St. Joseph Area Sports of Hall of Fame Class of 2023






For Immediate Release: Wednesday, May 17, 2023

The St. Joseph Sports Commission, a division of the St. Joseph Convention & Visitors Bureau is pleased to announce the 2023 St. Joseph Area Sports of Hall of Fame Class!

Officially created in November of 2020, the St. Joseph Area Sports of Hall recognizes those individuals, families, teams, entities or significant feats/accomplishments that have made a significant impact on sports history in Buchanan County in which the inaugural induction class was enshrined in September 2021.

To be eligible for selection, the individual or team must have been born in Buchanan County, must have made their sports career or accomplished their feat in Buchanan County or must be contributing to sports in Buchanan County at the present time.

The 2023 Hall of Fame Class includes:

Dwayne Blakley – College Football and National Football League Tight End

Ann Marie (Brooks) Chappell – Elite Track & Field/Cross Country Runner

Kathleen (Heckman) Winegardner – Tennis Legend

Pete Kelley – Olympic Weightlifter

Brad Nurski – World Class Amateur Golfer

Martin Rucker – College Football and National Football League Tight End

Paul “Pop” Springer – High School Coaching Legend

Chris Tabor – National Football League Coach

Jim Wright – Major League Baseball Pitcher and Coach

1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball State Champions

Jane Wood – Special Olympics Area Athlete Of The Year

In addition, the Second Annual Coach Bill Snyder Woman of Impact Award will be presented by Coach Snyder.  The award recognizes a female athlete, coach, administrator or other outstanding feat accomplished in Buchanan County over the past year.  The award is named in Coach Snyder’s honor as a tribute to not only the impact that his mother made on his life and upbringing in our community but the impact of women in all levels of sport in celebration of Title IX.

The 2023 St. Joseph Area Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony, being in held in memory and honor of the St. Joseph Sports Commissions’ founder and first chairman Frank O’Malley will be held on Sunday, August 27 at Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center.  Social hour presented by Ellison-Auxier Architects begins at 4 PM with the enshrinement and presentation of awards beginning at 5 PM.

A limited amount of tickets for the event will go on sale in late June for $25 per person and may be purchased at

To inquire about sponsorship of the event, congratulatory program ads and other engagement opportunities, contact the commission at or call 816-233-6688.

Class of 2023

Dwayne Blakley – College Football and National Football League Tight End


A three-sport, multi-talented star, Dwayne Blakley’s path through the hierarchy of athletics could have taken a variety of different paths.  Blakley, a three-year letterwinner at Central High School competed in football, basketball and track in which he was an integral part of the 1995 State Quarterfinal Football Team.  On the hardwood, he was selected Second Team All-State his senior year but it was his numerous accolades on the gridiron (both as a tight end and defensive end) that led to him signing to play football at the University of Missouri.  Blakley played at Mizzou during the programs early rise back to prominence as he played four seasons for the Tigers recording 79 receptions for 868 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career which led to his Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection following the 1999 season.  After spending two seasons in NFL Europe, he spent four seasons in the NFL with the Atlanta Falcons appearing in 59 games including nine starts recording 21 receptions including one touchdown.  Blakley was inducted as a member of the inaugural Central High School Hall of Fame in 2012.

Ann Marie (Brooks) Chappell – Elite Track & Field/Cross Country Runner

In mentioning elite level runners in our area, the conversation always begins with Ann Marie (Brooks) Chappell.  Chappell started her legacy as a three-time All-State cross country runner at Central High School which included winning the 4A State title her senior season.  On the track, she garnered six more all-state selections and was a record holder in both the 1600 and 3200 runs.  She took her talents to the University of Missouri where her success was elevated.  She was a four time Big 12 Conference Champion, earned Academic All-American five times, a NCAA National Champion (2001 indoor medley relay team) and four-time All-America performer. Brooks was inducted into the Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008 and the inaugural Central High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.


Kathleen (Heckman) Winegardner – Area and National Tennis Legend

The sport of tennis has a rich history in St. Joseph, mention the game in any circles and all will tell you, Kathleen Winegardner was a legend.  It was clearly meant to be for Kathleen as she grew up across the street from and began playing tennis at Noyes Tennis Courts prior to the age of 10.  Winegardner is in rare company locally as one of few area athletes that have ever won four state championships in any sport.  Her elite run began in 1978 as she teamed with her sister Mary Ann and won three consecutive doubles titles.  She capped off her senior season with a singles title in 1981.  She went from St. Joseph to Minneapolis as she played one season for the University of Minnesota in which she earned All-Big Ten honors in both singles and doubles in 1983, still holds the record for most doubles victories in a season (36 in 1982-83) and is sixth all-time in singles victories in a season with 33 (three off the all-time record).  Following her freshman year, she transferred to the University of Colorado where her outstanding play continued over her remaining three seasons of collegiate competition.  She ranks top 10 in all-time career singles and doubles victories with 128 combined wins including 45 victories at #1 singles which ranks second all-time.  She competed for a National Championship after winning the Big 8 Championship at #1 singles during her senior season.  Following college, she continued to compete at an elite level winning the Colorado State Open 11 times and the Denver City Open 6 times.  She is a member of the LeBlond High School Hall of Fame, Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame and the Colorado Tennis Hall of Fame.

