CAPE GIRARDEAU -- A who's who of standout Southeast Missouri State University athletes and coaches were on display at the Show Me Center Saturday afternoon when the school honored the first class of inductees for its new Athletic Hall of Fame. Fourteen former athletes and coaches and three national championship teams make up the inaugural class that also was honored during halftime of Saturday night's football game against Tennessee Tech at Houck Stadium.
"It was difficult to narrow our inaugural class down to 14 individuals and three teams," said Rich Eichhorst, a former Southeast basketball player who chaired the Hall of Fame Committee. "We feel this is an elite group."
With family, close friends and Southeast administrators looking on, the inductees were introduced during a reception and ceremony, then plaques of the former athletic greats were unveiled on the upstairs lobby area of the Show Me Center, which will contain the permanent Hall of Fame.
Charter members of the Hall of Fame are Laura Byrne (track and cross country), Pat Colon (women's basketball), Jayne Creek (softball), Kenneth Dement (football), Bill Giessing (basketball), Ken Iman (football), Kenneth Knox (football coach, athletic director), Carl Ritter (basketball), Marvin Rosengarten (football, track coach, athletic director), John Schneider (football, athletic director), Abe Stuber (coach), Joe Uhls (baseball coach), Mike Vanatta (track and cross country) and Mike Wood (football).
Along with the deceased Knox, Stuber and Uhls, also not able to attend were Byrne, Iman and Vanatta.
Teams selected for induction are the 1943 NAIA national basketball champions, the 1984 NCAA Division II men's cross country champions and the 1985 NCAA Division II men's indoor track champions. Many members of those squads were on hand, including three players from the 1943 basketball team: Rolla Anderson, Carl "Ben" Bidewell and Jack Behrens, who hit the winning shot in the championship game.
All the inductees were obviously thrilled to be breaking new athletic ground at Southeast.
"I always say, when they give you an honor, they have nobody else to give it to," quipped Rosengarten, who was part of the university's athletic scene for 33 years before retiring in 1991. "But this is the first group, so it's a great honor." Among the 14 individual inductees are five players whose Southeast numbers have been retired (Colon, Ritter, Dement, Iman, Wood), three individuals who had Southeast athletic facilities named after them (Rosengarten, Stuber, Uhls) and two football players who went on to the NFL (Iman, Wood). "I'm in the Missouri Basketball Hall of Fame and I had my number retired, but this honor today has to top them all off," said Ritter, the Indians' all-time basketball scoring leader who played from 1959-63. "Being one of the 14 original, I feel like I'm with a select group."
Like Ritter, his old pal Giessing -- they helped lead the 1961 squad to a second-place national finish -- thanked his teammates.
"It's quite an honor and it's also quite humbling," Giessing said. "Since basketball is a team sport, whatever I accomplished is because of such great teammates."
Dement, who played for the Indians from 1951-54 and received perhaps college football's highest honor in 1998 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, said Saturday's award ranks right up with the national honor. Schneider, who earned All-American honors playing under Knox for Southeast's 1955 football team that had a perfect record, put in a plug for his undefeated squad.
"Everybody thinks their team might have been the best, but I'm voting for the 1995 team, no matter what era it was," Schneider said.
Wood, who established an NCAA record of 64 career field goals in 1977 that stood for several years and still holds several school records, was obviously touched by his induction.
"It means a whole lot," he said. "You don't really dream of this, but it is a dream come true."