No small fete, starting our Hall of Fame
Author: Kevin Mulligan
Two years of work on more levels than Liberty Place has floors produced the realization of a dream this week when the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame Foundation inducted its charter class at a wonderful dinner/fund-raiser at the Sheraton Society Hill
Thanks to founder Ken Avallon and friends, we finally have our own hall of fame started in first-class fashion. Someday, hopefully, city, state and private support can lead to a state-of-the-art museum that would be a must-see tourist attraction. As one who tried working toward a basketball hall of fame, we know the undertaking is immense. But judging from the first steps, it is just a matter of time. Approximately 300 attended Monday's fabulous night that also officially launched the Hall of Fame Foundation's commitment to community-based youth programs, sending deserving students to college, internships for college students and more.
"I kind of viewed it as a rite of passage," Avallon said. "We were a group of fans with an idea, and now, after Monday night, it's not just a private group of fans anymore. We're a public entity that people know about, and we're looking to fulfill our mission based on that. The response has been tremendous."
Heading the large first class of inductees were perhaps the three most legendary sports figures in city history - Connie Mack, Bert Bell and Wilt Chamberlain.
"It's one of the greatest honors I've had," said legendary Eagles running back Steve Van Buren.
Said Phillies all-timer Robin Roberts: "I've been fortunate to be voted into different groups, but nothing has pleased me more than this tonight, because I grew up here. This means the world to me."
Working the room Pat Williams, the ex-76ers general manager now with the Orlando Magic, kept the hall of fame evening moving as emcee, opening with praise for the Philadelphia sports fan: "You've established a reputation second to none in this country...you are more famous than anything that happens athletically in the city. The reason is, for some reason, you came out of your mother's womb with your mouth shaped in the form of a 'boo.' "Seconds later, at Williams' urging, came the night's official, good-natured welcome from the audience: Booooooo...
Roberts, on Chuck Bednarik: "I can still see him sitting on Jimmy Taylor"...One of the good lines of the night was Roberts "recalling" first meeting teammate Richie Ashburn, who became his roommate: "I went up to him and said, 'I'll meet you in Cooperstown,' "...Ruth Mack Clark, 89, accepted for her late father and read a moving letter once sent to Mack by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “I always feel Dad's presence on nights like this," she said... Chamberlain's sisters, Margaret and Selina, attended on his behalf...Mayor Street pledged to put the sports hall of fame "right at the top" of his list "to make sure this thing happens...in the next 4 years." Street, upon learning of Julius Erving's absence, said: "Is he down there getting ready to put a uniform on?" (No response). "That's my one attempt at humor, folks. I tried"...Lifetime Commitment honoree Sonny Hill, on Bednarik's toughness:
"I'll take him today over Ray Lewis. He can come anywhere with me. Chuck will take care of business." At age 78, too!...
Daily News legend Stan Hochman (who introduced Joe Frazier), on Hill saying he cried when Roberts' Whiz Kids lost the 1950 World Series: "Of course he cried, he was 2 years old and 2-year-olds cry all the time"...Williams, in accepting for Erving, told the story of going to owner Fitz Dixon's Lafayette Hill estate with the notion of signing Erving, then with the New Jersey Nets of the old ABA. Dixon's response: "Who is Julius Erving?" Upon learning about the Doctor, Dixon told Williams: "Go get it done." A Philly legend began...The Big 5 showed huge support, with Villanova (athletic director Vince Nicastro, former players Ed Pinckney, Harold Jensen and Whitey Rigsby) showing up in support of inductee Paul Arizin. La Salle High School had a table in support of famous inductee alums Tom Gola, Jack Kelly Jr. and Arizin.