Nov. 4, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Ten former Wharton County Junior College athletes were named to the inaugural 2021 WCJC Athletic Hall of Fame group. Pictured, from left, are Will Parker (football class of 1968); Venroy "Butch" Grant (basketball class of 1972); Karen Hemingway, representing Charles Franklin Brown Jr. (basketball class of 1952); Jenny Banker, representing Johnnie Frankie (coach from 1948-1959); Elaine Anderson, representing Clifford Branch (football/track class of 1969); Bonnie Sue Beard Pflughaupt (volleyball class of 1984); Caleb Smidt (rodeo class of 2010); Tyler Reves (baseball class of 2005); Gene Bahnsen (coach/athletic director from 1959-2019); and Trey Benton III (rodeo class of 2012).
WHARTON, TEXAS – Wharton County Junior College kicked off its first annual Athletic Hall of Fame with a grand celebration attended by an audience of former athletes, students, elected officials and college faculty and staff.
Held at the end of October in the Pioneer Student Center on the Wharton campus, the event included a reception luncheon and induction ceremony for the 10 individuals who will represent the inaugural 2021 Athletic Hall of Fame group. Plaques of recognition were also installed on a permanent display located in the hallway outside the Gene Bahnsen Gymnasium. The plaques included each recipient’s name, years associated with the college and athletic affiliation.
WCJC’s Vice-President of Administrative Services Bryce Kocian welcomed the crowd and noted the college’s 75th anniversary year. He went on to explain that the inductees were “very deserving” of being honored by the college. WCJC Athletic Director Keith Case, serving as emcee, agreed, noting that the selection committee tasked with naming the inaugural group had been faced with quite a challenge due to the nominees’ accomplishments. Of 61 nominees, only 10 were chosen.
“Going through your accolades, it was tough to trim it down to get it into this hour,” Case told the honorees.
“We congratulate each member of our inaugural class of the WCJC Athletic Hall of Fame,” stated WCJC President Betty McCrohan. “These award recipients are among many alumni and employees who have contributed to the Pioneer legacy of achievement. We are very proud of these Pioneers.”
The college plans to hold an annual induction ceremony, explained WCJC Director of Marketing, Communications and Advancement Zina Carter.
“WCJC has an expansive history of athletic achievement,” Carter said. “We are thrilled to now host an annual event that takes us back in time to remember and bring recognition to those who have inspired Pioneer success. We look forward to sharing these stories of success and hope they inspire future Pioneers.”
Named to the 2021 Athletic Hall of Fame were:
- Gene Bahnsen – A Louisiana native, Bahnsen arrived at WCJC in 1959 as a coach, initially guiding the college’s basketball, football and track programs. In 1965, he was promoted to athletic director and held that position for 60 years, leading WCJC teams to numerous state championships and playoff berths. He retired from WCJC in 2019. WCJC’s Gene Bahnsen Gymnasium was named in his honor.
- Trey Benton III – From Richards, Benton was a rodeo sensation during his time at WCJC, named the 2012 and 2013 All-Around WCJC Cowboy for his achievements in bull riding, calf roping and team roping, and earning Southern Region Bull Riding Champion honors both seasons as well as qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo in bull riding both years. After WCJC, Benton qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo seven times between 2012 and 2021 and still competes.
- Clifford Branch – A native Houstonian, Branch was a gifted athlete from an early age, excelling on the football field and the running track. In 1967, he arrived at WCJC and took top honors in sprinting and as a wide receiver for the Pioneers football team. After WCJC, Branch transferred to the University of Colorado before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders in 1972 and posting a host of impressive statistics over the next decade. He passed away in 2019.
- Charles Franklin Brown Jr. – Brown was born in Galveston and attended WCJC after being recruited by former WCJC Coach Johnnie Frankie. At WCJC, Brown earned All-American, All-District and All-State honors, played on the 1952 National Junior College Championship Team and was the seventh highest scorer among all junior college players in the nation. He passed away in 2011.
- Johnnie Frankie – Frankie coached at Texas A&M University before arriving at WCJC in 1948. Over the next decade he guided the Pioneers to several successful football seasons as well as leading the basketball team to the 1952 national championship. He passed away in 1963, but his legacy lives on through the Johnnie Frankie Award and through the men’s dormitory, “Frankie Hall.”
- Bonnie Sue Beard Pflughaupt – An El Campo native, Pflughaupt played at WCJC between 1982 and 1984, making All-Conference twice, All-Region twice, being named All-American her second year and receiving the Johnnie Frankie award. After WCJC, she played at Same Houston State University, where she was named Most Valuable Player twice, made All-American her second year and made First Team All-Conference both years and was later named to the university’s Hall of Honor.
- Venroy “Butch” Grant – A New York native, Grant was recruited by WCJC Coach Gene Bahnsen to play basketball for the Pioneers in the early 1970s. At WCJC, Grant won the Johnnie Frankie Award and posted enough points to become the college’s all-time leading scorer and the third leading scorer in the nation at the junior college level. After WCJC he attended Prairie View A&M University and later completed a 25-year career with the Houston Police Department. He served as Director of Team Security for the Houston Rockets from 2002 to 2012.
- Will Parker – Born in Baytown, Parker moved to Wharton in the 8th grade and graduated from Wharton High School, where he excelled in football and track. At WCJC, Parker made 1st Team All-Conference and was an All-American in football and was named the 1968 Most Valuable Player. Transferring to the University of North Texas, he was an NCAA All-American before being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 1971 draft. He played 11 seasons in the NFL on the offensive line, first for the 49ers and then for the Buffalo Bills. He was named to the University of North Texas All-Century Team in 2013.
- Tyler Reves – An Orange native, Reves came to WCJC in 2004 and immediately became known as a power hitter, posting a .365 average his freshman year (with 12 homeruns) and then hitting an astonishing .487 average his sophomore year with another dozen homeruns. He was First Team All-Conference, All-Region and Most Valuable Player before transferring to Texas Tech University and then being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2006. He played several years in the minor leagues.
- Caleb Smidt – A Bellville resident, Smidt has been a rodeo champion his entire life, winning reserve champion in tie-down roping in high school before coming to WCJC in 2010 and taking all-around champion and tie-down reserve champion honors at the College National Finals Rodeo. At Sam Houston State he was a member of the CNFR Champion Men’s Team in 2011. Since college, he has continued to excel in his sport, winning titles across the nation and being consistently ranked in the top 10 of the world standings. He is a two-time world champion.
Extended profiles of each award recipient are available at wcjc.edu