Marengo Sports Hall of Fame banquet ‘night of firsts’

Monday was a night of firsts for the Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame, as the first father-son inductees and the first umpire joined the list of the area’s notable sports legends.

The Hall inducted its 2015 class at the Demopolis Civic Center.

Among those inducted were Roger Etheridge Sr. and his son Roger Etheridge Jr.

Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Rowser, Etheridge Sr., Etheridge Jr., Rogers and Gunter.

Hall of Fame inductees, from left, Rowser, Etheridge Sr., Etheridge Jr., Rogers and Gunter.

Roger Etheridge Sr. was a multi-sport standout at Linden High School, where he graduated in 1963. He pitched a number of no-hitters for the baseball team, and his senior year had a record of 10-0 as a pitcher. He set a record by striking out 18 consecutive batters with a total of 21 strikeouts.

Etheridge was introduced by his former high school teammate, Larry Etheridge, who said, “Whether it was a basketball, a baseball or a football, when No. 10 touched the ball, things happened.”

Among Etheridge’s accolades was being selected All Black Belt Conference and All-State in three sports. He quarterbacked and led the Linden Red Devils to a 10-0 season and the Class A Championship in 1962, and played in the All-Star game at the University of Alabama.

After high school, Roger turned down a football scholarship to Arkansas State and chose to remain in Linden and marry the love of his life, Nina Glass. He later quarterbacked the Semi-Pro American Rebel football team.

Speaking to the crowd, Etheridge harkened back to his high school football days. “The Demopolis Tigers had a good team, and they beat everybody on Friday nights. But we (Linden) stopped some of that,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Etheridge’s son, Roger Etheridge Jr., “Little Roger,” was selected as a Dixie Youth League All-Star and a 14-15-year-old All-Star in baseball, and in 1988 led his 16-year-old Babe Ruth area team to victory at the South Alabama State Tournament.

Behind Etheridge’s pitching, Marengo Academy won the AISA Class AAA baseball championship, and in football he rushed for a single season record of 1,624 yards and helped lead the team to the 4A state championship. During the 1991 MA baseball season, he helped lead the team to the APSA championship and was an all-star for hitting and fielding.

Etheridge’s high school coach, Webb Tutt, called him “a great competitor who thrived in pressure situations and was a quality person off the field.”

After rehabbing a rotator cuff injury, Etheridge played baseball for Meridian Community College, then signed with the Cincinnati Reds professional baseball organization. He was transferred to the rookie ball team in Princeton, W. Va., and led the league in ERA in 1993.

In 1994, Roger joined the Macon Braves as an additional player as part of a trade involving Deion Sanders and Roberto Kelly. While with the Durham (N.C.) Bulls baseball team, which was a Class High A affiliate of the Braves, he compiled a 10-4-1 win-loss record with a 2.96 ERA.

“When I played pro ball, I had million dollar coaches teaching me how to play baseball,” Etheridge told the audience. “But the best coach I ever had is sitting right there,” he added, pointing to his father and fellow Hall of Fame member.

The Hall’s first umpire, James Gunter played football and baseball for the Linden Red Devils, and after high school was a member of an American Legion National Championship baseball team.

Gunter gained nationwide fame as an official in several different sports, having recently been inducted into the West Alabama Softball Hall of Fame for the Amateur Softball Association of America. He has officiated levels of play from Little League to Division I NCAA Softball.

While serving in the military, he officiated both slow pitch and fast pitch games and tournaments and has officiated in 25 ASA National Championship, six NSA World Series Tournaments and two USSSA World Series Tournament, traveling all over the United States.

Having officiated in football, baseball, basketball as well as slow pitch and fast pitch softball, James has gained the reputation over 50 years of treating all the players as champions, and being sure they understood that the most important game he ever called was the game he was calling at that time.

Of umpiring, Gunter said, “You have to know the game, know your position, know the mechanics, be approachable and be a good listener. Isn’t that what you do, too?” he asked the audience.

Gunter added, “The game does not belong to the umpire. It belongs to the players, the coaches, and – even an umpire will say – to the fans.”

Rounding out the four Linden honorees Monday was Larry Rogers Sr. In introducing him, his daughter Kileema called her father “an awesome athlete with many stories to tell. And, boy, does he love to tell.”

Rogers averaged 20 points per game during his senior year in high school and was named a member of the University of Alabama’s North vs. South All-Star basketball team, where he was named Most Valuable Player.

After receiving 10 college scholarship offers and playing a year at Southeast Missouri State, he joined the United States Army and was a member of the Army basketball team.

After three years in the Army, Larry received a scholarship to play under Coach Guy Lewis at the University of Houston, and averaged 15 rebounds and 12 points per game for the Cougars.

In 1980, he was drafted by the New York Knicks where he played with Bill Cartwright and Ray “Sugar” Williams.

Following a career-changing injury and was placed on waivers in 1981. Even though no longer able to play professionally in the NBA, he was picked up by an overseas professional team and played for five more years in Finland.

Larry has passed his love for the game and his skills on to his children, who have all played basketball for Linden and at the college level, and he also has spent a great deal of time passing along his knowledge of the game to aspiring local basketball players.

Rogers thanked his late parents for giving him drive, determination and a spirit of laughter. He also thanked his older brother, who was in attendance. “He never let me win when we played basketball,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t too happy about it at the time, but it drove me to be a better player.”

Rounding out the 2015 class was Rodney Rowser, who ran on the first ever boys track team at Demopolis High School and won first place in multiple events such as the 100-yard and 220-yard dash, 100-meter and 200-meter dash. He made it to the state finals during his senior season in 1985 and was an All-American in track and field as was as West Alabama’s Spring Sports Most Valuable Player.

Rowser discussed the primitive conditions and equipment under which the start-up DHS track program began. “We would go to meets and the other teams would ask, ‘Who are you? Where are you from? Where is Demopolis?’ But and the end of the day they knew who we were,” he said. “All we knew we had to do was run fast, and we did.”

Rowser accepted a scholarship to Troy State where he secured still holds the indoor 300-meter record as well as the 4-by-100 and 4-by-200 outdoor record. While at Troy, he was selected as an All-American in track and field on three occasions.

Rowser has been a volunteer track coach at Demopolis for over 20 years, and assisted in securing a state championship relay team, coached three individual state champions, and in the summer of 2014, coached a group of students that qualified for the United States Track and Field Championship. The girls relay team placed in the Top 20 teams in the nation.

He said the most important part of his success is being able to come back home and give back to the community.

Also recognized at Monday’s event were Ja Shaunda Allen of Marengo High School, this year’s Hall of Fame Scholarship rcipient, and the 2014 Sweet Water Cal Ripken Baseball Southeast Region Champions.

The Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame has honored 31 previous inductees who have brought fame and honor to the county through their endeavors and athletic skills from football, baseball, basketball, softball, boxing, wrestling and tennis.