Best of the best: Arizona Sports Hall of Fame inducts six Valley legends

Future Pro Football Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald received recognition from the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame for his contributions to the Arizona Cardinals and the local community Tuesday at the Chateau Luxe. (Photo by Rudy Aguado/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The careers of several Valley sports legends just got a little more decorated.

Six new people were inducted into the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame Tuesday night, in a star-studded event at Chateau Luxe that paid tribute to the state’s vast sporting legacy.

The 2022 class included Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the late Pedro Gomez, formerly of the Arizona Republic and ESPN, former Phoenix Mercury player Jennifer Gillom, former Northern Arizona basketball player Peggy Kennedy, Seton Catholic Preparatory girls basketball coach Karen Self and the late Michael K. Kennedy, an Arizona sports philanthropist.

“This is Arizona history tonight,” Peggy Kennedy said. “What I like about it too, it’s forever. For our class, it’s forever.”

Kennedy began playing at NAU in 1976, and set multiple program records, including most career points (1,082), single-season points (411) and the single-game scoring record (45).

The former Lumberjack star said she was in awe of the company around her.

“This class rocks,” Kennedy said. “These are the best of the best of Arizona sports. I’m reading who they are (and I’m like), ‘Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!’ It just kinda tells you the presence (around it) and all of us together is special.”

Candidates needed to meet one of three criteria to be eligible for the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame: They had to be a native Arizonan, or immediately recognized as an Arizonan or have made at least two significant contributions to Arizona’s sporting community.

​​The biggest name in the loaded class was Fitzgerald, who is widely considered the greatest Arizona Cardinal of all time. The 11-time Pro Bowler sits second all-time in NFL receiving yards with 17,492, behind Jerry Rice’s mark of 22,895.

While Fitzgerald’s statistics are tangible, much of his impact in the Valley occurred off the field with his foundation. For nearly two decades, Fitzgerald has been a staple in the Arizona community, even owning a minority stake of the Phoenix Suns.

Pedro Gomez’s family, including wife Sandra, second from left, daughter Sierra and sons Rio and Dante, accepted the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame honor on his behalf Tuesday. (Photo by Rudy Aguado/Cronkite News)

“Building relationships with so many people that I really truly admire and respect in this city and to be a part of the fabric of the community, I couldn’t have asked God for a better (situation),” Fitzgerald said.

One of the class’s most beloved figures was the late Pedro Gomez, who passed away unexpectedly in February of 2021. Gomez was a dominating presence in the sports world, a writer who made the leap to television without a hitch. He covered all sports but baseball was his specialty, and he became a staple of ESPN’s MLB coverage during his 35-year career. While he covered many World Series, one of the best stories about Gomez came right before Game 7 of the 2001 World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees.

Gomez, a columnist for the Arizona Republic at the time, had authored a very critical piece about Curt Schilling, the Diamondbacks’ Game 7 starter.

According to a story by Sports360AZ, Gomez was nervous when he arrived at the ballpark in downtown Phoenix but fully prepared to face the music over the harsh words he felt were justified in his column that morning.

Gomez headed onto the field to watch batting practice. After a few minutes, Diamondbacks pitcher Greg Swindell approached Gomez, looked him in the eyes, shook his hand, nodded, and walked off. The story is widely considered a landmark moment in Gomez’ career. Rio Gomez, the son of Pedro and a pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization, said that tale perfectly captured his father.

“Fearlessness, I think, is the best way to put it,” Rio said. “He was fearless about what he was going to write and he was gonna make the story honest. Regardless of (whether the players would be unhappy with him or not) and what (they) had to say. He was just there to do his job first and he made sure of that.”

Gillom and Self, two icons of women’s basketball in Arizona, were also inducted Tuesday night.

Gillom played with the Mercury from 1997-2002, averaging 13.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. A 1999 WNBA All-Star who is also in the Mercury Ring of Honor, Gillom was an assistant coach and head coach in the WNBA before taking the helm for the Xavier College Prep girls basketball team.

Self also coaches high school basketball in Arizona, winning a whopping 12 state titles, including the last two 4A championships, with the Seton Catholic Prep girls team. An Arizona State product, she was named coach of the 2020 McDonald’s All-American game, a high honor befitting her 775-155 record.

Kennedy, a philanthropist who was very active with many of the Valley’s premier sporting events, was also inducted into the star-studded 2022 class. Kennedy served as the Super Bowl XLII host committee chairman and was a Super Bowl XLIX executive committee member. He also was president of the Arizona Diamondbacks Foundation since its inception in 1997 and worked with the Phoenix Open as a member of the Thunderbirds nonprofit group. Kennedy died in February of 2021 following a long bout with cancer.

Joe Eigo joe EYE-go (he/him)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Joe Eigo expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Eigo is in his third semester at Cronkite News. He has previously worked with Inferno Intel, WCSN, The State Press and The Racing Experts.

Rudy Aguado(he/him/his)
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Rudy Aguado expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Aguado is interning with the Arizona Interscholastic Association and has collaborated with AZPreps365.