Each day while a student-athlete at Oakcrest High School, Erika Bell-Henry would pass the plaques that line the school's Athletic Wall of Fame and tell herself that her name would soon be counted among these elite. Practice after practice after practice, she would scan the lofty statistics under the pictures of past honorees, promising that some day, hers would be counted, too.
On Sept. 29, Bell-Henry, a 2004 graduate, and three other standout former Falcons became Wall of Famers. After the enshrinement ceremony, she recalled her countless walks past the plaques.
"I remember so many times coming into practices, or just to shoot around, or games, I used to say to myself, 'One day I'm going to be up there, one day I'm going to be up there.'" said Bell-Henry, who played basketball at Oakcrest and now coaches the Falcons. "You believe it, but when it really happens, it becomes surreal. It's a blessing."
Softball and soccer star Danielle Hagel, '06, football and baseball star Michael Warker, '99, and decorated offensive lineman Steven Johnson, '80, were also enshrined at the ceremony, which was held before the Falcons' football game against Atlantic City.
Hagel, who excelled at The College of New Jersey and now coaches softball and teaches at Hammonton High School, said she was honored to be included alongside the Oakcrest greats.
"Coming down the hall and seeing the Wall of Fame, every athlete up there is someone you aspire to be, and absolutely, it was something that was always a goal of mine, to make an impression on the school and be a role model to other people," Hagel said.
The Oakcrest Select Choir sang a medley to the honorees at the ceremony prior to the unveiling of their plaques. The inductees were escorted to the football field by current standout student-athletes after the ceremony and introduced at halftime.
Carol Rott, president of the Wall of Fame selection committee, established the award in 1993 using her "Teacher of the Year" stipend. Fourteen former Falcons made up the inaugural class. Each year, the selection committee reviews nominations and inducts a handful of student-athletes based on both their athletic excellence and their contributions to the community during and after their tenure at Oakcrest.
Warker, who played football at Rowan and Widener Universities after Oakcrest and now works in marketing for Fed-Way Associates Inc., said the honor came as a surprise to him.
"After 10 years, I was really shocked," Warker said. "I didn't think it would happen. I'm blessed. Truly good things happen when you wait and just to be considered among the best of the best, again, is just a tremendous honor."
Rott said her goal in establishing the wall was twofold: to honor excellence and to inspire current and future students by example.
After Oakcrest, Johnson played football at Widener University, where he was a member of the 1981 National Championship team. He has been a trial attorney since 1987 and is a former Atlantic County Freeholder. He said that he owes his success to the role models he had as a student-athlete and is proud to be in their ranks.
"I had the benefit and fortune of having a lot of role models while I was here at Oakcrest, and I think it translates to how you develop as a productive athlete and also a productive member of society," Johnson said.
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