So much so that the school plans to induct two classes into its athletic hall of fame in the 2013 calendar year, to account for not having a ceremony a year ago due to construction taking place at the school. The delayed 2012 ceremony is set for Jan. 19, when Wheeler’s basketball teams host Cherokee.
For this class, Wheeler harkened back to some of its more traditional athletes and coaches.
Former Wildcats baseball star Jeremy Hermida highlights a class. Also included are Danielle Santos (basketball), Ches Riley (soccer), Ronnie Keener (baseball) and Steve Diffley, a longtime teacher and coach at the school.
“We went with a smaller class, and we’ll do the 2013 class in the fall,” Wheeler athletic director Robert Horn said. “This class fits the heritage and tradition of Wheeler. We wanted to choose people who were part of the foundation that Wheeler had.”
Drafted 11th overall by the Florida Marlins in 2002, right out of high school, Hermida has spent eight seasons as a major leaguer, the highlight of his baseball career in his 2005-09 with the Marlins.
His greatest claim to fame was becoming the second player in major league history — and first in 107 years — to hit a grand slam in his first career at-bat, on Aug. 31, 2005 as a pinch-hitter.
Traded to the Boston Red Sox after the 2009 campaign, Hermida has also played for the Oakland Athletics, Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres.
Hermida was the first of 11 Cobb County players to be drafted in the class of 2002, after hitting .485 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs his final season at Wheeler.
Although Santos’ basketball career at Wheeler ended on a low note — she suffered a season-ending injury midway through her senior year in 2001-02 — she produced much better results at Florida. She helped the Gators to the NCAA tournament in 2004 and ’06, and she led them in assists and steals her sophomore year.
From there, Santos went into coaching, spending time of the staffs of Illinois State and Northern Illinois, before being reunited with her coach at Florida, Matthew Mitchell, at Kentucky.
Keener was Wheeler’s top pitcher when the Wildcats won the Class AAA state championship in 1975. He was a combined 18-1 his junior and senior years and hit a career 41 home runs.
Keener went on to play one year Georgia Tech before transferring to Chipola Junior College in Florida and finishing his career at Georgia.
“He was a left-hander,” said Jim Mau, who coached Wheeler’s 1975 state championship team. “He had a real good fastball and didn’t get behind the hitters. Lefties still cause a lot of problems for high school kids.”
Riley was one of Wheeler’s more experienced soccer players in the early 1990s and went on to play at Furman, with whom he was named to the all-Southern Conference first team in 1995.
Diffley was a coach of different sports in his 25 seasons at Wheeler from 1975-2000. He was an assistant football coach and the head coach of some of Wheeler’s stronger boys soccer teams in the ’80s.