Weakley County Sports Hall of Fame

Inaugural Class Announced
Posted on 07/12/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Inaugural Class AnnouncedThe inaugural class of the newly formed Weakley County Sports Hall of Fame has been released. Executive Director John Hatler made the announcement Friday morning. There will be one team, and ten individuals, enshrined at the October 23rd banquet.

One of the eligible classes for nominees are teams who have reached the pinnacle of their competition. The requirement, according to Hatler, is that it must be 25 years after the championship to be recognized by the Hall. This year’s recipient is the 1965-66 Weakley County Training School, Region Seven Champions.

The Weakley County Training School was for black students, prior to integration in Martin, Tennessee. History was made for the first time in regional tournament play as the group of athletes eliminated their semi-final opponent, and qualified for the state finals in Nashville. They defeated Jackson Merry in the Championship Game. The team was coached by John Greene. John Latham was named to the Region’s All-Tournament Team. The team consisted of Latham, Donell Jones, Louis Lairy, Kenneth McDonald, Michael Benford, John Patton, Wayne Patton, Charles Tansil, Paul Wilkens, Thomas Fulton, Grandville Templeton, and Rodney Royster.

According to Mr. Hatler, there were over 150 nomination forms submitted. “Our committee had an arduous task of narrowing down a group of well deserving candidates for the first group.” Jimbo Davis, from Sharon, heads the nomination committee, and presented the board with 30 candidates for consideration.

After several hours of discussion and subsequent voting, the WCSHOF elected Chad Clifton, Lin Dunn, Bettye Giles, Mark Hardy, Derrick Jones, Popeye Jones, Ashley McElhiney-Ayers, Tara Tansil-Gentry, Paul Tinkle, and Graham Vowell as the inaugural class.

Chad Clifton, a 1995 graduate of Westview High School, is a highly decorated student-athlete from his prep days under Don Coady, to his induction into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. The 1994 Mr. Football lineman in the state of Tennessee enjoyed a collegiate career that saw Clifton garner two all SEC selections, All-American status, and a national championship in 1998 for the University of Tennessee. He was selected in the second round (44th overall) by the Packers, where he became a mainstay at left tackle, protecting the likes of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Clifton was a two time NFL Pro Bowl selection, and Super Bowl XLV Champion.

Lin Dunn graduated from Dresden High School, and went on to become one of the premier coaches in nation. During her high school career, she amassed over 2,000 points, averaging 42 points per game as a senior. As Purdue’s head coach, Dunn was named the Big 10 coach of the year three times, won three Big 10 Championships, and led the Boilermakers to the 1994 Final Four. She also served as a coach on the United States Olympic, World Championship, and Pan American teams. In 2012, she led the Indiana Fever to the WNBA championship. Coach Dunn is a member of multiple Hall of Fame’s, including the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and a winner of the Coaches Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bettye Giles, a Clarksville native, spent seventy years in Martin community. Giles started the women’s athletic program at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and served as the athletic director for the department from 1952-1973. She is also credited with starting the volleyball and basketball programs at UTM. In 1966, she help create the Tennessee College Women’s Sports Federation, and grew the membership from 18 to 34 by 1973. Widely considered the Godmother of Title IX, her work was a key component in the Educational Amendment Act of 1972, which required institutions of higher education to provide equal opportunity as their male counterparts to receive federal funding. Ms. Giles has also been an advocate for over 50 years in her work with the Special Olympics.

Mark Hardy, a 1988 graduate from Palmersville High School, is widely regarded as one of the top players to ever hail from Weakley County. The 6’-1” power forward dominated his competition while playing for one of the smallest schools in the state. During his junior year, without the thee-point line, he scored 60 points against Lake County. Despite being undersized in most games, Hardy was often the best player on the floor. This was confirmed as he was named to the 1st Team, Class A All-State teams in 1986, 1987, and 1988. A standout on the diamond as well, he went on to play basketball at UTM for four years.

You will be hard pressed to find a senior campaign better than that of Derrick Jones of Sharon. A 1992 graduate, Jones scored 634 for the Eagles, averaging 25 points, seven rebounds, five assists, and three steals per game. At the season’s conclusion, he was named to the Jackson Sun’s All West Tennessee team, Associated Press All-State 1st team, and a Mr. Basketball Finalist. Of the 101 games in his high school career, Jones played in 100 for the Eagles.