Pete Kelley – Olympic Weightlifter

A forever, iconic symbol of St. Joseph sports history, alongside fellow Olympians and Hall of Famers Wes Barnett and Dennis Snethen; Pete Kelley carried the Olympic torch through St. Joseph as it made its way to the 1996 games in Atlanta and for Kelley it was the culmination of an eight-year labor of love. Kelley began lifting at the Wesley Center in 1988 and four short years later due to his performance on the Junior World Team, he accepted an invitation to be a resident and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  At the training center, Kelley quickly established himself as not only one of the best lifters in the country, but in the world.  He was a three-time member of the Junior World Team including being a United States Junior Champion.  In qualifying for the US Pan American games, he won a Gold Medal in the snatch lift and placed third for total Kilos.  At the age of 22, Pete became the youngest member of the Olympics team at the Atlanta games and broke two American records during the meet one in the Clean & Jerk and a total weight record which led to a 14th place finish overall.  Following the Olympics he continued to compete nationally for the next nine years including being ranked #1 in the United States in his weight class in 2004.  Pete was inducted into the USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame in 2018.


Brad Nurski – World Class Amateur Golfer

Best ever……that’s a strong sentiment, but in the ranks of amateur golf in St. Joseph, Brad Nurski is simply the best ever.  In fact, one could make the case the “best ever” label stretches throughout the entire state of Missouri.  Nurski began his elite career at Benton High School where he was a four-time MEC Conference Champion.  He then took his talents to Missouri Western where he was an All-MIAA selection three times, All-Region twice and became the first MWSU player to qualify for NCAA Regionals as an individual.  For his efforts, he was a 2013 inductee into the Missouri Western Athletics Hall of Fame.  While this is an already impressive Hall of Fame resume, the best was certainly yet to come and is still being written.  Nurski has owned amateur golf in St. Joseph and most cases beyond for the past two decades.  He is a 14 time Fairview Club Champion, 7 time St. Joseph CC Club Champion, 6 time St. Joseph City Champion and winner of 13 local club invitationals.  On the state level, Brad has won 10 Missouri Golf Associations Championships including the prestigious Missouri Amateur three times (2010, 2017, 2018) which led him to twice being named the Missouri Player of the Year.  Nurski has competed numerous times nationally and internationally as well including a runner-up finish in the USGA Mid-Amateur in 2014 in which the winner receives an exemption into the Masters.  This past year, Nurski competed for Team USA in the prestigious Concession Cup at The Real Club Valderama in Spain and helped the Americans win in come from behind fashion.

Martin Rucker – College Football and National Football League Tight End

The evolution of the tight end of position in the sport of football has gone from an extension of the offensive line to that of a playmaker…….Martin T. Rucker was a playmaker.  A three-sport start at Benton High School who garnered numerous accolades, Rucker took his talents to the University of Missouri where he started all but one game of his four-year career at the tight end position and helped reshape how the position would be played in coach Gary Pinkel’s spread offense.  Rucker totaled 203 career receptions which ranks second on the all-time career list at Mizzou which totaled 2,175 yards and 18 touchdowns.  His recognitions were many including second-team Freshman All-American, Consensus first-team All-American along with first-team AFCA and AP All-American his senior season.  Also, in his senior year, he was instrumental in helping the Tigers finish the year 12-2 winning their first ever Big 12 North title, recorded a victory in the Cotton Bowl and finished the season ranked #4 in the final AP poll.  Rucker was selected in the fourth round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns in which his career spanned five seasons competing on five different teams.

Paul “Pop” Springer – Legendary Three Sport High School Coach

An inspiration to all who were lucky enough to have been coached or taught by him…….that’s the opening line of the nomination in support of Paul “Pop” Springer.  A legend on the south side for more than three decades, Pop was a coach for all seasons in which he recorded a high level of success on the gridiron, the hardwood and the track.  He came to St. Joseph from Nebraska in 1925 and quickly became a trailblazing icon in the coaching profession.  In his career, he coached 889 contests combined in football and basketball amassing 566 wins (150 football, 416 basketball) and in all three sports, he enjoyed the pinnacle achievement of coaching his teams to comepte for a championship which included: Class B Track & Field State Champions in 1928, Track & Field State Runner Up in 1929, Boys Basketball State Champions in 1931 & 1941 and a Football Peanut Bowl Appearance in 1946.  As a tribute to forever honor his memory and legacy, the gym at Benton High School bears his name.

