Archive for Friday, June 17, 2005

Woodling: Hall just another museum

June 17, 2005


Nomads all over the world need not shed a tear. One of their signature showcases -- the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame -- soon will build a home.

After all, the shrine -- which contains the names of just about every Kansan who gained fame in the sports world -- has established permanent residency before.

Kansans no doubt are proud of such luminaries as Jim Ryun, Gale Sayers, Adolph Rupp, Lynette Woodard, Barry Sanders and nearly 100 others, but Sunflower Staters lump the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in the same category as the Leavenworth penitentiary.

Both places fill a need, but neither is a place you necessarily want to visit.

At least the Leavenworth pen is funded by the federal government. The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame always has had a hand out.

When the Kansas Centennial Commission proposed the idea of a shrine in 1961, the state legislature was so taken with the idea that it agreed to fund a magnanimous $500 for the annual upkeep.

And so the Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame -- its original name -- languished at the Topeka Fairgrounds until a group of Douglas County citizens lured the shrine to Lawrence in 1972.

What memorabilia existed at the time was dumped into the ground level of the Watkins Community Museum of History. Finally, nine years later, displays were completed and the Hall opened with triumphant fanfare. In another nine years, however, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame was in Abilene.

Local ties

Members of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame with Lawrence, Kansas University and Haskell Indian Nations University ties: Phog Allen, Jim Bausch, Charlie Black, B.H. Born, Wilt Chamberlain, Nolan Cromwell, Glenn Cunningham, Bill Easton, Ray Evans, Max Falkenstien, John Hadl, Ralph Houk, Bert Kennedy, John Levi, Ad Lindsey, Dutch Lonborg, Clyde Lovellette, Danny Manning, Mike McCormack, John McLendon, Curtis McClinton, Pete Mehringer, Ralph Miller, Billy Mills, James Naismith, Bill Nieder, Al Oerter, John Outland, E.C. Quigley, John Riggins, Adolph Rupp, Jim Ryun, Wes Santee, Gale Sayers, Elmer Schaake, Otto Schnellbacher, Dean Smith, Marilynn Smith, Bob Timmons, Darnell Valentine, Rabbit Weller, Jo Jo White, Jess Willard, Lynette Woodard, Al Woolard.

As you can imagine, many Kansas State and Wichita State alums and boosters weren't thrilled the shrine was located in Lawrence. But that isn't why it left. You would also be correct if you assumed the shrine wasn't heavily patronized while in the Watkins Museum. But that isn't why it is no longer here.

Fact is, the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame was kicked out of Watkins Museum by its owners, the Douglas County Historical Society, on the recommendation of an evaluation done by the American Association of Museums.

The Hall of Fame, the AAM report concluded, "occupies valuable exhibit space ... and could be used more productively." Moreover, the AAM evaluation described the sports shrine exhibits as "static, outdated and overbuilt."

I visited the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame a handful of times in the Watkins Museum and, in my opinion, the exhibits indeed were static, outdated and overbuilt, but isn't that the case with all museums?

Worse, the recommendation that the area could be used more productively rings hollow today. I visited the Watkins Museum this week and found the space that "could be used more productively" is now vacant. That's right. Empty.

For several years, the museum displayed tributes to Phog Allen and James Naismith in the old shrine space, but those informational boards have been moved to the third floor.

I'm not blaming the Douglas County Historical Society. They had their agenda. Eventually, political pressure would have forced the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame out of Lawrence anyway. And Abilene looked like a perfect site with its other museums -- greyhounds, telephones, Ike -- and its lack of a major university.

Still, museums are museums and, unless they offer unique centerpieces or pique curiosity with revolving attractions, they aren't going to draw flies. Thus the sports shrine lasted just a dozen years in the Sunflower State's city of museums.

Now the vagabond Hall of Fame has shifted to Wichita where, its trustees hope, the state's largest city will nurture and support it. But you have to wonder.

Wichita is known for airplane manufacturing, but the city also boasts other major businesses -- like Koch Industries -- as well as many entrepreneurs. When the shrine trustees launched a $1.2 million fund drive to finance a contemporary showcase for the best and brightest in state sports, it was a bit of a shocker when two-thirds of that bill was footed by a businessman from Missouri.

That's hardly the equivalent of, say, Norm Stewart coughing up most of the dough for a James Naismith statue, but assuredly additional proof the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame still is a Sunflower State stepchild.

Kansas Sports Hall of Fame timeline

1961 - Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame founded as part of the Kansas Centennial celebration. State legislature approves $500 for annual budget. 1972 - Walter Cragan, a Douglas County commissioner, is instrumental in moving shrine from Topeka Fairgrounds to Lawrence's Elizabeth M. Watkins Museum. 1976 - John Hadl, Gale Sayers and Al Oerter inducted during gala celebration in Kansas Union ballroom. 1981 - With all displays finally completed, the Hall formally opens on ground floor of Watkins Museum. 1986 - Legislature orders regents schools to add 25-cent surcharge on all tickets sold during 1987-88 school year to help fund Hall. 1988 - Gov. Mike Hayden announces the surcharge raised $212,000. 1989 - Douglas County Historical Society asks board of trustees to move, saying it needs the exhibit space in Watkins Museum. 1990 - Abilene outbids Hutchinson, Salina and Emporia to become new site. Name shortened to Kansas Sports Hall of Fame. 1992 - All regents schools agree to a $1 ticket surcharge to help fund expanded Hall in Abilene. 1997 - Koch Industries pledges $500,000 to build an interactive theater in a renovated Abilene bank building. Wilt Chamberlain and Jo Jo White among inductees during dedication ceremonies of new home. 2002 - Citing low attendance, Hall of Fame trustees decide to leave Abilene and move to state's largest city. Displays transported to vacant building in Old Town area of Wichita. 2005 - Trustees announce Missouri hotelier John Q. Hammons has donated $800,000 to cap a $1.2 million fund drive. New Hall with galleries, showcases, interactive kiosks, a theater and a gift shop scheduled to open in fall.


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