BELLE GLADE — Jessie Hester never believed he was better than anyone while growing up in the most fertile region of the country when it comes to producing football players.
Hester, the former standout wide receiver, acknowledges there were more talented athletes who never were All-State, who never had a chance to attend a school like Florida State and become an All-American, who never were selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
And he knows what separated many like himself and others who accomplished so much athletically — like his fellow inductees into the inaugural class of the Muck City Sports Hall of Fame — from those left behind came down simple decision-making.
"I was lucky enough to play college ball and play professionally and I know guys better than myself did not have that opportunity for (different) reasons like bad decision-making," Hester said.
"We didn't come up in the best circumstances, but that didn't cause me to go and do the wrong things. There is no reason to do that. You can go cut grass, pick up trash in folks' yards, whatever you need to do to get a few dollars in your pocket. Go do that, there is no shame in hard work. Don't use anything as an excuse for why things are going bad. Pick yourself up by the bootstraps and go get it."
And for many of those who do, recognition one day could come from the Muck City Sports Hall of Fame.
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Hester, who played for four NFL teams and caught 373 passes for 5,850 yards and 29 touchdowns; Pro Football Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson; Super Bowl 43 MVP Santonio Holmes; and 12-year NFL cornerback Jimmy Spencer were recognized Friday during Glades Central's preseason game against Miami's Booker T. Washington.
Also entering the inaugural class are football coach Milton Watson, basketball and track star Evette Lyman and wrestling standout Jerry Seymore.
They were inducted on June 5 at the Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center on the Palm Beach State College Belle Glade campus.
The Muck City Sports hall will honor athletes and contributors from Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Clewiston, four schools with a combined 20 state football titles. It was launched by the Muck City Project, which focuses on preserving and recognizing the region's history.
The project notes that more than 80 NFL and 400 collegiate football players once planted their cleats in the rich soil off the southern shores of Lake Okeechobee, all getting their start chasing rabbits forced from the cane fields during burn season. Urban Meyer once called the Glades, "the fastest place in the entire country,"
Many have achieved greatness and left their imprint in small college towns and large NFL cities. And none will forget their roots.
"Guys have been all over the world, they always are going to give a shoutout to the Muck, just to let the world know where they are from," Hester said.
And a hall of fame that recognizes the best from an underserved community is much more than names on banners and halftime ceremonies.
It transcends sports.
More than anything, this kind of recognition can be an inspiration to the seemingly endless stream of talent coming from an area where resources are limited. Success stories like Hester and Jackson and Holmes and Spencer and many more that will follow can motivate future generations when they hear their stories.
"It meant more to them to go into the Muck Hall of Fame than a lot of the notoriety they got on the national stage because it came from the people that knew them best and knew the living conditions and the struggle they had to come through to be where they are today," said Jonathan Mann, president of the Muck City Project.
The strength of this hall of fame will be unlike any from a small, rural region in the country, especially one with a population of just more than 40,000.
The inaugural class is proof.
Name another regional hall of fame in which Fred Taylor, Anquan Boldin, Andre Waters, Louis Oliver, Reidel Anthony or Janoris Jenkins could not crack its inaugural class.
The 17th-leading rusher in NFL history, an NFL Man of the Year, a four-time leading tackler for the Philadelphia Eagles, a second team All-Pro, a first-round pick, a Pro Bowler.
And the list goes on and on.
"They had to flip coins to make that decision on who's getting in and who's not," Hester said. "You just have such a long list of guys who could easily be in there."
One day they will.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Muck City Sports Hall of Fame inducts inaugural class