Warren Conway ’82, ’85 was a prodigious athlete at Mississippi College whose physicality, endurance, and speed earned him the coveted title of “Big Chief” all four years of his football career.
Yet in one category, the rugged nose guard and middle linebacker yielded bragging rights to his two younger brothers – both of whom also starred on the MC gridiron.
Earl T. Conway Jr. ’86, who played football professionally after his collegiate career had drawn to a close, and Shinall T. Conway ‘01, who had a significant role on MC’s 1989 Division II national championship team, were inducted into the Mississippi College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 and 2012, respectively.
On Saturday, April 29, Warren Conway will join them as a member of the MCAHOF Class of 2023.
“I feel like Sam Cooke – it’s been a long time coming,” the two-time all-Gulf South Conference selection said with a laugh. “I consider it quite an honor, and I’m happy to join my brothers.”
Diane Swalm Hay ’03 was a force on the courts, helping the MC women’s tennis team capture the American Southwest Conference Championship as a freshman in 2000 and the ASC East Division title in each of her four years on the squad.
The soft-spoken two-time ASC All-Conference selection has been busy raising a family in her hometown of Brookhaven. She was surprised to discover that her name would be included in the list of the most accomplished student-athletes in MC’s rich history.
“I was very honored to be elected to the MC Athletics Hall of Fame,” Hay said. “It certainly was not expected. It has been such a long time since I was on the team. It is so nice to be remembered!”
Conway and Hay will be among 10 highly regarded former student-athletes honored during the MC Athletics Hall of Fame Banquet, scheduled for 6 p.m. in Anderson Hall in the B.C. Rogers Student Center. General admission tickets cost $40 each or $250 for a reserved table of six.
MC President Blake Thompson, university administrators, advisory board members, and current and former athletes will pay tribute to the Class of 2023 on what marks the 50th anniversary of the hall.
“This is a significant event that defines who we are as an institution,” said Jim Turcotte, vice president and executive director of the Alumni Association at MC, who helped organize the banquet. “The individuals who have received this honor are among our best and brightest.
“There’s no guarantee that the MC Athletics Hall of Fame will last in perpetuity, but it has certainly been valued at our University since 1973 and will be for many years to come.”
Starting with the initial quartet of honorees 50 years ago – Harry Craft, a four-sport letterman at MC who helped the Cincinnati Reds win the 1940 World Series; James Edwards, a southpaw who spent most of the 1920s pitching for the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox; Hal B. “Sheriff” Lee, captain of MC’s football and baseball teams who played left field for the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Braves in the 1930s; and Stanley L. Robinson, longtime head coach of the MC football team who guided the Choctaws to a tie for the 1940 Dixie Conference championship – more than 250 other men and women whose exploits made a lasting impact on Mississippi College have received the prestigious honor.
Former MC student-athletes who will be joining Conway and Hay as 2023 inductees will include:
* Jake Allen ‘08, a two-sport star in football and track at MC from 2005-07, caught a school-record 152 passes for 2,867 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Choctaws. A two-time all-American Southwest Conference honoree, he was named ASC Offensive Player of the Year and First-Team Division III All-American in 2007 after catching 61 passes for 1,254 yards and 12 touchdowns. Allen ascended to the NFL in 2009, playing wide receiver in two games for the Cleveland Browns and one contest for the Green Bay Packers. He was named head football coach and athletic director of the Houston County Lions in 2022.
* Nathaniel Bolton, a splendid receiver for the Choctaw football team from 1987-91, contributed a school-record 62 receptions for 1,012 yards and 11 touchdowns for the Division II national champions in 1989. The first-team all-Gulf South Conference selection finished his collegiate career with 19 touchdown receptions, 129 total receptions, and 1,733 receiving yards. Named to the GSC Team of the Quarter Century (1971-95), Bolton played professional football for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football. He is the owner of BLN Transports LLC.
* Larry Evans ‘77, an imposing linebacker listed by ainsworthsports.com as the top-ranked Mississippi College Choctaw of all time, was a 14th-round selection of the NFL’s Denver Broncos. He earned his way to a starting position on the Broncos’ highly touted “Orange Crush” defense, appeared in three postseasons with Denver, and played in Super Bowl XII against the Dallas Cowboys. During his NFL career, Evans picked off three passes and recovered four fumbles.
* Samuel Graham, a prolific hurler for the Mississippi College baseball team, compiled a school record 24 wins and 44 starts during his four-year career from 2002-05. The American Southwest Conference All-Conference and All-Academic Team selection is third on MC’s all-time list for strikeouts with 196, fifth all-time in innings pitched with 230.2, and sixth all-time in pitching appearances with 53. He was named Alpha Chi Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2002.
* Shelia Renea Hynum ‘02, was a distance-running superstar at MC. She was an all-American Southwest Conference performer for four years on the women’s track team from 1999-2002. An ASC individual champion and Runner of the Year in Cross Country, she was a four-time 800-meter champion, a four-time 5,000-meter champion, a 1,500-meter champion, a 10,000-meter champion, and a 3,000-meter steeplechase champion. She capped her collegiate career by winning the 2002 ASC Outstanding Track MVP Athlete of the Year Award.
* Dr. Amy Graham Jones ’01, a diamond standout on the Mississippi College softball team, was a superlative center fielder with a steady bat who helped turn the program into a more consistent-winning club. As a sophomore, Jones batted close to .400. A summa cum laude graduate and MC’s 2018 Alumna of the Year graduated No. 1 in her class at the University of Mississippi School of Dentistry and now serves as a pediatric dentist in Madison.
