WACO, Texas – Highlighted by NCAA champions Benjamin Becker, Steffanie Blackmon and Jennifer Jordan Washington, Baylor’s 2017 Hall of Fame class includes eight outstanding former student-athletes representing six different sports.
The 58th class of inductees also includes Ron Francis and Bill Hicks from football, Bill Payne and Jeff Jackson from track and field and Melanie Hagewood Willhite from women’s golf.
This year’s class, along with Wall of Honor recipient Jim Daniel, will participate in on-campus enshrinement activities during the Oct. 20-21 weekend. In addition to the Hall of Fame banquet, the 2017 class will be introduced during the Baylor-West Virginia football game on Saturday, Oct. 21 (kickoff time TBA) and ride in the school’s Homecoming parade prior to the game.
Tickets to the 2017 Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame banquet, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in the Brazos Room at the Waco Convention Center, are $50 per person and may be purchased by contacting the “B” Association at 254-710-3045 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Table sponsorships (seating for eight) are also available for $750 (individual) or $1,000 (corporate).
Organized in 1960, the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame recognizes and honors individuals whose participation and contributions have enriched and strengthened the university’s athletics program. Student-athletes are required to wait 10 years after completing their eligibility before they can be nominated for the Hall of Fame.
Beginning with the inaugural 1960 class that included coach Floyd “Uncle Jim” Crow and baseball’s Ted Lyons, 228 honorees have been elected or already enshrined in the Hall of Fame, while another 24 have been added to the Wall of Honor.
Baylor’s record-holder for career singles (141) and doubles wins (104), Becker was a three-time singles All-American, a four-time All-Big 12 pick and won the 2004 NCAA singles championship while leading the Bears to the school’s first-ever team national championship.
A native of Orscholz, Germany, Becker earned Big 12 Freshman and ITA Region IV Rookie of the Year honors in 2002, when he was 37-9 in singles and 21-8 in doubles and finished the season ranked 11th nationally. Capping off an incredible junior season, Becker defeated Tulane’s Michael Kogan, 6-4, 7-6(8), to win the NCAA singles title after helping the Bears defeat UCLA, 4-0, in the team final.
After earning All-America honors the next year, leading Baylor to the ITA Indoor Championship and a runner-up NCAA finish, Becker began a pro career that has seen him earn more than $4 million. Between 2006 and ’15, he ended the season ranked in the top 100 eight times, attaining a career-high mark of No. 35 on Oct. 27, 2014.
Blackmon (2002-05), a key cog on the Baylor Lady Bears’ 2005 national championship team, was a two-time All-Big 12 pick and third-team All-American as a senior when she averaged 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-2 post had 22 points and seven rebounds in the 84-62 win over Michigan State in the national championship game.
The Dallas native set school records for career blocks (159) and free throw attempts (656) and still ranks in the top 10 in points (1,955), rebounds (936), free throw percentage (.788) and games played (133). A double-figure scorer in each of her four seasons, Blackmon averaged 17.6 points for a WNIT runner-up team in 2003, then 15.6 and 15.4 the next two years when she was a consensus first-team All-Big 12 selection.
Drafted in the third round by the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, Blackmon played overseas in Korea, Israel and Italy and has worked in the Dallas Independent School District for the last nine years. She was inducted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
A two-time All-Southwest Conference cornerback, Francis (1982-86) was named the SWC Defensive Player of the Year and honorable mention All-American as a junior in 1985, when he had six interceptions, 12 pass breakups and 64 tackles for a pass defense that ranked third nationally.
Originally recruited as a blue-chip running back out of the tradition-rich La Marque program, Francis was one of just two true freshmen to play during the 1982 season, making four starts at cornerback. Switched back to running back after a redshirt season, he led the Bears in rushing in 1984 with 558 yards and five touchdowns on 127 carries.
Despite playing just two full seasons at cornerback, he still ranks among the top 10 in career interceptions (14) and pass breakups (29). A second-round draft pick in 1987, Francis played four years with the Dallas Cowboys and made four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown as a rookie starter.
Hicks’ time at Baylor covers four different decades as a player and coach, making back-to-back bowl games as a player (1958-61) and winning a pair of Southwest Conference championships in his 13 years as the Bears’ defensive line coach.
A three-sport letterman and three-time all-state pick in football at Little Rock (Ark.) Central High School, Hicks came to Baylor as a freshman in 1958 and earned All-SWC honors as a senior center in 1961. He played on teams that lost to Florida in the 1960 Gator Bowl and beat Utah in the 1961 Gotham Bowl, earning a spot on the Bears’ All-Decade team of the 1960s.