Chris Tabor – National Football League Coach

Coaching is a labor of love, especially for those that make it a career and for Chris Tabor that love began in 1993 and has now spanned 30 years across all levels of football in seven states.  Tabor, a graduate of Benton High School was a three-year starter at quarterback for Benedictine in which he graduated in 1993.  Tabor defines the true term of “working your way through the ranks.”  He instantly went to work at his high school alma mater as an assistant on the football team in which he elevated quickly.  The next season he joined the junior college ranks as a running backs coach at Hutchinson Community College, then immediately became an offensive coordinator at Central Methodist for two seasons.  Tabor, who started at NJCAA then NAIA, made a big jump to the staff at Mizzou where he spent three seasons.  With the opportunity to become a head coach upon him, Tabor spent the only season of his career in the head role at Culver Stockton in 2001 before jumping to the FBS ranks at Utah State for three seasons and then two more at Western Michigan in 2006 & 07.  Following the 07 season, Tabor was given a shot in the National Football League for the first time working as Assistant Special Teams Coach for the Chicago Bears under now Chiefs Assistant Head Coach Dave Toub.  He has spent 15 seasons in the NFL all working as a Special Teams Coordinator in which his units consistently rank in the upper half of the league statistically.   He currently is in his second season with the Carolina Panthers.  Tabor was inducted into the Benedictine Athletes Hall of Fame in 2021.

Jim Wright – Major League Baseball Pitcher & Coach

In making an impact on both the mound and in the dugout, Jim Wright’s impact lasted more than four decades.  Wright began his career as a two-sport athlete at Benton High School in being a four-year letterwinner on the baseball field and a three year letterwinner on the basketball court.  He excelled at a high level in both sports, but it was on the diamond that he would have his calling.  Almost immediately upon graduation, he was selected in the 5th round of the 1973 Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.  He spent seven seasons in the Phillies farm system amassing a 65-33 career record, a resume that included throwing two no hitters, winning pitcher of the year at all three levels of the minor leagues (A, AA, AAA) and was the Triple A Cy Young Award Winner.  Wright’s chance in the Major Leagues came with the hometown Kansas City Royals as they selected him the 1980 Rule 5 Draft away from the Phillies.  He made 24 appearances for the Royals over the next two seasons, appearing in 23 games recording a 2-3 overall record with a 4.04 ERA and 36 strikeouts.  Following his playing days, Wright quickly joined the coaching ranks of which he spent 32 seasons as a pitching coach at the Triple A and Major League Levels with the Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies. He officially retired in 2014 following 41 seasons in professional baseball.


1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball State Champions

What could be called a revenge tour was simply the culmination of a Golden Era of basketball in St. Joseph.  Coming off a runner-up finish in Class 3A a season earlier, the 1976 Lafayette High School Boys Basketball Team reached the pinnacle achievement the following season in returning to and winning a state championship.  The Irish finished the season 28-3 and defeated Joplin Memorial High School 87-82.  The team was led by Head Coach Mel Clark and Assistant Coach Steve Neff, who used the team’s success the previous season in coming up just one game short as a motivator.  The starting five included Jimmy Tillman, Hubert Beattie, Allen Stillman, John Embray and Charlie Brown.  Other members of the team included; Bob Cobb, Keenan Brockett, Chris Silcott, JC Stanley, Randy Rush, Steve Bundy, Bo Tillman, Greg Lie and managers Steve Shores and Scooter Tillman.  Individual accolades were achieved by Tillman and Beattie who were both named first team All-State along with Clark being named Coach of the Year.

Special Olympics Area Athlete Of The Year presented by the Hook Family – Jane Wood

An iconic figure in the North Area of Special Olympics of Missouri for more than four decades, you could say Jane Wood was born into the program.  Jane’s mother started the Special Olympics program in St. Joseph 45 years ago of which shortly thereafter, she began her journey to SOMO fame.  Wood has been a four-sport athlete competing in softball for more than 25 years and also competed in the sports of swimming and track & field, however it’s been on the bowling lanes that Jane established her fame.  She has attended numerous area and state bowling competitions, bringing home several gold medals over the years.  She was key in getting the Special Olympics Unified Partner program up and running and she was one of the first athletes selected to be a partner with a non-Special Olympics athletes to bowl in competition.  Jane has always loved being a part of a team and as she put it “my teammates depend on me to be there and help.”

Full Service, Experienced Staff

From site selection, travel planning, logistics, event management, public relations, and marketing, our experienced team is here to help you every step of the way!

Let’s get started, to begin planning your championship experience, contact Director of Development & Sports Commission Brett Esely at 816-233-6688, via email at, or simply start the process by filling out our contact form!

MM slash DD slash YYYY
This error message is only visible to WordPress admins
There has been a problem with your Instagram Feed.