top of page

Simmons Says - Who could the Hall call next?

Updated: Jul 26, 2021

It was exciting to break the news last week about the Warren County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2021. There is certainly plenty of nostalgia for the great past Pioneers, allowing people to take a stroll back down memory lane and relive great moments.

Chatting with Jay Walker and Jerry ‘Gooby’ Martin was great; It was obvious just how honored they were to be two of the 12 individuals (not to mention the Americans travel team) that will be inducted next month. As much as it stood out that they were moved by the gesture, it’s very obvious just how much they love Warren County sports.

Both have spent part of four decades giving their all for Warren County and neither seemed ready to stop sometime soon. It made me start thinking about how love for the county – and they both love this county; they’ve given everything to local sports for so long – is such an integral part of being a Warren County Hall of Famer.

That sent me down a rabbit hole of thinking what I would have as criteria for Hall of Famers. Nothing is a catch all, but I really boiled it down to these four things:

Personal success/accolades – Were they the best at their sport, not just locally, but also in most of the games they played? Bonus points for receiving district, region and/or state recognition.

Team success – If you’re going to be a Hall of Famer, I think you need to influence winning. Did you come up clutch in big moments or lift a program to new heights? Were banners being raised?

Unforgettability – I always remember reading Bill Simmons’ “ Book of Basketball,” where he redid the NBA Hall of Fame. One of his points in deciding if a player was eligible boiled down to this situation – could you see yourself telling your grandkids about their exploits?

I love this thought process – it tells me who are the athletes who truly set themselves apart while representing Warren County. (There’s a side category to me that goes with unforgettability - Signature moment/style. If you have done something nobody will ever forget or played in a way that is one of a kind, even better.)

Making Warren County proud – this is probably the most ambiguous category because it can be applied in so many ways. When it comes to athletes, I’d explain it like this – when you drive into a county and see the “Welcome to,” sign, who would you want to see on there? Who are the athletes that you’d always like to remind people, “Hey, they are from MY HOMETOWN!”


I know there are probably tons more that goes into defining what is a Hall of Famer, but these are right at the top of the list for me. And while I think it’s always good for Hall of Fames to have waiting periods for inductions (seems like pro leagues always wait 4-5 years, at minimum), I started thinking about the people I’ve covered since I started my reporting job in 2010.

Here are eight athletes (four females, four males) who I believe hit all or most of those criteria and have very strong cases to join the Hall of Fame down the line (ranked by how strong I think their case is).

1. CJ Taylor

This is a no-brainer – I don’t even think we have to waste much time here. CJ is going to make the Hall of Fame, we just don’t know when the ceremony will be. I’m already on record saying I think he’s the best Pioneer of my lifetime (and that was before leading basketball to sectionals). He’s a 100 percent lock, but let’s quickly run through the categories:

Personal Success – CJ is the first Mr. Football in Warren County history, an all-state football and basketball performer, won Region 3-6A MVP in football and was the District 6AAA basketball tournament MVP. Those are just a few of his many, many recognitions.

Team success – Led the Pioneers to their first winning football season in 30 years and also guided the basketball program to their first district titles (back-to-back) in 40-plus years.

Unforgettability – I’m still in awe of what he did in that East Hamilton basketball game. I talk about it every time I see Chris Sullens – and probably will for 30 more years.

Signature moment/style – CJ is the best example because he has both. As far as moment, I’d start with the buzzer beater to win the District 6AAA basketball title in 2020. And for style, pick from his herky-jerky, dead-leg running style or ferocious hits on the gridiron.

Making Warren County proud – CJ has been the poster boy for Warren County the last 18 months. I’ve seen parents bring him their babies to take pictures, kids ask him for autographs and events have him as a guest speaker.

2. Caleb Northcutt

Between players and coaches, there is probably no sport more represented in the Hall of Fame than football. It’s the most popular game in town (even if baseball has a strong argument for years). If you’ve starred at Nunley Stadium, there’s just a good chance you’re going to have your name called by the Hall of Fame.

