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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Gleason headlines inductees at Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame

The Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame 2017 class includes (back row, left to right):  Jay Rydell,  Dennis Patchin,  Alli Nieman and  Rueben Mayes; (front row, left to right):  Sister Madonna Buder and  Pamela Parks. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Every year, the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame induction and awards ceremony is a momentous occasion, filled with laughter and tears celebrating the athletic careers and contributions to sports of the best that this region has to offer.

It’s a special day in the lives of those that gave so much to sports fans in Eastern Washington and North Idaho.

This year’s recipient list is as special as it gets, headlined by local two-sport star, NFL starter and philanthropic activist Steve Gleason.

Joining Gleason in this year’s induction are Washington State’s all-time leading rusher Rueben Mayes; Sandpoint High and Idaho Vandals volleyball and basketball star Alli Nieman; Eastern Washington volleyball coach and administrator Pamela Parks; longtime area broadcaster and personality Dennis Patchin; and Whitworth record-setting quarterback Denny Spurlock. “Iron Nun” Sister Madonna Buder and longtime Central Valley wrestling coach and administrator Jay Rydell are Scroll of Honor Inductees.

Gleason’s story is well chronicled, especially in this area, where he was a football and baseball star at Gonzaga Prep and Washington State.

A Spokane native who played for the Cougars from 1996-99 and for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-07, Gleason was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 2011. Since then, his Team Gleason Foundation has worked to promote ALS awareness while raising millions of dollars for research and technology.

Gleason’s efforts were recognized in 2015 by President Barack Obama, who introduced the Steve Gleason Act, which makes critical technology available to ALS patients through Medicare and Medicaid.

His life with ALS was documented in the well-received 2016 movie “Gleason.”

At G-Prep, Gleason was twice the Greater Spokane League defensive player of the year in football and broke the league’s single-season home run record in baseball.

Gleason was a starting linebacker for WSU’s 1997 Rose Bowl team and was a four-year starter in center field on the baseball team, where he is still tied for third for career triples.

He went on to play safety for seven seasons with the New Orleans Saints and was instrumental in one of the most dramatic plays in Saints’ history – he blocked a punt which led to a touchdown in the Saints’ first game in New Orleans in 21 months after Hurricane Katrina. A statue of the play stands outside of the Superdome.

Gleason was inducted into the Washington State Hall of Fame in 2014 and was awarded the 2015 George Halas Courage Award from the Pro Football Writers Association.

Earlier this year, Gleason was selected as recipient of WSU’s Distinguished Alumnus Award, the university’s highest alumni honor.

Rueben Mayes, from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, set single-season and career rushing records at Washington State and finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy race in 1985, when he was a consensus All-American.

Mayes led the Pac-10 in rushing as a junior and a senior and was named Pac-10 offensive player of the year both seasons. He is the Cougars’ all-time leading rusher and ranked sixth on the conference career rushing list with 3,519 yards.

He set the Pac-12 single-game rushing record with 357 yards against Oregon in 1984 and held WSU’s single-season rushing mark of 1,637 yards for more than 20 years.

Mayes played in the NFL for seven seasons, was a two-time Pro Bowl pick and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1986. Mayes was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

“It’s pretty crazy, actually. It’s been 33 years and some of my records still stand at WSU. I have teammates I’m still friends with. It runs really deep for me.”

Alli Nieman, from Sandpoint, was a four-time all-state volleyball player and two-time state champion, and three-time all-Inland Empire League player of the year in basketball with a second-place finish at state her senior year.

During her basketball career at Idaho, Nieman earned four first-team All-Big West honors and Freshman of the Year. She was a two-time District VIII first-team All-American.

Nieman ranks in the top 10 at Idaho in 11 career categories, six single-season categories and four single-game categories. Her 2,140 points remains the school record and she is the only player in Idaho basketball history – man or woman – to score 2,000 points and grab more than 1,000 rebounds.

Nieman was selected a member of the Sandpoint Bulldog Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005, the University of Idaho Hall of Fame in 2008 and the state of Idaho Hall of Fame in 2010.