Popeye Jones, a 1988 graduate of Dresden High School, used his size and athleticism to help the Lions secure a state championship in baseball, a state tournament appearance in basketball, and deep playoff runs in football during his high school career. Known for his soft hands, the 6’ 8” center signed with Murray State, where he led the NCAA in rebounding in 1992. He was three time 1st team all OVC, two time OVC player of the year, and two time honorable mention All American. Jones is the only player in Murray State history to amass more than 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in his career. As a result, he was the 41st pick in the 1992 Draft by Houston Rockets. He played for six teams over his 12 year career in the NBA. His best coming in 1995-1996 where he averaged 11 points and 10 rebounds per contest. Jones is currently an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76’ers.

There has rarely been a fiercer competitor on the hardwood than Ashley McElhiney-Ayers. The 1999 Gleason High School graduate lead her team to the State Championship her senior season. The Ms. Basketball recipient left Gleason as the all-time leading scorer with 2,074 points, and assists with 604. McElhiney-Ayers signed with Vanderbilt, and was the team’s Most Outstanding Defensive player in 2001, 2002, and 2003. During her time at Vanderbilt, she led the team to an SEC Championship, and runner-up finish. In 2001, she was a member of the Gold Medal team representing the USA in the World University Games. McElhiney was named as the Tennessee State Amateur Athlete of the year in 2002. She also became the first female coach of a male professional team when she was hired by the American Basketball Association’s Nashville Rhythm’s in 2004.

Tara Tansil-Gentry, much like her WCSHOF classmate McElhiney –Ayers, was fiery competitor whose will to win was infectious. A highly recruited athlete, Tansil-Gentry left Greenfield with 1,702 career points. The 1991 Greenfield Graduate was a four time all district performer, four time all region selection, and two year all-state honoree. Despite a season ending knee injury, Tansil-Gentry signed with the University of Tennessee at Martin and started all 105 games of her collegiate career. By the time it was over, she had lead the Lady Pacers in scoring all four seasons, secured the record in career scoring (currently 3rd), and was a two time all OVC selection. She was instrumental for UTM in the transition from Division II to Division I.

Easily, the most well-known voice in Weakley County belongs to Paul Tinkle. A graduate of Westview High School and UT Martin, Mr. Tinkle began working at the radio station at 15 years of age. For 50 years, he has covered countless football, basketball, baseball, and softball games in Western Kentucky, and all six of Weakley County High Schools. He has the pleasure of being on the microphone for eight Weakley County state championships, bringing the games back the community. Mr. Tinkle’s passion and love for the games he calls is felt over the airways. His Saturday morning radio show, Coaches Corner, has been the focal point for high school coaches to share information about their schools and teams for over 46 years. Mr. Tinkle is the ultimate ambassador for Weakley County. His relentless work ethic and desire to promote student-athletes has advanced the community throughout the region. He is also an inductee to the Tennessee Association of Broadcaster’s Journalism Hall of Fame for his lifetime work in News and Sports.

John “Graham” Vowell was born in 1895 and attended McFerrin School in Martin. Vowell played for the Tennessee Volunteers from 1914-1916, and in 1921. During his time at UT, he played on the 1st championship, and undefeated, team in 1914. He scored three touchdowns in the win over Kentucky to secure the unblemished record. It was during this season that the Vols beat Vanderbilt, a powerhouse in the south, for the first time, 16-14. In 1916, Graham Vowell was named to the All Southern team, and the only player to do so unanimously. He was also selected to be on the John W. Heisman All-Time Southern team in 1916. That same year, Vowell was on Walter Camp’s All American “3rd 11” team. This was the first time a Tennessee Volunteer had ever been named to an NCAA approved and recognized list. After serving the United States with the Marine Crop in World War I, Vowell returned to UT in 1921 and played for the Vols one more year. He played at the first ever contest at Shield Watkins Field on September 24, 1921. Despite the long lay-off and position change, he was still named to the All Southern team that season. Graham Vowell was named to the “All Time Pre-1940 Team” by the University of Tennessee in 1990 as a part of the “100 years of Volunteers” celebration.

The celebration of the inaugural class will be held October 23, 2021, and the CE Weldon Public Library and Community Center in Martin. Additional information and ticket availability will be announced in the coming weeks.