That’s why I have Northcutt this high, despite some holes in his resume. He was a great, great football player. He has the numbers to prove it too.

Northcutt is always going to be the answer to the trivia question Pioneer fans get wrong for the next 40 years. Most will assume the top rushers in Warren County history are Jeff Womack and CJ Taylor, but Northcutt’s name is nestled right in between those legends.

Right behind that trio are two people who are being honored this year: Curtis and Harold Lusk. So, the categories:

Personal Success – Northcutt rushed for 3,029 yards, making him just one of three Pioneers to do it (Womack – 6,450 yards, Taylor - 3,000 yards). He was all-region multiple years in football as well. If you want to take it a step further, he also decided to play baseball as a senior and was named all-district.

Team success – This is where Northcutt is lacking. While he played during the Madewell years that were better than the two decades before (and the decade after), those teams never were able to be more than 5-5.

Unforgettability – I’ll leave it to Walker’s description of Northcutt from our chat last week. “Caleb wasn’t as big as anything, but he could score touchdowns,” said the Voice of the Pioneers. He may not have the signature moment, though I’d argue his 234-yard, 5 TD performance in a 2-OT win over White County in 2010 was pretty awesome. Northcutt’s ability to churn up yards at such a small stature will make him very memorable (and in more than a "Rudy" fashion).

Making Warren County proud – Northcutt didn’t have much of a college career (he signed with Carson Newman, but never played). He has coached WCMS football since coming back to town. He could be a late bloomer as a coach, further cementing his legacy.

3 and 4. Hailey Wood and Emily Mikkola

I don’t bother separating this softball duo – they're always going to be forever linked together. And, in time, I think their cases for the Hall of Fame are going to look even stronger. Let’s dive right in:

Personal success – Both were named all-district performers in multiple sports (Wood in softball and volleyball, Mikkola in softball, volleyball and basketball). They also took home big-time honors in softball, with Wood winning District 6AAA MVP in 2018 and Mikkola being named Infield MVP in 2018 and 2019.

Team success – Here is where their cases get stronger. Wood and Mikkola were in the middle of the best softball run in school history. In their final three years, they helped the Lady Pioneers claim a regular season district title, a district tournament title and a region title (the first in school history).

Unforgettability – This is the biggest reason why I don’t separate them when ranking the duo. You can’t mention one without the other. When people talk about the best 1-2 punches in Lady Pioneer history, Wood and Mikkola (who, fittingly, played 2B and SS and hit 1 and 2 in the order) will have to be mentioned.

I'll add an extra bonus point here for Wood being one of the fastest females I’ve ever seen. She can fly.

Making Warren County proud – Both are already having extremely successful college careers. Wood was one of the NAIA’s leaders in stolen bases in 2021 and is already setting records at University of the Cumberlands, while Mikkola is a steady force for TN Wesleyan. Both were named all-conference as sophomores and they’re only getting better.

Something tells me, if they end up back in Warren County, they’ll always be involved in local softball as well.

5 and 6. Ansley Mullican and Morgan McCormick

This is the same argument as the group above. The tiebreaker, for me, was Wood and Mikkola have a region title – everything else is pretty much a wash. Mullican and McCormick are soccer royalty.

Personal success – McCormick was a three-time, all-state performer, while Mullican earned all-state recognition twice. Each were named District MVPs in their careers, along with Midfielders of the Year. They are atop local lists in scoring and assists - and rank near the top in the state of Tennessee for career goals and assists.

Team success – They were district champions during their time together from 2010-13 and played in the substate twice. The 2012 and 2013 girls soccer teams were arguably two of the best teams in school history if measured by their postseason runs and collection of talent.

