Bess joins elite group; '79 and '92 Raiders, Moss inducted; Scott honored

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- Gene Bess headlined the 2016 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which included four people and two teams with Poplar Bluff ties.

The Hall of Fame recognized Bess with its "Legend" status and unveiled a bronze bust of him, which will sit alongside past Legend inductees such as Stan Musial, Jack Buck, Ozzie Smith and Mike Shannon.

"I'll feel out of place. I don't know how my bust will feel," Bess said.

Bess is one of three Legends inducted this year, along with Jerry Hughes and Bill Rowe, and 34th since Musial and Len Dawson were the first inductees in 1999.

The Hall of Fame also recognized Eddie Moss, Lennies McFerren, the 1979 and 1992 Three Rivers men's basketball teams, and presented its President's Award to L. Joe Scott.

The group was part of 17 people and teams that were inducted Sunday at the Show Me Center.

Bess, who was originally inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall in 2006 and has been inducted into six different halls, plus the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association's 2015 Gary Filbert Lifetime Achievement Award, is the winningest coach in college basketball history regardless of division or gender.

The day before his enshrinement as a Legend, he won his 1,234th game in this, his 47th season as Three Rivers men's basketball head coach.

"I was thinking of a number, I'm kind of a numbers person, last night we won our 1,234th game. One, two, three, four. I think that's a God thing," Bess said. "I feel like all of a sudden this word 'Legend' has hit me right between the eyes. I never thought I'd ever get into this position, but I'm going to enjoy this day."

Under Bess, the Raiders have never had a losing season and won the NJCAA Division I national championship in 1979 and 1992. Bess was named NJCAA Coach of the Year after those seasons. Above Gene Bess Court at Three Rivers College hang the banners from his 17 national tournament appearances, 22 Region XVI Tournament championships and 36 conference championships.

For the humble Bess, the day was surreal.

"I kind of woke up this morning, I thought the word 'Legend' there's something about that that doesn't quite fit. The longer I'm here and the longer I'm thinking about it, the more excited I'm getting over it," he said before the ceremony. "When they said they were going to fix me a bust, I thought I can understand maybe the induction, but the bust, I have to wait and see that."

For his four grandkids, it was Grandpa's big day. One of the few in nearly 60 years as a teacher and coach that have been all about him.

"I thought it was exciting. I think this is awesome for him to be honored with this," said his granddaughter Kiley, a freshman at Poplar Bluff High School.

Added his granddaughter Taylor, who graduated from Southeast Missouri State in 2015, "He is just grandpa. Then when we come to places like this … it reminds us of everything he's accomplished."

The family missed church for this. That hasn't happened since Bess was originally inducted in the hall in 2006. He thought if they went to early service they'd be late for the noon ceremony.

"He's probably a little nervous. He probably couldn't find both socks," joked his grandson Colby, who is a senior at Poplar Bluff. "Grandma had to help him on that. It might be because he's getting a little old, too."

During the 90-minute drive, they talked about what he was going to say during his speech. Bess was told before hand he had 3-5 minutes. The grandkids noted he needed to thank God, which is how Bess concluded his speech.

Prior to his speech, both the 1979 and 1992 Three Rivers teams were inducted. Nearly two dozen players and staff from those two teams showed up. Dale Purnell, who spoke on behalf of the '79 team, hadn't seen them or his coach in 17 years. Purnell also got a chance to catch up with his high school coach McFerren, who was the point guard on Bess' first two teams before becoming a coach himself.

"I'm in the best shape of my life, right now, because of those two," Purnell said.

The mantra of physical discipline extended into his speech.

"Coach Bess instilled in us the team concept of being ran into oblivion," Purnell told the crowd. "The lessons coach taught us were very important, hard work, dedication and determination. They were not just keys to success in basketball, but also in life. All of us are successful today because of it."

Eric Schweain, who spoke for the '92 team, added that he has 13 years to get into the kind of shape the '79 team is still in.

"TRCC fans, you absolutely are the best," he added. "(Coach Bess), The inevitable has finally come to fruition. You are now officially a Missouri Legend and we know you always have been. I love you and can't begin to pay back all the things you've done for me. All we can do is pay it forward to the kids we teach and the players we coach."

McFerren was another former Raider inducted Sunday. He played at Three Rivers from 1971-73 and was one of the first branches on Bess' coaching tree. McFerren won seven MSHSAA boys basketball championships at Scott County Central High School and two more at New Madrid Central High School.

"I'm going to say thank you three times. One to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the other to my family, the other to my friends. Because there are so many to thank, I'll know I'll forget," he said during his speech.

Eddie Moss was a standout football player for Poplar Bluff, Centerville Community College and Southeast Missouri State before being drafted in the 13th round by the Buffalo Bills in 1972, becoming the first Mule to make it to the NFL.

He was cut in the preseason, but later made the roster for the St. Louis football Cardinals and played four seasons with them and two more for the Washington Redskins as a fullback.

All this after having to be convinced to play football as a high school junior. Moss wanted to play basketball.

"But as you can see, God has a sense of humor also. I stopped getting taller and started getting wider," Moss said.

Poplar Bluff's then football coach Jim Lohr spoke to Moss' parents and convinced them to let their son move in with Lohr and his family.

"I said, if my parents let this happen, this must be a pretty good guy. Ladies and gentlemen, he is a pretty good guy. From 1965 until today, he is still a good person, a mentor and a good friend," Moss said.

The first person to be recognized during the event was Scott, a Poplar Bluff attorney who received the President's Award for his contributions to the Hall of Fame over the past 21 years.

"It is a great honor. Because of who it is from, the Hall of Fame and Mr. Jerald Andrews, it really means a lot," Scott said.

Scott, a graduate of Gainesville High School and the University of Missouri, also served on the board for the Poplar Bluff Parks and Recreation Department for 25 years and was integral in the creation of McLane Park.

A member of the Scott Law Group in Poplar Bluff, he has provided pro bono legal service to sports booster clubs and sports organizations for 50 years and has been the attorney for Friends of Poplar Bluff Public Library, Friends of Margaret Harwell Art Museum, Poplar Bluff Mules Booster Club, the Rescue Mission and the Three Rivers Community College Foundation.

"Bess joins elite group; '79 and '92 Raiders, Moss inducted; Scott honored" Daily American Republic 08 Nov 2016: B1

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