Whether it’s been the profiles on our progress from Rex Nelson in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette or the press coverage of the remarkable academic achievement taking place in the Academy of Excellence Program at J. F. Wahl Elementary School, the positive exposure of our current achievements in recent weeks has been nothing short of a remarkable story. However, it is important for us all to remember that excellent achievement from the Helena-West Helena School District. Even during the most difficult times, I think it is important to remind everyone that those problems were largely fiscal in nature and through all of them our people continued to achieve and go on to do great things.
On Friday, we had another opportunity to celebrate some of those great achievements by recognizing eight individuals selected for this year’s class of the Helena-West Helena School District Athletic Hall of Fame. These eight individuals all met the three criteria established by the committee for consideration in this year’s class: achievement on the playing field during high school, a playing career at the college and/or professional level, and a successful career in their chosen profession after their playing days concluded.
The eight members of this year’s HWHSD Athletic Hall of Fame class are: Ken Hatfield, a standout for the Central High Indians in football and basketball who led the school to its only state championship in basketball before going on to a stellar career at the college level where he won conference titles at three different universities, including two titles at the University of Arkansas; Mattie Belfoure, who coached the Central High School Cougarettes to two state championships and four conference titles from 1981-84 before leaving to take over the program at Liberty-Eylau, Texas; Melvin Washington, an Eliza Miller Buccaneer who played basketball at Mary Holmes College and who had a successful coaching and administrative career at Waukegan High in Illinois; Wally Cox, an all-state football player for the Cougars in 1973 who played for Mississippi State where he was freshman of the year in the SEC who has gone on to successful ventures in the agriculture equipment industry; Greg Williams, the first African-American quarterback who led the 1980 Cougar team to a playoff victory while being given All-State honor before having an outstanding playing career at Henderson State in both football and track and long coaching career at East High School in Memphis; Howard Eaton, a 1989 CHS grad who was All-State in basketball and a leader on two NCAA teams for the Iowa State Cyclones that is now a successful executive in the insurance industry and a daycare owner; Lennie Johnson, a 1995 alumnus who was an All-State football and track athlete at CHS who went on to a successful tenure on the field at Arkansas State and as an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and, Gerald Fonzie, a member of the Class of 2005 who was All-State in basketball and track while also excelling at baseball before leading Stephen F. Austin to their first Southland Conference title and NCAA tournament appearance during his time with the Lumberjacks who has remained in Nacodoches, TX where he is now an elementary administrator with the Nacodoches Independent School District.
Ceremonies like this to celebrate the achievements of those that have walked the halls of the schools in the Helena-West Helena School District are important for a wide variety of reasons, and I am honored to get to be a part of them. First, it is important for all of us to recognize that this district has a history of achievement. The aforementioned group of eight people from the annals of history in the Helena-West Helena School District would compare favorable to any elite group from any school district. Second, it is important for our students to see that there is a positive legacy in their school and that they should be proud to be a part of the Helena-West Helena School District and the products that it has produced. Finally, it is important for this community to be reminded of the greatness that has steadily been produced in this school district. Too many have sought to undermine the school district by highlighting its difficulties over the years when the reality is much different than the perception that some have worked to create. Friday, September 8, 2017, will be a very special night for the Helena-West Helena School District as we honor these eight fine individuals who have been a part of our athletic programs and who have gone on to do great things. It should be a time where our community comes together to celebrate these men and women and to celebrate the ongoing success of our schools. And, of course, it’s important to come out and cheer the Cougars to a victory over the Marianna Trojans.