Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2007

Home grown

Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita shows state at its best

July 5, 2007

Many people consider the arrival of summer a long-awaited and welcome occasion: a chance for rest, relaxation and sunny weather. But for sports fanatics, summer in Kansas is nothing to look forward to.

June is devoid of Friday night football and the madness of the NCAA basketball tournament. July leaves fans of college football counting the weeks, days, hours and minutes until their favorite teams take the field. The August heat is sweltering enough to take a simple round of golf out of the question.

Though summer is slow for sports fans, the downtime can provide an opportunity to brush up on history and relive some great moments. The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, located two-and-a-half hours southwest of Eudora in Wichita, offers plenty of artifacts to quench enthusiasts' thirst for sports.

"We have everything from Olympic gold medals to game-worn jerseys and trophies," Hall of Fame executive director Ted Hayes said. "This is a place where sports fans can come and remember things from their past they might have experienced as a fan or even a participant."

In its 46 years of existence, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame has collected plenty of medals, jerseys and trophies. But the museum contains much more than that.

The two-story structure located in downtown Wichita includes sections dedicated to golf, track, volleyball, softball and the Olympics in addition to more mainstream sports like basketball, football and baseball. Accomplished high school athletes are recognized next to Kansans who ascended to the highest ranks of professional competition.

"Sports are a large part of our society, especially in Kansas," Hayes said. "Whether it's going to a ballgame in a small town, a Kansas basketball game or a Kansas State football game. It's just what people love to do."

Although the exhibits prominently feature some of the biggest names in Kansas sports history, less renowned athletes are also recognized.

WNBA stars who once called Kansas home like Jackie Stiles and Nicole Ohlde receive as much recognition as male counterparts Mitch Richmond and Danny Manning.

Authentic artifacts from the careers of legendary Kansans Walter Johnson and Ralph Houk hang just several feet from those of less celebrated baseball players Pat Meares and Darren Dreifort.

One of Hayes' favorite pieces of the collection is a baseball autographed by Walter Johnson. The Humboldt native originally signed the ball in 1938 and handed it to a young girl. The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame came across a picture published by The Washington Post of Johnson handing the ball to the same girl who later donated the artifact. Hayes said that story and others like it are what make the hall of fame special.

In addition to its collection of artifacts, the museum houses plaques honoring each of the 139 members who have been inducted since 1961.

Included in that select group are many athletes and coaches who starred at either Kansas University or Kansas State University. Dr. James Naismith and running back Gale Sayers are two notable Jayhawks enshrined in the hall, and famous Wildcat inductees include three-sport star Elden Auker and basketball coach Jack Hartman.

The hall of fame recently added 14 athletes to its ranks in 2006, including former Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder. An induction ceremony will take place Oct. 21 in honor of the 2007 class. Hall of fame officials have not yet made public the names of this year's inductees, but an announcement will be made soon.

Although things are looking up in the foreseeable future, the hall of fame's financial situation has not always been rosy.

Although the state of Kansas originally founded the hall in 1961, it has been hesitant to provide funding in recent years. Since the operation moved to Wichita almost two years ago it has been engaged in a constant struggle to stay afloat.

"The main hurdle we have had to overcome is convincing the legislators that they created this, so they need to help fund it," Hayes said. "We've survived for nearly 50 years without state funding so we have an obvious track record that says there is interest in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame."

As recently as this spring, the future of the museum was in serious doubt. But in May the state legislature agreed to provide $250,000 if the hall could bring in the same amount of private funding. The state's support does not guarantee the hall of fame will remain open permanently, but it does ensure the hall will be able to add to its number of inductees this October. Hayes said meeting the state's funding requirement would not be a problem.

Visitor James Colburn said he thought Kansans miss out on a great experience when they decide not to stop by the museum.

"This place is great," Colburn said. "There is just so much amazing stuff from Kansas. It's surprising how many people are connected to the state."

Tailgate parties and NCAA Tournament brackets may still be a few months away, but in the meantime, there is plenty to keep sports fans busy at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.

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