DAHLONEGA, Ga. – This past Saturday marked the third-annual University of North Georgia Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony as four new members were enshrined into the prestigious club in front of over 120 gathered at a luncheon Saturday afternoon.
The four former Saints inducted into the Hall of Fame included former baseball coach Jim Otte, Sr., former women's basketball player Anne Smith Hyams, former women's basketball and softball player Kara Winkler Leonard and former baseball player William Gieler.
The quartet joins the Class of 2012 inductees Dewayne Patrick, Leon Ricketson, Sue Haynes Malone, Willie Thomas and Morey Lefeve, as well as the Class of 2011 Brenda Hill-Gilmore, Jim Hyder, Bill Ensley and Bob Stein. All 13 Hall of Fame members were recognized during half time of the women's basketball game against Lander University as part of North Georgia's "Hall of Fame Games."
The Athletics Hall of Fame honors individuals who have earned outstanding athletic achievement or made substantial contributions to the university's athletic programs. A nine-member board of directors is responsible for the operations of the Athletics Hall of Fame and serves as selectors for all honorees based upon nominations.
"Each member of this foursome completed their standout careers at North Georgia as trailblazers in their respective sports by achieving unparalleled marks of success during their careers," Director of Athletics Lindsay Reeves said following the ceremony. "As accomplished as each of these individuals were as both a North Georgia coach and as student-athletes, they have continued to excel as ambassadors and leaders throughout their lives. North Georgia is very proud of the standards they have established and the legacies they have created for our current and future student-athletes."
Jim Otte, Sr. was a fixture in the University System of Georgia for 34 years, including a nine-year tenure at North Georgia, before retiring in 1989 from Brunswick Junior College, now known as the College of Coastal Georgia. He was a veteran of the Navy Seals and Korea as well as a 47-year volunteer for the American Red Cross. Coach Otte came to North Georgia in 1957 as an assistant basketball coach and assistant baseball coach before taking over as the head baseball coach in 1959, a position he held until he accepted a job at Brunswick Junior College in 1967. During his nine years at the helm of the Cadets' baseball program, he never had a losing season despite never fielding a scholarship player. He coached the school's first All-American, 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Leon Ricketson, and was instrumental in keeping the baseball program going despite the school cutting other programs and also established several policies and procedures that are still in place to this day. He had a deep and lasting impact on the lives of his players, especially away from the baseball field, and helped many decide to stay in school. He was honored in 1997 as the American Red Cross Health and Safety Volunteer of the Year and his name still appears in nine American Red Cross textbooks. For his many years of service, he was named Affiliate Faculty Emeritus by the American Heart Association, its highest award.
Anne Smith Hyams graduated from North Georgia in 1989 as one of the most decorated players in the history of the women's basketball program. She was named an NAIA All-American both of her years at North Georgia, including earning first team honors in 1989 after earning third team honors in 1988, and was also a two-time winner of the James A. Naismith Award for the Most Outstanding Women’s Basketball Player (NAIA) in Georgia. She was also a two-time Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) All-Georgia College Women’s Basketball Team selection and was named to the Georgia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GIAC) All-Conference team twice. Hyams was named the NAIA District 25 Player of the Year and was named to the Kodak Women’s Basketball All-District Team after a stellar senior season that saw her average a double-double including 23.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. During her junior campaign, she averaged 19.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest and shot above 52.5% as both a junior and a senior. She ended her career as a member of the prestigious 1,000 point club. Since graduating, Hyams has taught in the Virginia and California school systems. While in California, she also served as the Key Wife Coordinator, serving as the point of contact for the wives and families of the marines deployed in Iraq under her husband’s command. She is currently teaching in the Honors Program at Dawson County High School and was selected as the Dawson County High School Teacher of the Year this year.
Kara Winkler Leonard has the distinction of being the first North Georgia softball player inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame as she played both softball and women’s basketball for North Georgia but was most known for her play on the softball field under program founder Ricky Sanders. She came to North Georgia in 1996 as a member of the Lady Saints basketball program and joined the softball team in 1998. Leonard was a three-time All-GACC First Team selection from 1998-2000 as well as a three-time National Fast Pitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Region member during that span. She was also a two-time NAIA All-Region honoree (1999-2000) and was twice named an NAIA and NFCA Academic All-American (1999-2000). In 2000, Leonard helped lead her team to the program’s first-ever conference title and was named the GACC Player of the Year as well as the NAIA Region 13 Player of the Year for her role in securing that title. A two-time Most Valuable Player for North Georgia, she was the team’s captain from 1999-2000 and also claimed the 2000 Lady Saint Award. She won five letters between softball and basketball and was named the GACC Female All-Sport Athlete of the Year in 2000. Her runs scored (206) and stolen bases (48) marks still stand as the second-most in a career in program history while her 44 doubles is still tied for fourth all-time. After graduating from North Georgia, Kara became a teacher in the Murray County School System. In 2002, she was named the Murray County High School Teacher of the Year and was also named the Murray County School System Teacher of the Year that same year. 2002 also saw Kara honored as the Impact Person of the Year.
William Gieler was an instrumental part of the first two North Georgia baseball teams since it was brought back in 2000, helping the Saints enjoy early success. He is considered by many to have been the best outfielder to play at North Georgia as his name is still etched in the Saints' baseball record book. Gieler is still third in North Georgia career batting average (.354), fourth for most stolen bases (48) and seventh for career slugging percentage (.525). His 2001 campaign saw him record 65 runs batted in, which still stands sixth all-time. His 26 stolen bases in 2001 are still fourth all-time for a single season while his 22 stolen bases in 2000 was sixth-best in program history. Gieler was a member of the 2001 squad, which won the Georgia Alabama Carolina Conference (GACC) title, and was named the GACC Player of the Year as well as the conference’s Male Athlete of the Year that same season. He was also named to the 2001 NAIA All-Region Team. He graduated from North Georgia in 2002 with a degree in Computer Information Systems and has worked for the last five years as a marketing specialist for Ingenico Incorporated, a credit card terminal manufacturer in Alpharetta, Ga. In his spare time he enjoys participating in various sports and keeping in touch with many of the friends he made while at North Georgia, including Coach Cantrell and baseball supporter Bob Stein.