October 12, 2021
St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame
DEFINITION: Marked by great physical power, or, having great moral power.
What does the road to a dream look like?
If it’s a sports dream, there are early, dark mornings – lacing up shoes before any lights flicker on the block. There are late nights, pushing past physical and emotional limits, even when it seems out of reach. There are countless sacrifices at every turn. And there are often amazing mentors and coaches, right there to say, “We don’t quit. Not today.”
For the inaugural class of the St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame, inducted in September 2021, all of these and many more make up the uncommon fabric of uncommon achievements. Launched in 2020, the St. Joseph Area Sports Commission is a committee of individuals working together to honor these kinds of achievements in the sports world – be they on the individual level, the team level or sports entity level. Nominees and inductees can be from across Buchanan County and need to have been born in Buchanan County and made a significant contribution or impact (or still are making one) on sports history.
There is something truly special about the first class to the St. Joseph Area Hall of Fame. Many, like others to come in the future, are St. Joseph-born and raised. Their sports careers across various levels represent not just their efforts, but a tough, dedicated community standing behind them at every step. They represent what makes St. Joseph so much “its own” among similar sized cities: A lot of grit. A lot of raw talent. A lot of hometown pride and the “in this together” philosophy. And at times, an entrepreneurial and curious spirit, bent to make an impact on sports everywhere.
The list of inaugural class names includes Olympian Wes Barnett; a 10-year Major League Baseball player, Byron Browne; Mike Rucker, NFL veteran; and college football coaching phenom Bill Snyder. There’s more to this story though. There are those who rolled up their sleeves in the name of athletics and athletes, such as Charlie Burri, the first athletics director of Missouri Western State University and Newt Hillyard, founder of the Hillyard Companies, whose gym floor products have seen the heartbreak and triumph of collegiate athletics across the country for decades. The inaugural event also included local names reaching out to honor and recognize true inspiration in the form of Special Olympics World Games medalist Mike Grossman, who was named Athlete of the Year from the Hook Foundation. More than 500 people attended the first inaugural ceremony and induction, with many of the inductees thanking the St. Joseph community for their commitment and investment into each athlete’s future. Each of the inductees has demonstrated, and still does, a desire to “pay it forward” to future athletes—a key part of the mission of the St. Joseph Sports Commission. The commission also works collaboratively to help inspire and foster more sports-related tourism in St. Joseph and Buchanan County, including helping coordinate major sporting events and opportunities that tell these stories and create new ones.
It’s not every mid-sized to smaller city that can boast of such a list of athletic accomplishments over the years. There is something about this town that fosters this kind of dedication on so many levels of human achievement – and something uncommon that inspires greatness, even today, in the next generation.
The 2021 Hall of Fame Class Includes:
- Wes Barnett – Two-Time Olympic Team Weightlifter
- Byron Browne – 10-Year Major League Baseball Veteran
- Charlie Burri – Missouri Western State Universities First Athletic Director
- Newt Hillyard – Founder of the Hillyard Companies, Basketball Court Floor Pioneer
- Julius Hochman – Father of Boys Baseball in St. Joseph
- Terin Humphrey – Two-Time Olympic Medalist in Gymnastics
- Henry Iba – Naismith National Basketball Hall of Fame Coach
- Cheri Kempf – Softball Pioneer
- Mike Rucker – Nine-Year National Football League Veteran
- Bill Snyder – College Football Coaching Legend
- Team Induction – Meierhoffer/St. Jo Frontier Casino Fastpitch Softball Team 1997-2003
- Special Olympics Athlete of the Year Presented by the Hook Foundation – Mike Grossman
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Born in 1783 to a St. Louis family of merchants and fur traders, Joseph Robidoux would become the founder of St. Joseph, MO.