The University of Tennessee at Martin inducted eight people into the athletics Hall of Fame, including two professional football players, during the 27th annual Letter Winners Club and Hall of Fame Breakfast in the Student Life Center on campus. The induction ceremony was held in conjunction with the university’s homecoming activities.
The induction class included Rachel Ahlers (volleyball 1999-02); Tony Champion (football 1981-84); Kelly Pendleton DeVilder (women’s basketball 1998-02); Lin Dunn (Pioneer 1965-69); Cliff Sturdivant (baseball 1969-71); Carl Summers (wrestling 1969-71); Fred Thomas (football 1995); and Lindsey Vicknair (volleyball 1999-02).
Ahlers helped the UT Martin volleyball team to win back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference regular-season championships in 2001 and 2002, along with an OVC tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 2002. She was a three-time All-OVC first-team selection. Ahlers graduated ranked No. 2 all-time on the program’s career-kills list with 1,196, and she still holds the single-season record for kills in a season with 429 in 2001.
Champion was one of the most prolific and productive players in UT Martin football history. He played for head coaches Lynn Amadee and Fred Pickard and was a four-year letterman. He caught 72 passes for 1,531 yards and 14 touchdowns in 25 career games. After UT Martin, he signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. He also played for the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers. However, Champion is well known for his career in the Canadian Football League, where he played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1985-88 and 1990-92. The two-time Eastern Division all-star caught 74 passes for 1,216 yards in 1986 and helped the Tiger-Cats win the Grey Cup.
Champion was inducted into the Hall by his daughter and current UT Martin coed Kiara Champion. The former UT Martin wide receiver suffered a heart attack in November 2009, but said he is recovering.
“The most important thing for me was to have Kiara to do this,” Champion said.
DeVilder was a four-year letterwinner at UT Martin, and she helped the Skyhawks gain a berth in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament four consecutive seasons. As a freshman, she was a member of the first-ever OVC regular-season championship team that also earned a berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT). She was the recipient of the OVC’s 2001 Steve Hamilton Sportsmanship Award.
Dunn never played basketball at UT Martin because there were no formal competitive teams for women while she was a student. She played intramural sports and went on to coach in the college ranks for decades at Austin Peay, Ole Miss, Miami and Purdue. She sported a 447-257 win-loss record and a .635 winning percentage. She took teams to the NCAA Tournament seven times and the Final Four once. She began her professional coaching career with the Portland Power in the American Basketball League in 1996. She served as the head coach and general manager of the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. She was named the head coach of the Indiana Fever in 2007, and she guided the 2009 team to the Eastern Conference Championship.
Dunn thanked former UT Martin women’s athletic director Bettye Giles for the courage “she gave me to be so outspoken about women’s athletics.”
Sturdivant, who now lives in Bruceton, played outfield and catcher. He sported a .316 career batting average. He was named UT Martin’s most valuable player in 1970 with a .374 batting average, 10 doubles and five home runs. He was also named to the All-Volunteer Scholastic Athletic Conference (VSAC) team in 1970. In 1971, Sturdivant helped UT Martin win the VSAC baseball championship and advance to the NCAA Mideast Regional Tournament.
Former UT Martin baseball coach Roger Shore inducted Sturdivant into the Hall of Fame. “I remember Cliff coming to me and asking for a chance to play baseball,” Shore said. “Giving Cliff a chance to play baseball was not the problem. I had a very good catcher already, and I always wanted the best players on the field. So what I did was let Cliff catch one game and play right field the next game.” Sturdivant was actually platooning behind the plate with fellow UT Martin Hall of Fame member Mike Fortune.
“What I remember the most about our team was we were a bunch of misfits that fit together,” Sturdivant said. “I also remember being a member of the UT Martin baseball team that won a triple-header and being part of the team that played in the NCAA tournament in Marietta, Ohio.”
Summers wrestled on UT Martin’s first wrestling team in 1969-70 and also in 1970-71. He served as the team captain both seasons for head coach Bud Reiselt. He compiled an impressive 14-3 dual-meet record in both the 190-pound class and the heavyweight class. Before Summers wrestled at UT Martin, he served in the United States Marine Corps, where he served in the Vietnam war and was awarded the Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts and the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Bravery.
Summers received two standing ovations during his induction, one for his military service and the other when he explained to the crowd he was battling throat cancer.
“I made lifelong friends here, and I love them all,” Summers said. “College was a spectacular moment in my life, and this is the crowning moment.”
Thomas played one season for the Skyhawks (1995). He earned All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honors and recorded 69 tackles and four interceptions. He was the 47th pick in the 1996 NFL draft, the highest pick ever in UT Martin history. He was picked by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round. Thomas signed with the New Orleans Saints in the winter of 2000. He received the New Orleans Saints Ed Block Courage Award in 2002. He played in 156 NFL games and started in 80 during 12 seasons. He recorded 424 career solo tackles and 360 total tackles, 13 interceptions and 73 pass deflections. Thomas announced his retirement from the NFL in 2009.
Before Thomas shared a story about his first game in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks he said, “The people at UT Martin have truly blessed me.”
In his first regular season game, Thomas was assigned the task of covering San Francisco receiver Jerry Rice. “My only job was to cover him wherever he went,” Thomas said. “I was so nervous, and before the first play, I remember my helmet touching (Rice’s) jersey. I was two yards offsides.”
Vicknair helped the UT Martin volleyball team to back-to-back Ohio Valley Conference regular- season championships in 2001 and 2002, along with an OVC tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 2002. She is the only volleyball player to ever be a four-year All-OVC selection. She graduated as the career-record holder in assists (5,050) and still holds that record by more than 1,700 assists. Vicknair graduated as the OVC all-time assists leader and still ranks No. 4 all-time.