The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame has fallen on hard times once again. The Kansas Legislature created the sports hall in 1961 as part of the state's centennial celebration, but it never fully funded the venture. For many years, the hall was housed in the Watkins Community Museum of History here in Lawrence. In search of bigger and better things, it moved in the early 1990s to Abilene, where it also struggled, and was forced to close in 2002.
Trustees for the hall considered various options but were attracted to Wichita by the offer of a 25,680-square-foot building in the city's Old Town section. The city of Wichita issued bonds in 2002 to purchase the building, and the move was made.
The museum was able to attract about $2.5 million in private donations while in Wichita, but it failed to attract the hoped-for crowds and the cost of operating such a large building proved daunting. Last week, after the museum failed to make a $97,500 lease payment to the city, the Wichita City Council voted to evict the hall and put the building on the market.
You can't really blame the council; the hall was more of a burden than the city could absorb, especially when there was no improvement in sight for the hall's financial condition. In 2007, Kansas legislators came up with $250,000 in matching funds for the hall, but no funding was received this year, and, given the current financial crunch facing the state, prospects for additional funding next year seem slim.
In an effort to save the hall when it was in Abilene, supporters worked with state legislators on a bill that would have added a $1 surcharge on tickets to one football game, one men's basketball game and one women's basketball game each season at each of the state's universities, community colleges and Washburn University. The bill failed, at least in part, because it also included a 50-cent per-ticket charge on state high school championship games in football, volleyball and basketball.
Objections to adding to the cost of high school tickets probably were justified, but with the amount of money being spent on college athletics, especially at Kansas University and Kansas State University, it seems there might be at least a little money to spare for the state hall of fame. A great many of the athletes inducted into the hall were connected with college athletics in Kansas, and supporting the hall would be another way to honor their accomplishments.
Maybe Kansas doesn't need a sports hall of fame. Given the repeated failures to sustain the hall, it's apparent that organizers need to rethink the museum's scope and mission, as well as the financing. A ticket surcharge or some other support from state universities and community colleges is a possibility that seems worthy of consideration.