Bob Pruett and Fern Lee “Peachy’’ Kellmeyer capped storied legacies Sunday evening.
Rakeem Cato and Jon Elmore added more hardware to their burgeoning careers at the 68th annual Victory Awards Dinner at the Charleston Civic Center.
More than 400 athletes, coaches and family members attended the West Virginia Sports Writers Association event, which is the nation’s oldest statewide sports fete.
Pruett, a former Marshall football coach from Beckley, and Kellmeyer, who came to prominence on the Charleston tennis scene and later as a female sports trailblazer, were formally inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame, which was created in 1950 and is located in the upper lobby at the Civic Center, now boasts 176 members.
Cato, the Marshall quarterback, was recognized as the Hardman Award winner, which goes to the state amateur athlete of the year, and Elmore, a George Washington High School standout, was the Evans Award recipient as the state boys basketball player of the year.
Capital’s James Walton, the Hunt Award winner as the state’s top prep football lineman, was also honored along with 26 all-state athletes and state title coaches from Kanawha and Putnam counties.
Pruett, a former multi-sport athlete at Woodrow Wilson High and Marshall, is the winningest football coach at his alma mater, guiding the Thundering Herd to a 94-23 record from 1996-2008 and a 15-0 mark and the Division I-AA national championship in 1996.
Pruett, who was the first state coach to win four straight West Virginia college coach of the year awards (1996-99), guided Marshall to five straight bowl wins, six conference titles and three Top 25 national rankings, including No. 10 with a 13-0 record in 1999. He also coached two Heisman Trophy finalists in Randy Moss and Chad Pennington.
“This is by far the proudest I will ever be with any award,’’ said Pruett on his Hall of Fame induction. “This is my home state and a dream come true. I never envisioned it happening. I had a number of goals and one of those was to come back to Marshall and be the football coach. So many great things have happened to me in this great state and I’m just humbled and extremely thankful to all those people who helped me.’’
Kellmeyer, who was born in Wheeling, captured two state singles titles as a teenager then became the youngest female (at 15) to compete in the U.S. Nationals. At the University of Miami (Fla.), she was the first woman to compete on a Division I men’s team. In 1966, while athletic director at Marymount College, she spearheaded legal action to gain college scholarships for females, paving the way for Title IX and equal opportunity for female college teams.
She was the first employee and director of the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973 and played a major role for four decades in advocating equal prize money and tournaments for women. Kellmeyer was the first state native inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2011.
“To come back home and be here in my hometown, it means everything,’’ said Kellmeyer, who still works as an executive consultant for WTA operations. “I still have family here. When you come home it makes it extra special. I think it’s great for tennis, too. They’ve not had anybody in the [West Virginia] Sports Hall of Fame. I’m really proud of that.’’
Cato led Marshall to its first 10-win season since 2002 last fall, including a victory over Maryland in the Military Bowl. The 6-foot, 188-pound junior finished with 3,916 yards passing and 39 touchdowns while also rushing for 294 yards and six scores. Pennington won the Hardman Award in 1999 and another Herd signal-caller, Byron Leftwich took it home in 2001 and 2002.
“This is a huge blessing,’’ said Cato of Miami, Fla. “It’s a tradition of Marshall quarterbacks. It’s a huge honor for me to be on that list of those legends that walked on the Marshall campus.’’
“He’s a special athlete and a special player,’’ added Pruett of Cato. “When you start throwing for more yards than Pennington and [Byron] Leftwich, you can really throw the football.’’
Elmore carried on the family legacy, earning the state boys basketball player of the year award just like his father, Gay Elmore, who won it at South Charleston High in 1982. They are the only father-son combination to claim that distinction in state history.
Jon Elmore averaged 31.4 points per game this past season, the state’s highest average since 2011, in leading a depleted GW squad to the Class AAA state tournament. The younger Elmore is headed to Virginia Military Institute, also following in the footsteps of his dad and older brother.
“The hard work is paying off,’’ he said. “Those [other honorees] have definitely earned it so it feels great to be placed among them. I feel a little young. I’ve definitely got some work to do and I’ll keep working and see if I can get up to their [position].’’
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.