Unforgettability – Here’s their drawback (and it applies to Wood and Mikkola too): They didn’t play baseball, basketball or football. Those three sports probably account for close to 90 percent of the current WC Hall of Famers. But I’d argue Mullican and McCormick will always be remembered in soccer circles (though Robert Garibaldi may be the best case when is comes to name recognition getting a soccer player in the WC Hall of Fame).

Memorable moment – The duo combined for one of the most exciting goals in school history: a game winner in the region on a corner kick that sent the team to substate in 2013. Mullican and McCormick were part of an 11-woman team that lasted through regulation and two OT periods to win a huge region road game 1-0.

Making Warren County proud – This is a shameless self plug, but Ansley is the most popular sideline reporter in Warren County right now. I’d argue she may be the Warren County Sports Authority – she’s definitely the first face most people think of anymore. I can tell you, without question, this community loves Ansley. McCormick keeps a low profile, but neither has to do anything else to cement their Hall of Fame case.

7. Logan Underhill

This one may surprise people – it even surprised me a little bit until I started digging back into athletes I’ve covered. When I started making the mental list of District MVPs I’ve covered and cross-referenced it with the list of District championship teams, I found Underhill. So let’s take a look:

Personal success – Underhill was a great baseball player who was named all-district three consecutive years. That last season, 2014, he was also named the Co-District MVP after hitting .467 and winning five games on the bump.

Team success – Underhill was on a surprising 2012 team which stunned Ooltewah in the regionals and ended up one win from the state tournament. Two years later, Underhill was the starting pitcher when the Pioneers defeated Cookeville for the 2014 District 6AAA tournament title.

Unforgettability – This is where Underhill may get lost in the shuffle – baseball has such a high bar locally that Underhill is likely never going to hear his name in the same conversations as Gooby, Cat, Oleskik and others. But I will say this – he had the game-winning hit in that region semifinal game as a sophomore and pitched a team to a district title. Those things should matter.

Making Warren County proud – Underhill had a great college career, culminating with being one of the top pitchers in his conference as a senior at Martin Methodist (2018). He’s already following in the footsteps of his dad, Larry Underhill, and has gotten into coaching locally. He’s working with the WCMS baseball program. If I had to guess, Underhill is going to have a great second act as a coach on local diamonds.

8. Dee Spates

Again, this all came down to weighing the criteria I set and finding who most fit the bill. Spates has the right blend of personal and team success, along with a flair on the court that won’t be forgotten.

Personal success – Spates played just two years of local sports after transferring from Blackman, but he was highly successful. Spates was honorable mention, all-district before making all-district tournament and all-region tournament in 2020, then followed it up by being named District 6AAA tournament MVP in 2021.

Team success – Spates was the engine behind back-to-back district title teams in Warren County. He also helped the Pioneers make it to the substate for the first time in more than 40 years, a huge moment that captivated this community when it needed it the most during COVID.

Unforgettability – He didn’t have long to make a lasting impression, but two things stand out: 1) the loud MVP chants in Charlie Dalton Gym for Spates in February when he diced up Sparta and 2) a devastating floater that only is topped, in my mind, by my beloved Spur PG Tony Parker.

Making Warren County proud – I’d say Warren County was plenty proud of their newest son back in February when the MVP chants were echoing throughout the gym and his teammates were carrying him off the court. As for a lasting effect locally, I guess we’ll see. Spates is hoping to continue his career in college.


Others in consideration: Cody Robinson, Caroline McKinley, Brooks Helton, Ike Gillentine/Taylor Bain, Kason Holder, Lauren Wilkinson, Terry Hines, Michael Thrower, Lee Carden, Ashton Whiles

Trending that direction: Lauren Slatton, Katie Toney, Braylon Grayson, Madison Hollis

Coming Monday: I wanted to keep this list strictly on athletes I’ve seen, but the Hall of Fame is just as much about great coaches and supporters. I’ll be breaking down my criteria for coaches/supporters and who I’ve seen in the last decade that I think could be Hall of Famers without stepping inside the lines.

859 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page