* Lacey Palomarez Kennedy ‘07, a forward for the women’s basketball team from 2003-07, ended her prolific hoops career as the Christian University’s all-time points leader and the American Southwest Conference’s top scorer. The four-time ASC All-Conference and All-Division First Team selection helped lead MC to three ASC East Division Titles. She earned ASC East Division Freshman of the Year and ASC East Division Player of the Year laurels. A member of the Army Reserves, Kennedy and her husband, Jason, coached the Pearl High School basketball team to the Mississippi state championship.
* Adam Shaffer ‘09, a strong-armed, accurate quarterback for the Choctaw football team from 2005-09, established single-season standards for pass completions with 236 and touchdown passes with 33 while guiding MC to the 2009 American Southwest Conference championship. During his career, Shaffer completed 704 passes for an impressive 9,505 yards and 91 touchdowns. He connected on 58 percent of his throws during his career, and in 2007, he accounted for an impressive 3,497 yards through the air.
During the banquet, each member of the MC Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2023 will receive a commemorative plaque. Kenny Bizot, MC athletic director and 2008 MC Athletics Hall of Fame inductee, will also present awards to the top senior athletes on each of MC’s varsity teams.
Like most student-athletes at Mississippi College, Hay started playing her favorite sport at a young age. At the encouragement of her mother, she picked up a tennis racquet at 5 and, as her skills progressed, began to enjoy the game more and more. During her senior year of high school, she was invited to tour the Christian University.
“I immediately fell in love with the campus, the staff, and the close-knit community it offers,” Hay said. “I was then recruited to play tennis, which sealed the deal.”
Within months, she was named the ASC East Freshman of the Year, and the MC women’s tennis team was crowned ASD champion. Those accomplishments set the tone for her collegiate career.
“I didn’t expect this success as a freshman,” she said. “It was great that my hard work was paying off, but most of the credit goes to my teammates, (head) coach (David) Boteler, and the rest of the coaching staff. What a great team!”
The squad’s unselfishness is what she remembers most about being a student-athlete at MC.
“When I look back at my time on the MC tennis team, I cherish the relationships the most. The coaching staff, my teammates, and my friends came to watch me play – it was such a special time in my life, and many of those relationships have lasted long past my college tennis career.
“The most valuable thing I learned from MC is how important it is to keep God first. Everything else will fall into place if I can remember to do that one thing.”
After earning her Bachelor of Business Administration at MC, Hay obtained her Master of Accountancy at the University of Mississippi and served as a certified public accountant with Harper, Rains, Knight & Company in Ridgeland. She and her husband, an MC graduate, have four daughters, and the family has returned to the Clinton campus on occasion to enjoy Homecoming festivities.
Hay said she couldn’t wait to be inducted into the MC Athletics Hall of Fame alongside the other Class of 2023 members.
“I am most looking forward to reminiscing about my time at MC and showing my children around campus,” she said. “They really enjoy seeing where their parents went to school.
“This fall, I hope to make it back for my 20-year reunion.”
Like Hay, Conway was a hot commodity coming out of high school. He was recruited by top-flight football coaches like Florida State University’s Bobby Bowden, but John Williams, Mississippi College’s enterprising head football coach, made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He knew I was interested in law school,” Conway said. “He told me, ‘You can come to school and get whatever degrees you want – as long as you contribute to the football team.’
“Obviously, that got my attention.”
Conway excelled academically and athletically at MC, obtaining his undergraduate degree in two-and-half years. He gained acceptance into the MC School of Law and, during his first year of legal studies, somehow managed to play his final season on the gridiron.
“As an undergrad, once you got in the groove, you’d go to class and knock ‘em out,” he said. “Law school was an entirely different animal. As an undergrad, they teach you what to think, but when you’re in law school, the focus is on teaching you how to think – how to get from one logical point to the next.
“I spent a lot of late nights trying to make that adjustment. Law school was quite interesting. It was tough, but we were able to make it happen.”
Along with his accomplishments in the classroom and on the field, the all-Gulf South Conference performer had an additional avenue to navigate: before he arrived on campus, Mississippi College had only recently integrated its athletic programs.
“This was in the early days of integration, and there were some doubters,” he said. “I was in the seventh or eighth class of Black athletes at MC. We still had some challenges when I got there. But there were some really good people at MC that stood up for you whenever you were right and got after you whenever you were wrong.”
Conway has made a career of discerning right from wrong. After obtaining his law degree, he started his own personal injury law firm in Gulfport, now known as Conway & Associates. He credits his time at Mississippi College for helping sustain him in the legal profession.
“MC taught me never to give up and to stand up and advocate for myself and for my clients,” he said. “It taught me the value of good, hard work. If you can believe, you can succeed.”
And persevere. The first Conway brother to play football for the Choctaws is the last to be inducted into the MC Athletics Hall of Fame. But that’s just fine by him.
“I’ve been gone (from campus) almost 40 years, and my best friends are still people I met on the football field,” he said. “We’ve all gotten older, and it’s interesting to see what we’ve done with our lives. I think a whole lot of the men and women who have been selected along with me. They are quite deserving.
“And I’m glad my brothers will be there for the induction ceremony. In fact, I think there are just as excited about me getting in (to the MC Athletics Hall of Fame) as I am.”