POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. - On Friday, Three Rivers inducted into its Hall of Fame the school’s first individual men’s basketball player, the first-ever softball player, a coach who impacted student-athletes in every program, an MLB first-round draft pick and a supporter who was there for student-athletes long before they had today’s resources.
Latrell Sprewell, Heather Robey, Cheri Ramsey, Randy Smith, and Dr. Jerry McLane and Family are the second class of the Three Rivers Hall of Fame. They will be honored during Saturday’s basketball games against Mineral Area at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“Three Rivers is a very highly thought of institution, and I think each person inducted tonight is very classy people,” former Three Rivers basketball coach Gene Bess said.
Brian Bess, who played on the same team as Sprewell and is now the men’s basketball coach for the Raiders, recalled a story during the region championship.
The Raiders and Moberly Area were tied at 100 going into overtime and won 112-100. Sprewell scored all 12 points as Three Rivers went on to finish fourth in the nation.
“He was the best I’ve ever seen at 1 on 1. Probably the best I’ve ever seen at 1 vs. 2. Sometimes I think he struggled a little bit going 1 on 3,” Brian Bess said.
Sprewell played at Three Rivers from 1988-90 and still holds the school record in career points (1,488), points in a game (45), points in a season (1,064), field goals in a season (421), and points per game (26.6). During his sophomore season, Three Rivers finished fourth in the NJCAA National Tournament.
He went on to play at Alabama and was drafted 24th overall by Golden State. He played 13 seasons in the NBA and was selected to four All-Star teams before retiring in 2005.
“He had a couple of the best qualities a human being can have. He was smart, and he didn’t make the same mistake twice, and he learned from other peoples’ mistakes,” Gene Bess said, adding that Sprewell had the ability to always focus on the next play.
Robey was an easy choice for the Hall of Fame committee to be the first softball player to get in.
She was inducted by her former Three Rivers softball coach Jack Childress, who recalled nearly missing her recruiting visit.
Childress had business to attend to and was about to leave campus.
“From across the gym floor, I heard the mitt pop and decided business could wait,” Childress said of the left-handed hurler. “She was a great pitcher but a great all-around athlete. She was so quick, we moved the first and third basemen back because she was going to beat them to the bunts anyway.”
Robey played softball from 2004-05 and is still the all-time wins leader and is the only person in program history to have her jersey number retired. The New Madrid Central alumna was a two-time All-American, two-time All-Region XVI and two-time All-MCCAC selection.
She won 45 games in her career and also holds school records for career ERA (0.78), career innings pitched (431), career strikeouts (529), single-season strikeouts (319) and innings pitched in a season (248).
“You could break these awards down into thousands because there are so many people who support making a student-athlete,” Robey said.
Smith had the unique honor of being inducted to the Hall of Fame by his son and current Three Rivers baseball coach Tyler Smith.
Randy Smith was an All-American for the baseball team in 1973 when Three Rivers finished fifth in the National Tournament. He finished with a 9-3 record is still ranks third all-time for Raider wins in a single season. He is also fifth in ERA (1.64) and second in innings pitched in a season (82 1/3). Smith still holds school records for strikeouts in a game (17) and strikeouts in a season (107).
He was drafted seventh overall by the California Angels and finished his pro career with a 29-27 record and a 3.87 ERA. He also coached for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves organizations for eight seasons before retiring from coaching in 2019.
Randy Smith recalled that when he was at Three Rivers, Gene Bess only had 79 of his eventual 1,300 wins. But even then, he looked up to the basketball team because it had already gone to the national tournament twice under Bess.
It pushed the baseball team to be better, and during Smith’s standout season, both baseball and basketball finished fifth in the nation.
“Three Rivers has been a big part of my life and also my family,” Randy Smith said.
Ramsey coached the Three Rivers cheerleading team from 1982 to 2011 while also teaching humanities, speech, and theatre at Three Rivers before passing away in 2012. She was a graduate of Deering High School and Southeast Missouri State University.
She was inducted by current cheerleading coach Kayla Sparkman, and her son, James C. Ramsey III, accepted the honor on her behalf.
“She bled back and gold for every sport,” James Ramsey said. “I’m very emotional and very proud. This means a lot, and I wish she were here.”
Added Gene Bess, “She was a wonderful lady and did a fabulous job. When I see Kayla, she is falling into that mold, and we all appreciate that very much.”
The first honoree of the night was McLane, a native of Piedmont, who practiced for 27 years in Poplar Bluff as an OB/GYN, and his family also owns the First Midwest Bank group.
First Midwest Bank has been a constant supporter of Three Rivers and its athletic department, including sponsoring the annual Thanksgiving basketball tournament.
McLane and his family have contributed with attendance, financial contributions, and numerous other ways that have been instrumental in the success of Three Rivers athletics.
McLane’s son Joey, along with several family members, accepted the honor on his behalf.
Joey McLane recalled Three Rivers’ run to the 1979 national championship. The Raiders were down big at halftime when he remembered his dad sternly saying, “God will not let Gene Bess lose this game.”
Added Gene Bess to McLane’s family, “You were a fabulous support group for me when I was coaching here.”
Last year, Three Rivers inducted Gene Bess, J.P. McLane, Paula Corder King, Matt Palmer, and the 1979 National Championship men’s basketball team.
Scott Borkgren - Daily American Republic