CLASS OF 2010
Akron, Ohio native Al Ciraldo graduated from the University of Florida in 1948 with a degree in radio broadcasting. Ciraldo then traveled to Atlanta in 1949 and became the play-by-play announcer for the University of Georgia’s basketball broadcasts at WGBE-Radio. He joined the staff at WGST-Radio and broadcast his first Georgia Tech football game in 1954. Ciraldo coined the colorful phrase “Toe meets leather,” with which he led off every football game. Over the next 38 seasons, Ciraldo called 416 Tech football games and 1,030 Yellow Jacket basketball games. In 1984, he moved with Georgia Tech to WCNN and continued to do Tech Games until the 1992-1993 season. After giving up his play-by-play duties, Al continued as host for Tech’s pre game, halftime, and post-game shows. In 1986, he was inducted into the Georgia Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.
Macon native Ed Everett is a 1968 graduate of Mercer University, where he was captain of the golf team. Following his Mercer days he served as assistant at the Idle Hour Club in Macon before becoming the head professional at Doublegate in Albany where he remained for 43 years. Everett’s golf accomplishments span over four decades. He won the Macon City Amateur three times, the Georgia Senior Open five times, the Georgia PGA Senior Championship seven times, the 1989 Georgia PGA Match Play Championship, and the 1997 National PGA Senior Club Professional Championship. In 2002, Everett was inducted into the Georgia State Golf Association Hall of Fame as well as the Macon Sports Hall of Fame.
Ernie Johnson, Sr. led his Brattleboro, Vermont High School baseball team with a 6-3 record and 1.09 ERA in 1942. Passing on an offer to play college basketball at Yale, Johnson signed a contract with the Boston Braves to pitch batting practice for the big league team. Johnson made his major league debut in relief in 1950, against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shibe Park. Throughout the 1950’s, Ernie pitched mostly in relief and compiled a lifetime record of 40-23 with an ERA of 3.77 in 273 games. Following his playing days Johnson was a longtime color commentator and play-by-play broadcaster on Atlanta Braves radio and television, working from 1962 to 1999. He became an icon in Atlanta after the team moved there in 1966, and in the 1980’s gained national exposure through his work with Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren on Superstation TBS. He was elected to the Braves' Hall of Fame in 2001.
Sam Mitchell graduated from Columbus High School in 1981 and signed a basketball scholarship at Mercer University where he was the 1985 TAAC Player of the Year averaging almost 25 points per game his senior season. He was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the 3rd round of the 1985 NBA draft. Mitchell did not make the Rockets roster and after bouncing around the CBA, he went overseas to play in Europe before earning a contract with the newly formed Minnesota Timberwolves. He spent three years in Minnesota, before being traded to the Indiana Pacers. Overall Sam would play 997 career NBA games, averaging 8.7 points per game. Mitchell returned to the NBA almost immediately after his playing days as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. After a brief stay in Charlotte, it was on to Toronto where he was named head coach in 2004. Sam was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 2007 after leading the Raptors to the playoffs.
Mableton native Larry Rakestraw was a standout three-sport star at West Fulton High School in Atlanta. Larry was an All-State quarterback in football, averaged 24 points per game in basketball, and hit .468 in baseball in his senior season. He continued his impressive play at the University of Georgia where he was a three year starter at quarterback for Bulldogs football team as well as the MVP of the Diamond Dogs baseball team in 1961. On the football field, Rakestraw highlighted an upset win at Miami by going 25-38 for 407 yards against the heavily favored Hurricanes. In the Senior Bowl, Larry was named the game’s MVP and was drafted in the 8th round of the NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He would spend three seasons with Chicago and twice was named the NFL Player of the Week. An avid golfer, Rakestraw won many amateur championships including the 1984 GSGA Public Links State Championship.
Ron Simmons was born in Perry and attended Warner Robins High School, where he played football as a tight end and linebacker for the Demons 1976 National Championship team. The All-State performer signed at Florida State where he played four years (1977–1980) as a defensive nose guard for head coach Bobby Bowden. Simmons was a consensus All-American in 1979 and 1980. Simmons was selected in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL Draft. He played for the Cleveland Browns in 1981 and 1982, and the USFL's Tampa Bay Bandits from 1983 to 1985, and it was in Tampa where he was a teammate of future professional wrestler Lex Luger. Simmons joined the professional wrestling circuit in 1986. In 1992 at a house show in Baltimore, Maryland, Ron defeated WCW World Heavyweight Champion Big Van Vader and became the first recognized African American WCW World Heavyweight Champion and the second African American wrestler to win a World Heavyweight title. Simmons was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.
SUZANNE YOCULAN LEEBERN
Suzanne Yoculan Leebern, a native or Erie, Pennsylvania graduated from Penn State University in 1975 with a degree in therapeutic recreation with a dance emphasis. She came to Athens in 1983 as head women's gymnastics coach at the University of Georgia. Suzanne would spend the next 26 years as the Gym Dogs coach. From 1984-2009, Georgia posted a meet record of 831-117-7 (.870 winning percentage). Under Yoculan, the Gym Dogs won 16 SEC Championships and 10 NCAA championships, including a run of five consecutive National Titles during her final five seasons. Suzanne was chosen as National Coach of the Year five times (1987, 1993, 1998, 2006, 2008) and the SEC Coach of the Year eight times. Suzanne was honored with the Atlanta Athletic Club’s 2008 W.R. McGriff Award, which honors recipients who exemplify excellence in sports while demonstrating characteristics of an upstanding citizen and role model. She also wrote a book: Perfect 10: The UGA Gym Dogs & The Rise Of Women’s College Gymnastics In America.