Willie Pless is the career leading tackler at Kansas, and he was a standout linebacker in the Canadian Football League for 14 seasons before retiring in 1999. He has delivered plenty of punishment.
Quarterbacks and running backs in the Big 8 and CFL were the misfortunate ones who experienced the treatment Pless endured as the youngest of four brothers growing up in Alabama.
"I knew that as soon as (their mother) got out of the driveway that someone was going to get beat up," Pless said. "Nine times out of 10, it was going to be me."
Pless was part of an 11-person class inducted Sunday afternoon into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame at the Wichita Boathouse. He joined Lisa Carey, Tara Nott Cunningham, Anna Seaton Huntington, Grier Jones, Steve Renko, Ray Sadecki and Joan Wells. Richard Quick, Gerald Tucker and "Smoky" Joe Wood were inducted posthumously."
Pless showed a softer side during his induction speech, attributing his ability to express emotion to his father, who passed away last December.
"He taught me that it was OK to cry, and obviously I'm pretty good at it," Pless said.
Pless began crying almost immediately after he walked to the podium, and his large family — in attendance were his wife, children and several in-laws — was the focus of his message.
"I used to be a man of steel emotionally," Pless said. "But when you have three daughters, you start crying about cartoons."
Sunday was a day for daughters, as Carey, Cunninghamm, Huntington and Wells represented the largest group of women in the KSHOF's 25 years of inductions. Twice, three women have entered the KSHOF — 2006 and 2007.
Huntington credited Title IX for her excellence in rowing, which she competed in at Harvard after graduating from Manhattan High in 1982.
"Without it, I would have been stuck on the sidelines," Huntington said. "(Sunday's female inductees) were among the first to benefit from its sweeping changes."
The four women were also the first KSHOF inductees from their respective sports — Carey was an All-American softball player at Oklahoma, Cunningham won an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting in 2000 and Wells won 15 state volleyball championships in 27 seasons at Lawrence High.
Like Wells, Renko was a multi-sport standout at KU. Renko competed at KC Wyandotte before starring in basketball, football and baseball at KU. After reaching the major leagues as a right-handed pitcher in 1965, Renko confused many baseball reporters by telling them his most memorable experience was sharing the backfield at KU with Gale Sayers.
"They said, 'That doesn't have anything to do with baseball,' " Renko said. "(I said), 'Well, no, it doesn't. But it's my greatest thrill in sports.' "