After stints as a freshman coach at Baylor (1962-63) and assistant coach at Texas A&I (1964-65) and West Virginia (1966-68), Hicks had a 13-year run as the Bears’ defensive line coach (1969-81) under Bill Beall and Grant Teaff, being part of the 1974 and 1980 SWC championship teams. He capped off his career as the head coach at Howard Payne from 1982 to ’84.
Baylor’s all-time best in the short-sprint hurdles, Jackson (1993-96) was a five-time All-American and three-time Southwest Conference champion who was the national runner-up in the 110-meter hurdles at the NCAA Outdoor Championships and 55-meter hurdles at the 1996 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Still the school record holder in the 110 hurdles (13.20), he also placed fourth at the NCAA indoor and outdoor meets and fifth at the 1993 outdoor meet. Jackson’s SWC titles came in the 110 hurdles (1993), 55-meter hurdles (1995) and 4x400 relay (1995).
Jackson went on to a pro career, competing at the World Championships and Pan Am Games in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. He was inducted into the Garland Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and is the head girls track and field coach at North Garland High School.
A world-class pole vaulter with two marks over 19 feet, Payne (1987-91) was a six-time All-American who still holds the school indoor and outdoor records. He set the indoor record of 18-4 ¾ at a 1990 meet in Norman, Okla., and broke his own outdoor mark with a winning vault of 19-2 ¾ at the Southwest Conference Championships in Houston.
Part of a golden era of Baylor pole vaulters, Payne followed previous All-Americans David Hodge, Todd Cooper and Mike Shafe and preceded Kurt Hanna and Jim Autenreith. Indoors, he finished fourth in 1989, fifth in 1990 and third as a senior in ’91, while his outdoor finishes were fifth in 1988, seventh in 1990 and second in ’91.
He also won four SWC titles and still holds the top five indoor and outdoor marks at Baylor. A FedEx Operations manager, Bill also coaches the PVC Club, helping mentor his daughter, Demi, to the 2015 NCAA championship at Stephen F. Austin.
A record-setting quarter-miler in the 1990s, Washington (1995-98) was a nine-time All-American and ran anchor leg on the 4x400 relay team that won the 1998 NCAA indoor national championship. With nine All-America honors and five conference titles, she is tied for the second-most in program history.
At one point, she held school records in five events – the indoor (53.11) and outdoor 400 (51.85), the indoor (3:33.93) and outdoor 4x400 relay (3:29.11) and the 600-yard run (1:17.66). Washington still ranks third all-time in the indoor and outdoor 400, and the outdoor 4x400 relay time has stood for 19 years.
Individually, she placed third in the 400 at the 1995 NCAA Indoor Championships and seventh the next year and won conference titles in the same event in 1995 and ’98. Her relay success included six top-six NCAA finishes, including winning the national indoor title as a senior in 1998 with Angelique Banket, Alayah Cooper and Yulanda Nelson.
The 2001 winner of the LPGA Dina Shore Trophy, which recognizes a female collegiate golfer who excels both academically and athletically, Willhite (1999-2003) was a two-time Academic All-American and two-time All-Big 12 pick. She was the program’s first first-team All-Big 12 pick as a senior in 2003, when Willhite had a then-school-record scoring average of 74.83 per round.
A three-time all-state golfer at Montgomery Central High School in Clarksville, Tenn., Willhite led Baylor in scoring in each of her last three seasons and finished with a then-record 76.69 career average. She won the Verizon “Mo” Morial Classic as a senior, recorded a pair of top-10 finishes at the Big 12 Tournament and still ranks in the top three in career top-10 (21) and top-five finishes (12).
After playing 4 ½ years on the Duramed Futures Tour, Willhite worked as a civil engineer at O’Brien Engineering and a product test analyst for Nike Golf. She is married and has two daughters, Megan and Laurie.
The Wall of Honor annually recognizes Baylor letterwinners and graduates whose meritorious accomplishments in public or private life following graduation have brought positive public recognition, credit and honor to Baylor and its athletics department.
Daniel, a former baseball letterman, originally came to Baylor out of Oklahoma City on a baseball, basketball and academic scholarship. He earned a BBA degree from Baylor with a major in finance (1962) and went on to get a degree from SMU’s Graduate School of Banking.
A lifelong Oklahoma City resident, Daniel has been involved in the banking industry for nearly 60 years, serving as CEO of Friendly and Bank One from August 1964 to October 1997. Also a civic leader, he is past president of Integris Health of Oklahoma, a past officer and executive committee member of the Southern Baptist Convention, past director of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club President.
Daniel has funded two endowed scholarships at Baylor and also gave a lead gift earlier this year for the Baylor “B” Association’s Letterwinners Legacy Endowed Scholarship Fund in honor of his former baseball coach, Dutch Schroeder.