“It seems like now young kids – fourth-, fifth-graders – are specializing and that’s hard for me to wrap my head around because I so enjoyed playing all sports,” Nieman said. “Up until eighth grade, I not only played basketball and volleyball but I played soccer, ran track. I just did a wide variety of things and I think it helped me.”

Pamela Parks was a pioneer not only for volleyball, but for women’s sports at the collegiate level. She spent 18 seasons as volleyball coach at Eastern Washington and is in her 18th year as senior associate athletic director for the Eagles.

Parks won two Big Sky titles, advanced to three NCAA Tournaments and had six 20-win seasons. Including a short stint at Montana State, her 310 career wins made her one of only four coaches in Big Sky history with more than 300 wins.

She also won an Idaho state title in 1980 as coach of Sandpoint – its first title in any sport. In 22 years as a collegiate and high school head coach, Parks won 375 matches.

Parks was inducted into the Eastern Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007 as a coach and contributor.

“It sounds weird, but I’m on the Hall of Fame committee so you’d think you might know these things,” Parks said. “But in a sense, it did take me by surprise because I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to that level to get in to the actual Hall of Fame. So when the time actually came I was just thrilled.”

Dennis Patchin is one of the most recognizable sports personalities in the area and the longest-serving sports anchor in the city’s history.

He spent 31 years as a TV sports anchor with KXLY-TV, where he and his colleagues launched Friday Night Sports Extra, a half-hour prep football highlights show that remains an institution three decades later.

Patchin has been the radio play-by-play voice for Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Idaho and the Spokane Shock, plus the Spokane Chiefs on TV.

Of the other 148 members of the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame, Patchin covered 80 in his career.

“It was my honor and privilege to watch these guys coach and play,” Patchin said. “And now I’m here because of what they did. So it’s kind of a weird feeling.”

Denny Spurlock, a Spokane native and North Central grad, led the Whitworth Pirates to an Evergreen Conference title in 1961 and the NAIA semifinals, passing for a NAIA-record 1,892 yards.

As a senior in 1961, Spurlock threw for 27 touchdowns – more than any other quarterback in collegiate history.

Spurlock was two-time all-city in football and basketball for North Central and was the city’s leading scorer as a senior, averaging 17.1 points.

Whitworth’s top student-athlete honor, the Dennis Spurlock Award, is named in memory of the All-American signal caller, who died in 1979. Spurlock was inducted into the Whitworth College Heritage Gallery in 1995.

Sister Madonna Buder, nicknamed the “Iron Nun,” holds the world record for the oldest person to finish an Ironman Triathlon, set in 2012 at the age of 82.

She began training at age 47 and five weeks later ran her first Bloomsday. She ran her first triathlon at 52 and her first Ironman at 56 and forced race organizers to create new age-group categories.

She has completed more than 375 triathlons – including 45 Ironmans – and has also competed in the senior Olympics and holds seven distance records. She was inducted into the USA Triathlon hall of Fame in 2014.

“It’s a mysterious (honor), for sure,” Buder said. “I certainly wasn’t expecting it and I don’t understand how I can be considered (a hall of Famer). It’s an honor for a prophet to be honored in their own territory. I’m used to the attention in the triathlon world, but I didn’t expect it in my own hometown.”

Jay Rydell was coach and administrator at Central Valley for 26 years. Rydell coached wrestling and assisted in other sports for more than a decade before becoming athletic director in 1981. Rydell retired in 1997 but has served as the meet director for the State 1A, 2B and 1B track and field championships at Eastern Washington since 1996.

Rydell was hired to be CV’s wrestling coach in 1971 before there were junior high and youth programs. Three years later, he won the school’s first league championship and he compiled a 151-42 dual meet record. He served as District 8 tournament director and managed the Region IV meet for 26 years.

“This is really humbling, I tell you,” Rydell said. “When I got the call I said, ‘Are you sure about that? You might want to recount those ballots.’ Every time I’m at the Arena, I like to walk through the halls and see all the big people and it’s mind-boggling to be included in this group.”