Remembering “Gentle Giant” Lonnie Shelton

Intro 2  The Trojan Nation lost its Gentle Giant and finest all-around athlete, on July 8, 2018. Local and national news media provided ample evidence to  document his amazing athletic career. Those who knew Lonnie are aware he was a remarkable athlete, but also an even better human being who was loved by all.

Intro

 

As a Sophomore transfer student, Lonnie had an immediate impact on the football, basketball and track programs at FHS. He quickly became the key role player in our “golden era” of sports that saw fans pack gyms and stadiums, eager to see those great Trojan teams led by this young phenom.

Those who never saw him play do not truly realize how great and diversified his talent was. One can Google statistics and records to validate his great college and NBA career. The same could be done for his high school career, but it might be quicker to summarize that in these simpler layman terms:

  1. Foothill’s finest athlete and top vote-getter to be the first person inducted into the FHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
  2. The Tyack Award winner as the best high school athlete in Kern County
  3. Received All-American honors in two sports, and was a record-breaking State Champion in a third sport.
  4. Called by Fresno Bee Sports Writer Terry Betterton, the finest all-around high school athlete he ever saw in his 35 years of covering all sports in the San Joaquin Valley.
  5. Member of Kern County Bob Elias Hall of Fame.

newspaperAs a senior, Lonnie was being heavily recruited to play all three sports in college. Had he chosen football, it is most likely he would have played at USC and later ended up in the NFL as a tight end where the coaches felt he could have had the same type career as an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez. Had he chosen track, he likely would have been an NCAA Champion and later an Olympian. But, he accepted a basketball scholarship to Oregon State, and that started another successful chapter in his life.

track drawingOne can briefly summarize Lonnie’s OSU career by saying he was an All Pac-8 player on a team that beat the legendary Coach John Wooden/Bill Walton UCLA Bruin team and ended their 50-game winning  streak. He was allowed to compete in one track meet, which he won with the top shotput mark in the Pac-8 that year. I urge those who want a great read about Lonnie’s entire OSU career, complete with great comments from teammates and coaches, as well as some great input from Lonnie’s high school basketball coach Buzz Caffee, to Google this recent July 15th article (written by Ken Eggers) that appeared in the Portland Tribune entitled “Shelton Might Have Been The Greatest Athlete in Oregon State History”.

supersonicsFrom OSU it was a brilliant 10-year NBA career with the New York Knicks, Seattle Supersonics, and Cleveland Cavaliers. The highlight was starting for the Seattle Supersonics when they won the World Championship. Another had to be starting in the NBA All-Star game with teammates like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and facing opposing players such as Larry Bird and Julius “Dr. J” Erving.

Freddie Boyd with Joe Ned and Neil
Freddie Boyd with Joe Padilla, Ned Permenter and Neil Agness

When Lonnie retired from the NBA, he returned to his roots in Bakersfield to be around family and friends.  He was so honored to be inducted into the FHS Hall of Fame, and made it a point to show up at many of our subsequent events with his close friend, and fellow NBA player, Freddie Boyd.  Lonnie and Freddie were always quick to sign autographs, do photo sessions, and had a kind word for all those who stopped to chat.

Lonnie and Neil
Lonnie an Neil Agness at a fundraising dinner

Lonnie’s funeral services were held July 25th at Greenlawn Southwest. Bishop Bernard W. Wallace conducted a service that included his personal stories about Lonnie as well as delivering a message of hope, faith and comfort to family and friends. Soloist singer, Alesha Palmer, a 1975 FHS grad, sang two song with one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. This was followed by several stories, memories and tributes made by family and friends.

Ned
Ned Permenter sharing stories

Our HOF President, Dr. Bill Baker, was able to secure and coordinate the wonderful celebration of life and luncheon held at the Bakersfield Country Club following the funeral service. There was a lot of fellowship and visiting over a great lunch before more family and friends took to the stage to share more stories and memories of Lonnie. This was followed by a huge video and photo session that attracted all family members.

The Shelton Family
Members of the Shelton family gather for an iconic photo

Lonnie was so very proud of his family and friends. And while all of his five sons inherited his athletic prowess, he was most proud of the fact all were college grads. Some may not be aware of the fact the Lonnie’s oldest son, L.J. Shelton, was an 11-year offensive lineman on various NFL teams. The other four sons Marlon, Titus, Tim and Dion were all high school and college basketball players. Tim has also now assumed his new role as Assistant Basketball Coach at Fresno State.

What a wonderful event to help us all realize and appreciate the positive impact Lonnie had on so many. While Lonnie is gone, he will never be forgotten as his legacy will live on in stories and future FHS Hall of Fame ceremonies.  His accomplishments will serve as inspiration for many young people in the years to come.

The Shelton family wishes to thank all those who have sent cards, flowers, emails and kind words. They are most appreciative for the role the FHS Hall of Fame played in honoring Lonnie. Our sincere condolences to them, and thank you for sharing this wonderful man with us. Rest in peace Lonnie.