San Antonio – Some laughed, others cried.
Each of St. Mary’s five newest inductees into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame certainly added his or her own special twist during Saturday’s event, as St. Mary’s University ushered in the Class of 2012 at the 24th St. Mary’s University Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Bill Greehey Arena.
Being welcomed into the Hall were former softball player Natalie Hill (B.B.A. ’02), former soccer player Kyle Thornton (B.B.A. ’95), former basketball player C. Tyrell Whisenton (CL ’98), former baseball player Rodney Williams (B.A. ’97) and St. Mary’s University President Dr. Charles L. Cotrell (B.A. ’62, M.A. ’64), who was enshrined as an associate.
Those five joined the existing 139 members of the Hall as being the best of the best who over the years have brought prestige and glory to the Rattler uniform while upholding the Marianist characteristics and the mission of the University.
“It’s a recognition of what people have accomplished,” said Dr. Cotrell of sharing the honor with his fellow inductees. “I think it’s deeply moving in the context of family, their alma mater, St. Mary’s University, and having all their friends and those who they played with or worked with be in attendance. We always have the same quality of commitment, dedication, family-centered values and the recollection of the achievement that one has undertaken.”
Cotrell, as always, was reflective during his induction speech, as was Hill and Whisenton, while Thornton and Williams choked up during their speeches.
The highlight of the day, though, might have come during Whisenton’s speech. Whisenton, whose wife, Ginger (Grimes) Whisenton (B.A. ’97) was also inducted into the hall back in 2010, looked toward their 2-year-old daughter, Sydney, and cracked with a smile: “There’s no excuse. You’ve got to bring it.”
Hill was an NCAA Division II All–American for the 2002 softball squad that won the national championship her senior year – a fitting conclusion to a stellar career that saw her named All–Conference three times and All–Region twice. Over her four years, she maintained a career batting average of .369 to go along with a .513 slugging percentage, and crossed home plate 168 times, which still stands second in the St. Mary’s record books. A native of Del Rio, Texas, she also totaled 241 hits, 127 RBIs, 44 doubles, 13 triples and 44 stolen bases.
“I am very thankful for my time at St. Mary’s, said Hill, “where I had the blessing of developing lifelong friends that will always be a part of my family. There are so many wonderful memories – none being more permanently etched in my mind than winning the National Championship in 2002. I was a senior, so it was the absolute best way you can end your career. Receiving my education at a small, close-knit institution and being a member of a winning softball team at St. Mary’s really laid the foundation for my future.”
A dynamic goal scorer, Thornton helped rebuild the St. Mary’s soccer program. The Garland, Texas native graduated as the school’s all–time leader in goals (39), assists (26) and points (104) – marks that still stand strong today. No Rattler soccer player has ever started or played in as many games as Thornton, a forward/midfielder who started 79 of the 80 games he played over four years. In all, he recorded eight multi–goal games, including three straight hat tricks as a junior in 1992, and was twice named All–Conference.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Thornton said afterward. “It’s everything I thought it was going to be and it could have been. I just can’t thank everybody enough to be part of such a prestigious class. I can’t describe it with words. I’m very blessed, very thankful to the Hall of Fame selection committee and to the University. I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.”
Whisenton was, and still is, the King of 3’s at St. Mary’s, where he set the all–time 3–point mark with 176 3’s over four seasons. A member of the 1,000–pound club, Whisenton twice led the Rattlers in scoring, doing so as a sophomore in 1995–1996 and again as a junior the very next season. A two–time NAIA All–American and a three–time All–Heart of Texas Conference honoree, the Houston native averaged 10.1 points and 1.4 assists per game during his career.
“The three things St. Mary’s really taught me were goodness, discipline and knowledge,” Whisenton said beforehand. “Now, to have my name next to some of the greatest athletes to come through San Antonio, and leaving my name forever next to Coach (Buddy) Meyer’s, is definitely something I’ll cherish.”
Williams was a winner through and through with the Rattlers, leading the baseball team to three NAIA World Series appearances in his four years with the team. A standout outfielder, the Flatonia, Texas native played in more games than nearly anyone else who has donned a Rattlers baseball jersey, having suited up 221 times. He hit .350 for his career with 153 RBIs and 201 runs scored. He was an NAIA All–American Honorable Mention in 1995 and a four–time All–Heart of Texas Conference selection.
A modest Williams jokingly acknowledged during the ceremony that “it sometimes feels good to have your ego stroked” after a career in which he never directly sought the limelight.
“Being inducted into the St. Mary’s Hall of Fame, it does make me feel like I accomplished something special,” he said, “when still to this day I have people complimenting me for how I played the game. Just about every day I run into someone who has graduated from St. Mary’s, which only adds to how proud I am to be a fellow Rattler alum.”
Dr. Cotrell has seen, and often been directly involved in, the rise of Rattler athletics over the past decades. A Rattler fan and advocate like few others, he worked diligently at St. Mary’s to ensure the program has first–rate facilities, including the addition of the Alumni Athletics & Convocation Center and the impending construction of a new outdoor sports complex, for which Cotrell, a San Antonio native, led the initiative to seek funding. As President, he has presided for four of the Rattlers’ six national championships, and also oversaw St. Mary’s move to NCAA Division II while increasing the number of varsity athletics teams to 12.
Dr. Cotrell summed up the day best.
“At St. Mary’s, we emphasize service and civic engagement, values that our graduates carry with them through life,” he said. “Each Hall of Fame Class has represented the caliber and quality of these values as students and after graduation.”