Carl Runk essentially performed a stand-up comedy routine, Gary Williams choked up as he reflected on memories and Len Bias’s father, James, noted the impact that his son’s death 36 years ago has had throughout the world.
Eight men were honored by the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday night, and through speeches that applauded family members, recounted stories and jokes and included emotional and thoughtful lessons learned, each honoree displayed his unique impact on athletics in the state.
The Hall of Fame has been around since 1956, when Babe Ruth was inducted, but there were no inductees nor a banquet in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Thursday’s induction ceremony took place at Martin’s West in Baltimore, with a cocktail hour, a silent auction, dinner and entertaining speeches. Tickets were $85 per person.
Women are eligible for the Hall of Fame, but none were selected by the organization’s board of directors this year.
Maryland basketball legend Len Bias, lacrosse player and coach Dave Cottle, Negro Leagues baseball star Leon Day, Maryland football pioneer Darryl Hill, tennis standout Fred McNair IV and amateur golf champion Marty West III were each inducted into the Hall of Fame, and two coaches — Maryland men’s basketball’s Gary Williams and Towson men’s lacrosse’s Carl Runk — were given special awards.
Williams was named the Coaches Legacy Award winner, while Runk won the John F. Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award.
Programming began with a national anthem, and though it was a violin instrumental, attendees still hollered out “O!” at the appropriate time, in true Maryland fashion.
During Runk’s turn to speak, he told a series of stories — and other jokes — that had the audience in stitches.
“Could I have a show of hands: Are there people here who bought my book?” he said of a coaching book he’d written, as many in the crowd put an arm in the air. “God bless ya, God bless ya. Now could I have a show of hands of the people who wanted a refund?”
Day, who pitched a no-hitter in his first game back after more than two years of World War II service, had an illustrious baseball career. He never bragged about it, or hardly mentioned it, though, said his widow Geraldine, who accepted the award on behalf of her late husband. Day was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1995, the same year as his death.
“The only thing I can say here tonight, 27 years after his death, is what took you so long?” Geraldine said to laughs and applause.
The first African American to receive an athletic scholarship in any sport south of the Mason-Dixon line was Hill, who debuted for the Terps in 1963. He didn’t want to be Jackie Robinson, he said, but he received letters from Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, encouraging him to lead the way.
He commended the University of Maryland for the role it played in supporting him as he played football in the Atlantic Coast Conference — despite vehement opposition from other schools.
“Maryland broke the ice in college sports,” he said.
The speeches mixed history with humor and honor. ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon attend the same country club as West, the golfer, and the bombastic pair made a video appearance discussing West’s accolades. “He’s one of the greatest amateurs of all time,” Wilbon said on the screen.
West never became a professional in an effort to live a more stable, familial life, but won dozens of amateur tournaments.
“It is indeed a great honor,” he said of the Hall of Fame, “and in some way, validates my decision to be a career amateur golfer.”
McNair and West grew up at the same country club, and McNair gave a heartfelt speech about his family and the sport of tennis. He thanked his sister and his mother for support — “that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that extra pair of socks, the cheerleading on the side,” he said of his mom.
“I loved [tennis], and it loved me back,” McNair added.
Bias died in 1986 of a cocaine overdose, and his mother, Lonise, is a motivational speaker who has traveled the world, talking about her son’s story. Over a pre-produced video of dunk highlights and Maryland fans and players wearing his No. 34 jersey, Bias’s mother said: “I can’t tell you how many people who have walked up to me as I traveled throughout the country and say, ‘Your son’s death changed my life.’ So in death, he brought life to so many.”
Bias’s father, James, ended his remarks with: “Long live 34.”
Several Maryland basketball alumni, as well as current coach Kevin Willard, were present as Williams received his honor. Williams teared up as he looked at a table of his former players and thought back to his former teams, including the squad that won the 2002 national title.
“If you have really great players, you’re gonna win a lot of games. There’s no question about it,” he said. “But if you have great players who are great people, then you have a chance to win championships. And that’s what I had at the University of Maryland.”
It was a night of humor, gratitude and recollection. Cottle, who has a storied career as a lacrosse player and coach, took the moment to reflect.
“One of the things about being involved in athletics is you really never have a chance to look back. You’re always looking forward to the next team, the next recruit, the next player, the next game,” Cottle said, “and what this opportunity does for me is gives me a chance to reflect and look back.”