BELLE GLADE – Jessie Hester never believed she was better than anyone while growing up in the country’s most fertile region when it comes to producing football players.
Hester, the former standout wide receiver, acknowledges that there were more talented athletes who never made All-State, who never had the opportunity to attend a school like Florida State and become an All -American, who were never selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
And he knows what separated many like him and others who achieved so much athletically, like his fellow inductees into the inaugural class of the City of Muck Sports Hall of Fame, from those left behind were mere prey of decisions
“I was fortunate enough to play college ball and play professionally and I know guys better than me didn’t get that opportunity for (various) reasons like poor decision making,” Hester said.
“We didn’t come up in the best of circumstances, but that didn’t make me go and do the wrong things. There’s no reason to do that. You can go mow lawns, pick up trash in people’s yards, whatever . you have to do to get a few bucks in your pocket. Go for it, there’s no shame in hard work. Don’t use anything as an excuse for things going wrong. Pull yourself by the straps and go get it.”
And for many who do, the recognition could one day come from the Muck City Sports Hall of Fame.
New coach, same expectations:3 key storylines for Glades Central football in 2022
Fall Camp:3 stories to watch for Pahokee football in 2022
Looking ahead:3 challenges facing Glades Day football after last year’s success
Hester, who played for four NFL teams and caught 373 passes for 5,850 yards and 29 touchdowns; Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson; Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl 43 MVP; and 12-year NFL cornerback Jimmy Spencer were recognized Friday during Glades Central’s preseason game against Miami’s Booker T. Washington.
Also in the inaugural class are football coach Milton Watson, basketball and track star Evette Lyman and wrestling standout Jerry Seymore.
They were inducted June 5 at the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center on Palm Beach State College’s Belle Glade campus.
The Muck City Sports Hall will honor athletes and contributors from Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Clewiston, four schools with a combined 20 state football titles. It was launched by the Muck City Project, which focuses on preserving and recognizing the history of the region.
The project notes that more than 80 NFL players and 400 college football players once planted their spots in the rich soil on the south shore of Lake Okeechobee, all starting to chase rabbits forced out of cane fields during the season of burns Urban Meyer once called the Glades, “the fastest place in the whole country.”
Many have gone on to greatness and made their mark in small college towns and big NFL cities. And no one will forget their roots.
“The boys have been all over the world, they’ll always give a shout out to the Muck, just to let the world know where they’re from,” Hester said.
And a hall of fame that recognizes the best of an underserved community is much more than names on banners and halftime ceremonies.
It transcends sport.
More than anything, this kind of recognition can be an inspiration for the seemingly endless flow of talent that comes from an area where resources are limited. Success stories like Hester and Jackson and Holmes and Spencer and many more to come can motivate future generations when they hear their stories.
“It meant more to them to go into the Muck Hall of Fame than a lot of the notoriety they got on the national stage because it came from the people who knew them best and knew the living conditions and the struggle for happen. be where they are today,” said Jonathan Mann, president of the Muck City Project.
The strength of this hall of fame will be unlike any in a small, rural region of the country, especially one with a population of just over 40,000.
The inaugural class is proof of that.
Name another regional hall of famer where Fred Taylor, Anquan Boldin, Andre Waters, Louis Oliver, Reidel Anthony or Janoris Jenkins couldn’t crack their inaugural class.
The 17th leading rusher in NFL history, an NFL Man of the Year, a four-time leading tackler for the Philadelphia Eagles, a second-team All-Pro, a first-round pick, a Pro Bowler.
And the list goes on and on.
“They had to flip coins to make that decision about who gets in and who doesn’t,” Hester said. “You have such a long list of guys who could easily be there.”
One day they will.
Tom D’Angelo is a reporter for The Palm Beach Post. He can be reached at [email protected]