Hall of Fame inductees hail Marengo roots

The Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame inducted five new members Monday night, including its second female inductee, and awarded its annual scholarship to A.L. Johnson High School three-sport star Demarcus Woods.Marengo Co SHOF

In making the presentation to Woods, Hall of Fame Board member Dr. Tony Speegle said Woods “pushed his teammates to be better and strives to be an example on and off the field.”

Following dinner, the five Hall of Fame honorees – members of the Hall’s fifth class – were introduced in alphabetical order, beginning with Holly Hill Beckham, the first female athlete from Marengo County to receive a scholarship offer to a Division I school.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Beckham thanked her former coaches, many of whom were in attendance. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities,” she said, “and it all started right here in this community.”

Beckham was the Alabama High School State Single’s tennis champion in 1984, 1985 and 1986 and earned the State Doubles Tennis Championship twice, finishing her high school career with a 46-1 record. Beckham received a full scholarship to Mississippi State where she played on the Women’s Tennis team for four years, a group that achieved a Top 25 national ranking three of her four years on the squad.

She jokingly told the crowd, “I love Alabama and I love Auburn, but Mississippi State beat you all four years I was there.”

In 1988, Beckham competed at Wimbledon as a wildcard entry. She now lives in Charlotte, N.C. with her husband, Tom, and two sons, a life that has her very involved in youth sports, coaching and fundraising.

Also recognized was Yann Cowart, a standout in football, baseball and basketball at Marengo Academy who played on state championship football teams in 1980 and 1981 and earned a spot on the AISA All-Star Football squad.

He thanked several of his Marengo Academy teammates who were in attendance, adding, “This is as much your honor as it is mine.” He also reminded the crowd of the importance of the phrase his MA teammates adopted during their playing days: Big team, little me.

Cowart walked on at Auburn University and started for four years while earning a double major and maintaining a 3.0 grade point average.

Cowart earned Academic All-SEC honors three times and Academic All-American nods two times. He played in four bowl games and was named a Captain for the 1986 Citrus Bowl. He is married to the former Susan Etheridge of Sweet Water and, along with his two children, resides in Montgomery.

The third honoree of the night, former NBA All-Star Theo Ratliff, told the crowd, “I love my home, my city and the kids of this city. It’s always been an honor to be known as “Theophalus from Demopolis”, a phrase coined by basketball great Bill Walton during Ratliff’s playing days.

A Demopolis High School alum, Ratliff followed a record-setting career at the University of Wyoming with an 11-year NBA career in which he scored 5,809 points while adding 4,596 rebounds and 1,968 blocked shots. He was a 2001 NBA All-Star and was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team twice. Ratliff is currently ranked 18th all-time in career blocks and 13th in career blocks per game.

Additionally, Ratliff served as the founder, namesake and primary benefactor of the Theo Ratliff Activity Center in Demopolis. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, Kristina, and six children.

“It’s not always about the money you give,” Ratliff told the crowd. “You can be broke and still give back to your community.”

Fred Schoenrock, the evening’s fourth recipient, came to Demopolis in 1974 after having been head football and baseball coach in Tylertown, Miss., for four years. During his 14 seasons at the helm of the Demopolis High football program, he compiled a record of 109-48 losses and was selected the Coach of the Year in Region 5 in 1974, 1975 and 1976.

Schoenrock’s teams won eight region titles, including a run of five straight crowns in his first five years. Overall, Schoenrock amassed a record of 58-9 in region play, making the playoff nine years and putting together double-digit win totals while making runs to the state semi-finals in 1983 and 1984.

Schoenrock continues to make his home in Demopolis where his retirement allows him plenty of time for fishing.

“I want to thank all the football players, the cheerleaders, the band and the student body at Demopolis High School from 1974-1987,” Schoenrock said. “We had a lot of joy around the school during those years, but it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been winning. We scheduled and played some big teams (including his alma mater Meridian High School), but we never backed down from anybody.”

Linden High School product “Big” Jack Thomas was inducted posthumously. A lineman for the Red Devils, Thomas earned All-Conference and All-State honors and passed up opportunities to play at both Alabama and Auburn, instead taking his talents to Mississippi State where he became a starter during his sophomore season. He earned SEC Player of the Week honors for his performance against LSU.

Following his collegiate days, Thomas played in both the NFL the Canadian Football League. He later coached football in Florida before moving on to Copiah Academy in Mississippi for seven years where earned Coach of the Year honors from the Mississippi Private School Association.

Thomas left behind a widow, three sons, four daughters, three sisters and a brother.

Long-time friend Chip Sanders of Jackson, Miss., told the crowd that the secret to Thomas’ success was “his big heart and his desire to help people.”

Accepting the honor in her father’s memory, Stephanie Moore told the audience that the most important thing to her father was his faith in Christ. She added that although he was successful as a coach and businessman in south Mississippi, “he never completely considered that to be home, because his heart was rooted in the black hills of Marengo County, Alabama.”

Also recognized during the evening was the 1978 Sweet Water state championship football team, represented by several players and head coach Nolan Atkins, who was a first-year inductee into the Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame.