DECATUR — Two Decatur athletes who went on to play in the NFL are among the latest Decatur Public Schools Hall of Fame class, released Wednesday.
Dante Ridgeway, a 2002 MacArthur graduate who was picked in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL Draft, and Brit Miller, a 2005 Eisenhower graduate who played in the NFL, highlight a class that includes 10 former athletes, a coach and a team.
The latest class, the sixth since the Hall of Fame was formed in Aug. 2016, will be inducted at the Oct. 13 Eisenhower-MacArthur Braggin' Rights game at Millikin's Lindsay Field.
The rest of the class is: Steve Phillips, MacArthur, Class of 1979; Martha Downing, MacArthur, Class of 1967; Joe Doolin, Lakeview, Class of 1966; Dale Minick, Decatur, Class of 1937; Reeni (McElyea) Letizia, Eisenhower, Class of 1983; T.J. Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Class of 1962; Pat Hamilton, Eisenhower, Class of 1983; and Terry Cook, Stephen Decatur, Class of 1984. Also, former Lakeview wrestling coach Gary Hunt and the 1962 Eisenhower state championship baseball team will be inducted.
Here's a look at the 10 athletes being inducted. The H&R will have more on the class, including past and present photos, following the induction ceremony.
While at MacArthur, Ridgeway had 1,400 career receiving yards and 24 touchdowns on offense, and a school-record 24 interceptions. After an All-Macon County second-team selection as a junior, Ridgeway was first-team as a senior in 2001, picking off eight passes and leading MacArthur to its first playoff berth since 1995.
Ridgeway went on to Ball State University, where he set the school's career marks in catches (208) and yards (3,030) and was later inducted into the Ball State Hall of Fame. As a junior in 2004, Ridgeway was a finalist for Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver, leading the country in catches (105) and yards (1,399).
Ridgeway was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the sixth round of the 2005 draft. He also spent time with the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals and New Orleans Saints.
Currently, Ridgeway is an assistant coach for the Generals' football team.
An H&R All-Macon County selection in football as both a junior and senior, Miller racked up 1,103 yards rushing and 14 TD as a junior quarterback and 1,199 yards and 14 touchdowns splitting time at quarterback and running back as a senior to help Eisenhower break an eight-year playoff drought.
At Illinois, Miller broke into the starting lineup as a freshman and never left. As a senior, Miller led Illinois in tackles (132), tackles for loss (15.5) and tied for the team lead in sacks (six), earning All-Big Ten honors.
Miller was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Carolina Panthers out of Illinois and later played in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams and San Francisco 49ers.
Since his pro career ended, Miller has spent time as an assistant coach at Eisenhower, Mount Zion and, currently, Monticello. He's also helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for Decatur athletics through his Lead the Way Foundation.
There was no tennis team at MacArthur when Downing attended in the 1960s, but her talent was well-known throughout the region.
Also a standout swimmer, Downing was multiple Central Illinois Tournament championships in tennis, often winning multiple age groups in the same year. She went on to play tennis at Stanford.
But it wasn't until Downing turned 35 that she had her most success. She won the U.S. Tennis Association 35-and-over indoor singles championship and combined with longtime doubles partner Mary Hill to win the doubles title the same year. The duo also won the national 35-and-over clay courts indoor doubles championship in Houston.
In the Feb. 24, 2009 H&R, former H&R Community News Editor Bob Fallstrom called “the most successful woman tennis player in Decatur history.” At age 59, she was selected for the international age 55-and-over U.S. team.
Minick was a key member of two Decatur High state basketball teams and went on to a successful playing career at Millikin.
In 1936, Decatur wasn't expected to do much in the postseason, but went on a run that ended with Minick making a pull-up 15-foot buzzer-beater to give the Runnin' Reds the state title. At 6-foot-3, he was the team's leading scorer in 1936 and also helped lead Decatur to a second-place finish in 1937.
At Millikin, Minick was part of two straight conference titles and was later named to the Millikin Athletic Hall of Fame.
Jackson wasn't very big — 5-foot-5, 140 pounds — but he managed to make an impact in three sports at Stephen Decatur, especially football.
Jackson was an H&R All-City pick as a junior, scoring nine touchdowns, but broke out as a senior with 26 touchdowns and another all-city selection.
On the basketball court, Jackson was a guard for the 1962 state championship team. In track, he excelled in the broad jump and made state in the low hurdles in 1961.
In college, Jackson played at Northeast Missouri and went on to coach at Eisenhower — he was the Macon County Track Coach of the Year in 1974 — and also Millikin.
Known for her vertical jump, Hamilton was a star in both basketball and track.
Hamilton was a three-year H&R All-City player, including All-City Player of the Year as a senior when she averaged 18.8 points, five steals and five assists.
In track, Hamilton was a two-time H&R Macon County Girls Track Athlete of the Year, taking home state medals in the long jump both years.
Hamilton was the first female athlete from Eisenhower to earn a basketball scholarship to a Division I college, going on to star at Eastern Illinois University.
Phillips was the starting point guard on the 1978 MacArthur basketball team, but it was on the baseball diamond that he made his name.
Phillips was the 1979 H&R City Baseball Player of the Year as a senior, going 6-1 on the mound with a 1.86 ERA and a then-school record 55 strikeouts in 52 innings. He also had a .385 batting average and played center field when he wasn't on the mound.
Following high school, Phillips played baseball in college at Northwest Missouri State, where he was a four-year letter-winner.
After college, Phillips played for the ADM and Decatur Pride softball teams.
Described by former H&R sports writer Rex Spires as “one of the most accomplished and successful female athletes produced by Decatur schools,” Letizia earned 11 varsity letters during her high school career — four in basketball, three in volleyball, three in track and one in softball.
On the basketball court, Letizia was second-team H&R All-City as a junior and first-team as a senior when she averaged 17 points. She graduated as Eisenhower's all-time leading scorer with 1,322 points. She was All-Macon County first team in volleyball as both a junior and senior.
Letizia chose to play softball instead of track as a freshman and was an all-city selection, but it was on the track that she became the most accomplished. At Western Illinois Univeristy, Letizia set the school’s javelin record, was part of the record-setting 4x100 relay team and still holds the WIU pentathlon points record.
Cook was a three-year starter and Stephen Decatur and All-Macon County first team three times.
After high school, Cook was a guard for the Parkland College national championship basketball team. He's been a longtime social worker at Eisenhower following his playing career.
Doolin was one of the two star halfbacks, along with Bob Pittenger, for the Lakeview football team that was the first in Decatur history to go undefeated.
Doolin, who also played basketball at Lakeview, went on to play cornerback at Millikin and become a team captain. He later coached football, including at Warrensburg-Latham.
Terry Cook, Stephen Decatur, Class of 1984
T.J. Jackson, Stephen Decatur, Class of 1962
Steve Phillips, MacArthur, Class of 1979
Reeni (McElyea) Letizia, Eisenhower, Class of 1983
Pat Hamilton, Eisenhower, Class of 198
Martha Downing, MacArthur, Class of 1967
Joe Doolin, Lakeview, Class of 1966
Former Lakeview wrestling coach Gary Hunt
Dante Ridgeway, MacArthur, Class of 2002
Dale Minick, Decatur, Class of 1937
Brit Miller, Eisenhower, Class of 2005
1962 Eisenhower state championship baseball team
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Contact Justin Conn at (217) 421-7971. Follow him on Twitter: @jconnHR