The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 12, 2012

Joplin Sports Authority inducts new members into Hall of Fame

By Jim Fryar
Globe Sports Writer

— What do the inductees at the Joplin Sports Authority’s Hall of Fame Banquet have in common?

Bill Street was one of the most accomplished area race-car drivers. “The Missouri Mudslinger” dominated area tracks in three states.

Jeff Hafer was a virtual legend as a high school basketball player who went on to a solid career at the University of Missouri.

Tongula Givens Steddum was a 14-time All-American in track and field and a two-time individual national champion at Missouri Southern.

The 1972 football team at Missouri Southern won the NAIA national championship with a perfect 12-0 season, including an upset victory at Nevada-Las Vegas.

What do these people have in common? Great accomplishments which created lasting memories. That is the thread which ties the group together, said Kevin Welch, a member of the Joplin Sports Authority board of directors and also the hall of fame selection committee.

Street, Hafer, Steddum and the 1972 Lions comprise the 12th class of inductees since the JSA started the local sports hall of fame.

Both the individuals and the team members talked about the important of family when discussing their selection of the JSA Hall of Fame.

Hafer spoke of the important of his family in developing his competitive nature. That nature was on display again from March 21-25, when Hafer played in a 112-hour game which broke the Guinness record for longest continuous game.

Hafer scored 3,037 points during the equivalent of 75 full-length college games. The effort helped raise more than $100,000 for the Joplin tornado relief effort.

Jeff Starkweather, who coached Hafer as a prep senior and who is now the Joplin athletic director, made the hall of fame introduction.

Street was introduced by his son Billy, who was 4 when his father began racing. That’s why Street always drove No. 4.

Street, who crashed in his first race, won an estimated 365 times. Included was a streak of 13 races in a row at the former Beaver Lake Speedway near Rogers, Ark.

“He was great for five decades,” Billy Street said. “He was still competing at the highest level in his 60s.

“We did this as a family. Some families go to the lake in the summer. Some go camping. We went to the races.”

Bill Street said he had a difficult time thinking of himself in the same terms with the other members of the sports hall of fame.

“All I could do was turn the steering wheel and push the gas,” he said, getting one of the biggest laughs of the night.

Steddum didn’t start her college career at Southern, but came to Joplin and found her family — first coach Tom Rutledge and wife Karen — and success as one of the premier track athletes in the nation. She later qualified for U.S. Olympic Trials in both 2000 and 2004.

“Tongula always came through in the clutch,” Tom Rutledge said.

Steddum said she came to Joplin to help build a program, recalling shoveling snow off the circle drive in front of Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium for winter workouts, and also traveling to the Carthage Underground.

Now the Lions have the benefit of a state-of-the-art NCAA Division II indoor track and field facility at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center.

About 15 players returned to help recall the run of the 1972 Southern football team, which will celebrate the 40th anniversary of that accomplishment later this year.

“It was a magical year,” said Jim Frazier, who coached the team and is now a past director of the Joplin Sports Authority.

“This group of individuals became a big-play football team,” Frazier said. “We were not respected in 1972, but we became the Big Mean Green. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of fun.”

Added defensive end Jack Barnes: “We were a tight group.”