By Eric Heinz and Zach Cavanagh
Wheelchair tennis pioneer Brad Parks and former NFL lineman Brian de la Puente were inducted into the San Clemente Sports Wall of Fame in a ceremony at the Vista Hermosa Aquatics Center on Saturday, May 19.
Parks and de la Puente were chosen as the Wall’s 21st and 22nd inductees by the Friends of San Clemente Foundation in coordination with the San Clemente Sports Wall of Fame Committee for their unique athletic achievements.
John Dorey, a commissioner on the Beaches, Parks and Recreation Commission, emceed the event.
Parks petitioned for wheelchair tennis to become an accepted sport. He started the sport following a skiing accident that left him paralyzed in a time when the Americans with Disabilities Act was decades from being established.
After experimenting with tennis for therapy, Parks created the wheelchair sport in 1976. With the first wheelchair tennis tournaments held in 1977, Parks founded the National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis as the sport’s organizing body.
Parks is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame and won 13 total US Open singles and doubles titles and gold in the Paralympics.
He was joined by his family during the event.
“We feel very blessed to be part of this community,” Parks said. “My parents…got me into wheelchair tennis and really encouraged me. The family activities here in San Clemente are so special, and I’m so blessed to be a part of that.
“Looking up here (at the Wall of Fame), it’s pretty neat. I’m very honored and I appreciate this honor.”
Parks mentioned people giving acceptance speeches where they thank their team, but he said when he was playing tennis, the team he had behind him was his family and his wife, who encouraged him to move to San Clemente in the first place.
De la Puente went through an agonizing process of uncertainty during his time in the NFL. He bounced around teams for years on the practice squad and back ranks until finding a starting position, ultimately achieving some success in the playoffs.
“I was cut that many times?” de la Puente jested after Dorey finished describing his career.
After graduating from San Clemente and the University of California, Berkeley, de la Puente embarked on a nine-year NFL career.
His greatest success came during four seasons with the New Orleans Saints. De la Puente blocked for a record-setting passing yard season for Drew Brees and earned the 2011 award as part of the NFL’s best offensive line. He also spent time with the San Francisco 49ers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins.
He retired at age 30 to raise a family and become a firefighter, following in the footsteps of his father. De la Puente’s children were in attendance to see him receive the award.
“San Clemente is truly a special place, and it’s an honor to stand in front of your guys,” de la Puente said. “I didn’t really know what a special place this was at the time. You don’t really realize it until you have kids of your own. I looked up to these guys (on the Wall of Fame). Hopefully I, too, can serve as an example that with a little hard work and some perseverance, you can achieve your dreams. Thank you guys for coming, this is a pretty cool deal.”
The San Clemente Sports Wall of Fame was founded in 2013.
All 22 honorees’ names can be found on poolside tiles at the Vista Hermosa Aquatics Center.
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