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John Vanbiesbrouck Among Eight South Florida Stars Headlining 2015 Florida Sports Hall of Fame Class

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

HOLLYWOOD, FL – Super Bowl champion coach, NBC analyst and national spokesperson for the fatherhood initiative All-Pro Dad, Tony Dungy joins eight south Florida sports celebrities who make up the 2015 class of inductees to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.

The nine distinguished honorees will be officially inducted at the 2015 Florida Sports Hall of Fame Enshrinement, presented by Ultimate Software, on Nov. 17 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. This will mark the first time the 54-year-old organization will hold its annual enshrinement in south Florida.

Former Miami Dolphin favorite Zach Thomas, Florida Panther star John Vanbiesbrouck and Miami Marlin great Jeff Conine also headline this year’s class along with a University of Miami trio including football star Bennie Blades, longtime UM diving coach Randy Ableman and the late voice of the Hurricanes Sonny Hirsch. The first American-born world Jai Alai champion Joey Cornblit and Bowling Hall of Famer Paula Carter round out the class.

“This will certainly go down as one of the strongest Hall of Fame classes we’ve been fortunate to welcome,” said Barry Smith, President of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame. “These folks have accomplished so many great things not only in sports, but in life and this group means so much to the people of south Florida. We are delighted to bring our enshrinement activities to this part of the state for the first time.”

Among the enshrinement activities will be a special recognition of the 2015 Hall of Fame class by the Florida Panthers at their Nov. 16 game vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB&T Center. The Official Enshrinement Ceremony, Presented by Ultimate Software, begins at 11:30 a.m. on Nov. 17. For information on tickets and partnerships visit the Florida Sports Hall of Fame web site at www.flasportshof.org.

In addition to recognizing the state’s most outstanding athletes, coaches and teams, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame is a leader in educating Florida’s youth on the importance of fitness in the fight against childhood obesity and diabetes. Through its “Fame of Fitness” program the Florida Sports Hall of Fame is telling the inspirational stories of its members as a way to encourage Florida’s youth toward a healthier, happier life through their involvement in sports.

Here are the bios of the 2015 Florida Sports Hall of Fame Class:

Randy Ableman (Diving Coach)

Ableman, the head diving coach at the University of Miami since 1989, has won the NCAA’s Diving Coach of the Year nine times, including a stretch from 1995-2000 when he won the award each year. At Miami he has coached 24 national champions, 26 individual All-Americans, at least one every year he’s been at UM, and 11 Olympians representing seven countries. Ableman coached 12 years in a row (1991-2002) with at least one national champion in each of those years. In 1995, Ableman coached five All-Americans, an NCAA first. He was also selected as a member of the U.S. Olympic Diving Team coaching staff for the last three Olympics (1996, 2000 and 2004). In 2008 he was the head diving coach for the Republic of South Africa in Beijing. In 2002, Ableman was awarded U.S. Diving’s highest honor, the Phil Boggs Award. A four-time All-American diver at the University of Iowa, he won the 1981 NCAA 1-meter springboard championship and was named to the 1980 Olympic team which did not compete due to the boycott of the Moscow games. He is a member of the University of Iowa and University of Miami Athletic Halls of Fame.

Bennie Blades (Football)

A native of Ft. Lauderdale, Blades went on to the University of Miami where he was co-winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 1987, given to the outstanding defensive back in the country. He was a consensus all-America at safety in 1986-87 and ended his UM career as the school’s all-time leader in interceptions (19) and interception return yardage. He also set school records for consecutive games with an interception (5) and total tackles by a safety. He spent 10 years in the NFL, including nine with the Lions who picked him third overall in the 1988 NFL draft. Bennie finished his career as the second leading tackler in Lions history. He played in the 1991 Pro Bowl and twice was named the Lions Defensive MVP.

Paula Carter (Bowling)

Carter, a Miami native, was the 1971 National Bowler of the Year. She won the U.S. Open twice and also finished first and second twice each at the Women’s International Bowling Congress National singles championships. She is a member of the Florida and Miami Bowling Halls of Fame and the WIBC National Hall of Fame.

Jeff Conine (Baseball)

Conine is known as Mr. Marlin, as the only player to have appeared in the Marlins inaugural game in 1993 and both World Series victories, 1997 and 2003. Conine played for 6 major league teams in 17 years, half of those for the Marlins. He hit .290 for the Marlins (.285 overall) with 120 home runs (214 overall), 553 RBI (1071 overall) and a record 6 grand slams. On the Marlins inaugural opening day he went 4-4 ending the season having played all 162 games and finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting after a .292, 12 home run, 17 RBI season. The next two years he was named to the All-Star team, earning the game’s MVP honors in 1995. In 32 post-season games in 1997 and 2003, Conine hit .304 with one home run, 8 RBI and 15 runs scored. He is currently a special assistant to Marlins team president David Samson.

Joey Cornblit (Jai-Alai)

Cornblit, whose professional name was simply Joey, led the American team to a bronze medal at the World Amateur championship when he was 15. The Miami native turned pro at 16, playing for Miami Jai-Alai. He was the first American-born player to become a world champion; he won 23 championships. He holds the record at Dania for the most wins, with 186 games during the 1988-89 winter season. He retired in 1995, ending a 24-year career. His number 37 is the only Jai Alai jersey to be retired.

Tony Dungy (Football Coach)

Dungy coached the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001, and led the Bucs to 4 straight playoff appearances (1998-2001), including a loss to the Rams in the 1979 NFC Championship game. He moved onto to Indianapolis and led the Colts to six straight playoff appearances (10 straight counting TB) and the Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears following the 2006 season. He retired after the 2008 season.

Sonny Hirsch (Sportscasting)

Hirsch was the voice of the Miami Hurricanes for 28 years. He handled play-by-play for football and basketball from 1958-71 and returned to those two sports plus baseball from 1983-97. He also served as GM of the Miami Marlins of the Florida State League for 10 years. He received a special honor in 1998 from the UM Sports Hall of Fame and is a member of the City of Miami Hall of Champions. He died in 1999.

Zach Thomas (Football)

Thomas had a 14-year NFL career, 12 of those seasons with the Dolphins (one with Dallas, one with KC). During his illustrious career he was named to 7 Pro Bowls, was named first team All-Pro five times and was named to the NFL’s All decade team of the 2000s. Thomas has more tackles (almost 1800) than any linebacker currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and ranks fourth all-time in tackles among linebackers. He is one of only three players in NFL history to record 100+ tackles in each of his first 10 seasons. He also intercepted 17 passes and recorded 20 sacks during his career.

John Vanbiesbrouck (Hockey)

A native of the Detroit area, Vanbiesbrouck played for 5 NHL teams: the Rangers, Panthers, Flyers, Islanders and Devils. He gained most of his fame during the 5 years he played for the Florida Panthers, being named an all-star three times (MVP of the 1994 game) and leading the Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1996. He is the winningest American-born goalie in history, and 13th overall in NHL history. In addition to his career with the expansion Panthers, he won the Vezina Trophy as top goalie in the NHL in 1985-86 and was named a first team all-star post-season.

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