Five individuals who have left an indelible imprint on the history of sports in this community are headed to the Racine County Sports Hall of Fame.
They are LaTonya Sims, a former Park High School and University of Wisconsin basketball star; Bob Letsch, the longtime highly successful boys basketball coach at St. Catherine’s High School, Abdul Jeelani, a former Park High School basketball standout who went on to play in the National Basketball Association; Eric Rasmussen, a former baseball star at Case High School who went on to play in the major leagues, and Bill Albright, a former Horlick High School football star who went on to play in the National Football League.
Sims, Letsch, Rasmussen and Jeelani have committed to attend the induction ceremony and banquet Thursday night, Oct. 24 at the Racine Marriott Hotel, 7111 Washington Ave.
Albright, who died Jan. 17, 2013 at the age of 83, will be represented by members of his family.
Here, in alphabetical order, are capsule summaries on the five newest RCSHF selections:
William Charles Albright
Albright was one of the finest linemen ever produced in Racine County, excelling along both the offensive and defensive lines.
Following his stellar career at Horlick High School, Albright played for the University of Wisconsin. He was then selected in the 12th round by the New York Giants in the 1951 NFL draft.
Albright played four seasons with the Giants before heading north of the border to play in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes. In 1956, he had the unique distinction of being a CFL All-Star on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Robert Charles Letsch
When it comes to winning, there are few coaches in Wisconsin sports history who are more qualified to talk on the subject than Letsch.
Letsch has 614 wins on his coaching resume — the second-most by state prep basketball coach — and eight WIAA and WISAA state championships.
He also orchestrated one of the most remarkable stretches in Wisconsin basketball history, guiding the Angels to five WIAA state championships from 2005 through 2010.
Letsch, a 1961 graduate of St. Catherine’s, took over the Angels’ head coaching reins in 1979 at the age of 36. He will be entering his 35th season as the Angels head coach this fall.
In 2010, Letsch was recognized for his exceptional coaching career as he was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Abdul Qadir Jeelani
There are some longtime prep basketball observers who contend Jeelani is the greatest player ever from Racine.
A 6-foot-8 forward who attended Park High School, Jeelani had few flaws in his game and was a force at both ends of the court. Jeelani vividly demonstrated his exceptional skills at UW-Parkside, where he once scored 47 points in a game and earned NAIA all-American honors in 1975 and 1976. He still remains the Rangers’ all-time leader in points (2,262) and rebounds (1,237).
Jeelani, formerly Gary Cole, took his game to the NBA in 1977, playing one season with the Portland Trail Blazers. He was then chosen by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft and carved out a niche in their team history by scoring the Mavericks’ first points ever.
Jeelani’s pro experience also included stints in Italy and Spain.
The Racine native started raising eyebrows for his baseball prowess while pitching and playing first base for Case High School.
He then emerged as one of the premier baseball players in the collegiate ranks, first at Indian (Iowa) Hills Community College and then at the University of New Orleans, where he was an All-American first-team selection as a pitcher.
Rasmussen made his Major League debut July 21, 1975 with the Cardinals and spent eight seasons in “The Show,” also playing for San Diego and Kansas City through 1983.
In 1982, he was a member of the St. Louis team that beat the Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series. He also has the distinction of being the only Major League pitcher to throw a shutout in his first National League (St. Louis) and American League (Kansas City) start.
Following his pro playing career, Rasmussen has worked extensively in the minor leagues and is the minor league pitching coordinator for the Minnesota Twins.
LaTonya Camille Sims
Sims was one of the most highly-decorated prep basketball players ever in Wisconsin while playing for Park High School in the mid-90s.
Sims not only was the Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year and chosen Miss Wisconsin Basketball, but she was a two-time Parade All-American selection. One prep scouting service rated Sims the fifth-best player in the nation as a senior in 1997.
After being courted by a “Who’s Who” list of colleges, Sims narrowed her choices to Wisconsin, Georgia and Notre Dame. She opted to stay home and went on to became one of the finest players in Wisconsin history, earning all-Big Ten Conference first-team honors once and second-team honors twice.
The 6-foot-3 Sims played professionally overseas and now runs her own software development and consulting business in Chicago.
Tickets for the RCSHF banquet are $45. Reservations can be made by calling (262) 636-3926.
Gery Woelfel is a sports reporter The Journal Times. Gery can be reached by calling (262) 631-1713 or by email at email@example.com