Olympians, Pro Football Hall of Fame recipients, and even a professional poker player, began their journeys to the world stage right here in the Big Country.
Now through the efforts of former Abilene Reporter-News sports editor, Al Pickett and his wife Carole, these achievements are preserved in the 3,400-square foot Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame Museum at the Mall of Abilene. Begun in 2002, the Hall of Fame included 10 original members who were inducted by the Abilene Independent School District between 1988-89. After receiving non-profit status in 2009, the Hall of Fame was moved to the AISD administration building, where it remained until November 2020.
“We had been trying to feature more and more local things,” Al said, “but when COVID-19 hit, no one was seeing what we had. While we were looking for a new place, the Mall called – it was perfect.”
Located between JC Penney and the women’s Dillards, the Museum celebrates some of the great names in local sports history. Memorabilia and videos bring these biographies to life, and include letter jackets, jerseys, medals, trophies and “lots and lots of pictures.” “Since we started the Hall of Fame 20-years ago, we have inducted 197 people over a 19-county area,” Al said, “and because of our visibility at the Mall, we are able to showcase these athletes, many of whom people have heard of but may not realize are from around here.”
Dominic Rhodes and Justin Snow both enjoyed outstanding careers together at Abilene Cooper in the mid 1990’s and then went on to help the Indianapolis Colts win Super Bowl XLI in 2007.
Al said his “number one, prized possession” is the gold jacket belonging to Throckmorton native and Dallas Cowboys great Bob Lilly. The Museum also features three Olympians, including Dean Smith, who won the gold medal in the 4×100 relay team at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Smith later became a Hollywood stuntman, appearing in numerous movies, including 10 John Wayne films.
Other Big Country Hall of Fame recipients include:
• 1971 Masters Tournament champion Charles Coody and three-time World Series Champion and Abilene High standout John Lackey.
• Snyder native Grant Teaff, who coached the Baylor Bears to two Southwest Conference football titles.
• The late Freddie L. Scott, who was instrumental in starting team tennis as a UIL sport, and his son Fred, who coached tennis at Abilene High from 1997-2013, led the Eagles to 10 district titles and the 1999 5A state championship.
• Seven-time world champion skeet shooter Jackie Ramsey-Cox
• Roping star Lari Dee Guy, a 2020 Inductee and the first rodeo star to receive the honor.
• The late Margaret Ellison, who founded the Texas Track Club in 1961 and was instrumental in promoting women’s track in the United States. An iconic 1964 Sports Illustrated cover with her athletes sporting bouffant hairdos is housed at the Museum along with the story of her trailblazing accomplishments.
Al said stories like these are what the Museum hopes to preserve, while also looking toward the future in the form of over $100,000 worth of scholarships awarded to college-bound student athletes.
“We have a rich athletic heritage in this area and people need to know about it,” he said. “A lot of people think there’s nothing west of Weatherford and this place is an example of how that’s simply not true.”
The Museum is open 7 days/week. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors/military and $2 for students. Children under 6 are free. For more information, visit bigcountryhalloffame.org or call (325) 704-1759.
By Molly Hill