HOUSTON - As part of the activities surrounding their football championship game, the Southwestern Athletic Conference bestowed its highest honor onto nine of the league’s most influential and accomplished men and women. The conference celebrated its 2017 Hall of Fame Class at the Westin Galleria Thursday night.
Seven schools -- Alcorn State, Alabama State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State, Prairie View A&M, Southern and Texas Southern – were represented during the gala. The inductees were William Brown, Dr. Dwalah Fisher, Wallace Francis, Clifton Gilliard, Patricia Jackson, Shameka Jackson, Dr. David Ponton, Jr., James Williams and Roynell Young.
Brown, a longtime track and field coach for the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, served for three decades at his post. In 1980 and 1981, he guided the Delta Devils to NAIA outdoor track championships -- the first national championships in the school’s history. Brown – who passed away in August of this year -- worked at MVSU from 1968-1997, and is a member of the Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State Sports Halls of Fame.
Brown’s son, William Jr., accepted the award on his behalf.
“It is a great honor for me to stand here tonight in the footsteps of my father,” Brown Jr. said. “[He] was the epitome of coaching from a strategic standpoint. The entire William Brown family is celebrating tonight.”
Fisher, who serves as Assistant Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator for Texas Southern, was enshrined following a stellar volleyball career during which she established herself as one of the greatest setters of her era. From there she became an accomplished coach and administrator for her alma mater, coaching the Lady Tigers to the 1994 SWAC title at just 22 years old.
For the TSU lifer, following in the footsteps of her former coach made the moment that much sweeter.
“It is an awesome honor,” she said. “My coach, the legendary coach, Audrey Ford was Texas Southern’s first inductee so I’m really excited.”
A three-time all-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference selection during his playing days at Arkansas-Pine Bluff during the 1970s, Francis was selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills in 1973. He led the AFC in kick returns as a rookie and went on to earn team MVP honors with the Atlanta Falcons. He has since been called to the ministry.
Francis described the accolade as a joy.
“Growing up in Louisiana, being a young man that watched SWAC football … playing in the SWAC was like playing in the SEC in my day,” Francis said. “To be recognized with some of the great players is beyond glorious.”
Gilliard’s legacy at Prairie View A&M athletics is nearly unmatched, as he guided the Panthers’ track program to numerous championships in the mid-2000s. Gilliard's men's program achieved the SWAC Triple Crown (winning titles in cross country, indoor track, outdoor track) in 2007-08. Prior to that, Gilliard was a member of the 1958 HBCU National Championship-winning Prairie View A&M football team.
Gilliard passed away in June of this year, and his son David Waites accepted on his behalf.
“He’s so grateful for this,” Waites said. “This was all he worked for. Everything about my dad was helping people, and this would have been his thank you. He would have been proud, and I’m proud.”
P. Jackson graduated from Prairie View A&M as one of the greatest sprinters of her era. A 2006 inductee into the PVAMU Sports Hall of Fame, Jackson holds the conference record in the 400m dash -- a time which has stood since 1978 -- and was a four-time conference champion and a five-time All-American, going on to compete for the U.S. National Team on six occasions.
The Prairie View A&M legend was overcome with gratitude.
“This is such a great honor to be one of the inductees for the SWAC Hall of Fame,” she said. “I am overwhelmed of the excitement of being one of the inductees tonight.”
As a Lady Hornet, S. Jackson was one of the most dominant women's basketball players in the history of the SWAC. The Saginaw, Mich. native earned Player of the Year honors at the conclusion of the 2002-03 season and garnered All-SWAC distinction three times.
At the time of her graduation, Jackson – who had her number retired -- was the Lady Hornets’ all-time leading scorer, a distinction she still holds today.
The first-ever female inductee from Alabama State University said she never expected that her name would be immortalized in the league’s history.
“It’s everything, it’s almost surreal,” Jackson said. “I never even expected to be brought up in that conversation, it’s a blessing … I’m grateful.”
Ponton Jr.’s name is littered throughout Southern Jaguars basketball lore, as he was one of the top point guards in the SWAC during the mid-1980s. Ponton led the Jaguars to the 1985 SWAC tournament championship and from there, became a championship-winning hoops coach for the Grambling State men’s and women’s teams.
Currently, Ponton works at Grambling State University as the Vice President of Student Affairs.
“It’s tremendous,” Ponton Jr. said. “When you think of the great athletes in this conference, to be recognized is something you could never even dream about. I’m honored and humbled to be here.”
Alcorn State had two representatives on the evening with former gridiron standouts Williams and Young.
Williams was a dual-sport star for the Braves in the 1960s, earning All-SWAC recognition at cornerback as well as in track and field in 1966 and 1967. He went on to become a member of the Alcorn State University Sports Hall of Fame.
“It means a tremendous amount to me,” he said. “To be going into the Hall of Fame, with some of the greats of the SWAC, it means a great deal to me.”
Young earned All-SWAC first team honors as well as All-America accolades in 1979, during which the Braves won the SWAC football championship and he earned the Black College Defensive Player of the Year award. A first-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1980, Young later played in Super Bowl XV, was a Pro Bowl selection in 1981, and was voted the Eagles' defensive MVP in 1986.
“I’m deeply touched,” Young said. “It’s an award of proud tradition, not only on the athletic field but also off the field. Many greats have come through and been a part of that, so I am deeply touched by it.”