Midway, Whigham and everywhere else in Grady County and made us champions,” said Stanfill. “I tell people, I was coached by some great coaches like Vince Dooley and Erk Russell in college and Don Shula in the NFL, and they were best in the business. But it all started with coach Tommy Taylor, he jump-started my athletic career,” Stanfill continued.
Because of a family wedding, most of coach Taylor’s family could not be in attendance at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. However, coach Taylor’s grandson, Tom Taylor III, represented the family and accepted his grandfather’s plaque.
The third Hall of Fame inductee was Bill Stanfill. Stanfill, a Cairo native, graduated from Cairo High School in 1965 and went on to all-star careers at the University of Georgia and the NFL. At CHS, Stanfill was an all-state lineman in football and lettered in basketball as well. At the University of Georgia in 1968, Stanfill won the coveted Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s best interior lineman. He was chosen in 1969 as the Miami Dolphins’ number one draft choice, and helped the Dolphins win Super Bowl titles in 1972 and 1973. Stanfill was a member of the NFL’s only undefeated team, was a four-time NFL All-Pro, is still tied for most sacks in a season and continues to hold the Dolphin record for most career sacks.
Jet Cox began Stanfill’s presentation by listing the Hall of Famer’s many accomplishments and successes. Next was friend Gene “Mole” Sellers, who delighted the crowd with a host of lighthearted memorable moments from their career together in recreation and high school football. “I was about three feet tall in high school and I used to run under Bill’s legs when he blocked for me,” he quipped. Sellers went on to joke, “I don’t have a lot to say about Bill, I thought I was being honored tonight.” A longtime Syrupmaker supporter, Sellars went on to compliment the CHS football team on their 2008 championship, and recognized each Hall of Fame inductee. However, Sellers spoke most fondly of his days with Stanfill under coach Taylor. “He’s a true friend, and I am proud of everything he’s ever accomplished, and I’m even more proud to present my friend, Bill Stanfill,” Sellers said in closing.
“Just an ol’ farm boy” is how Stanfill described himself. Stanfill recalled his fond memories of growing up in Cairo and the meaning of the Hall of Fame honor in his hometown to him. “This is really something special to me! I remember going to the Miami Dolphins and asking for my number 77 jersey, but they told me that number was taken, so I then asked for number 84 because I grew up on a farm on that highway, and it means the world to me,” said Stanfill, who now has a section of that highway in Grady County named after him.
“I have a pair of cleats that I wore with the Dolphins during that undefeated season that I was going to bring tonight, but instead I thought I would share with you my first shoes,” said Stanfill. With that, the NFL All-Pro pulled an old pair of leg braces from a bag and showed the crowd saying, “This is where I came from, and I’m here to tell you can overcome anything with hard work.” Stanfill reminisced about his days growing up on the farm in Cairo, and how it helped him prepare for his college and pro careers. “I kinda grew up in a weightroom. When I finished with practice every day, I went home to that farm and worked cattle, and picked weeds, and toted cotton, no weightroom could have prepared me any better,” he said. “My football career got this farm boy off the farm, and I’m appreciative of the opportunity to play it for so many years and be successful at it,” Stanfill concluded.
The final inductee was former CHS graduate and five time Olympian Teresa Edwards. Edwards, who helped the Syrupmaids win a state title in basketball in1982 went on to play for the University of Georgia, was a member of 22 different USA basketball teams and is the most decorated Olympic basketball player of all time, male and female.
Karen Rowland recalled how working with the Grady County Recreation Department first introduced her to Teresa. “I remember opening up the Southside gym and seeing this young girl who could play the game of basketball like no one else. You could tell this girl was special even then,” Rowland said, continuing to list the former CHS Syrupmaid’s many accomplishments. Earnest Cloud then came to the podium, contributing with appropriately descriptive adjectives like “outstanding, gracious, amazing,” and many more to describe the final inductee of this first Hall of fame class. Rowland and Cloud then presented Teresa with her plaque.
Edwards, humbled by the evening and events, thanked the Hall of Fame committee and those gathered for the special event. Teresa went on to talk with pride about her family, recalling beating her younger brothers in basketball, and having to tell her mother about making the basketball team at Washington Middle School. “I went to tryouts at Washington Middle School for three days. I didn’t even have my own sneakers, I had to sneak down there, and I didn’t like keeping it from my mother, but then I found out I made the team. I had borrowed tennis shoes from coach Weaver, and she said I was going to need my own pair,” Edwards recalled. “I remember walking home that day, dreading having to tell my mama not only that I had lied to her, but that I was going to need some new shoes. My mama worked hard to provide for us, and I knew she was not going to be happy,” said Edwards. “But I told her that afternoon and she took me the next day to Belk-Hudson and somehow found a way to buy me some shoes, and she never had to buy me another pair,” Edwards said with a smile.
Edwards spoke fondly of her mother, Mildred, and her brothers, and growing up on the street now named after her. “I spent a lot of days at Holder Park playing ball with the boys, all I ever wanted to do was dribble a basketball,” said Edwards. The Olympic gold medalist credits the “prayers of a mother” and her former high school coach for her success. Coach Kozloski was my angel, she taught me more than basketball,” said Edwards. Her former coach, Cindy Kozloski, passed away two years ago and, according to Edwards, “took a piece of me with her.” Edwards also recognized her former coach’s father and brother who were present as well.
In all, the night was a fitting tribute to four Cairo legends. Family, friends, and supporters will have fond memories of a night that will be a part of Grady County history. The plaques will soon be placed in the Roddenbery Memorial Library, and will one day find a home with the Grady County Historical Society.