While sipping a morning coffee while paging through The Philadelphia Inquirer sports section on Friday, May 17, 2002, Ken Avallon looked for his normal fix of Morning Bytes, the often-irreverent musings and observations of Frank Fitzpatrick. As usual, Fitzpatrick’s weekly witticisms were rather inclusive with references to Philadelphia’s mostly moribund sporting past, over-priced stadium beer, boorish fans, the Flyers and the WWF.
To Ken, however, the final segment was much more than the softly sarcastic observations customary to Morning Bytes:
|Friday May 17, 2002
Morning Bytes by Frank Fitzpatrick
How about a Hall? Why doesn't this city have a Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame?
There's a Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. A Delaware Afro-American Hall of Fame. A Rowan-Glassboro State Hall of Fame. A PhansOnline.Com Hall of Fame. And a Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame that is filled with long-forgotten gym teachers and semi-pro baseball players. Think of the people a Hall could highlight: Wilt Chamberlain. Connie Mack. Steve Van Buren. Julius Erving. Mike Schmidt. Eddie Gottlieb. Jimmie Foxx. Willie Mosconi. Bill Tilden. Joe Frazier. Think of the places: Shibe Park. Merion Golf Club. Germantown Cricket Club. The Palestra. Franklin Field.
Think of the events: Dempsey-Tunney. Bobby Jones' Grand Slam. Russell-Chamberlain. The 1929 World Series.
So why not a Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame? Stick it in that old spaceship building the convention bureau once occupied behind City Hall, or in some empty Chestnut Street storefront. Give all those out-of-towners in downtown hotels another entertainment option. And give Philadelphians a means to remember the city's sporting past.
Fitzpatrick probably never realized the affect these few paragraphs would have. However, from this brief article, the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame was born. Registered as a Pennsylvania nonprofit corporation a few days later, the organization spent the following year in its due diligence phase, out of the public eye, slowly building its foundation.
This included recruiting like-minded individuals, drafting a constitution and bylaws, establishing federal 501(c) (3) nonprofit status, and developing concepts for community programs. Other steps included membership in relevant organizations such as the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, the Maxwell Club and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums.
Throughout this time local sportswriters, announcers, broadcasters, athletic directors, authors, coaches and athletes were recruited for the Advisory Panel or simply as support advocates. This group was instrumental in the early going, providing much-needed support and publicity beginning in June 2003. In addition, they were pivotal in lending credibility to the Foundation as they were instrumental in the process of selecting the Charter Class. Though somewhat lost in the bright lights of the opening of a new football stadium, the announcement of the Charter Class garnered a terrific response from the public when announced in September 2003.
The culmination of those first steps was the Charter Class Induction Ceremony, February 9, 2004, kicked off by Governor Ed Rendell, emceed by Pat Williams and attended by new Inductees Chuck Bednarik, Robin Roberts, Steve Van Buren, Joe Frazier, Harry Kalas, Sonny Hill and the late Paul Arizin along with relatives of Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Mack, Richie Ashburn, Jimmie Foxx, Bert Bell and Bill Tilden.
The passionate volunteer staff, now armed with the credibility provided by such a tremendous inaugural event, continued setting and achieving, what at the time should have been almost impossible goals. Since then each Induction Ceremony has improved with substantial increases in attendance and stature. The 2nd Induction featured 480 people, highlighted by the appearance of Charles Barkley. Class III garnered almost 600 attendees with the 1960 NFL Champion Eagles as a major draw. 2007’s Class IV Induction showed the national reach of the Hall with support from the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL Players Association, Green Bay Packers, New York Knicks, Washington Wizards, Tampa Bay Lightning, University of Tennessee, Penn State University and the University of Illinois.