City could hit home run with sports hall of fame
By Ken Prendergast
In a city already rich with cultural attractions, Cleveland could soon add another to celebrate sports legends. But a team of supporters coming together with the goal of building an African American Sports Hall of Fame and Museum doesn't simply want to create another attraction. They said they want a venue that also motivates young people to excel in life.
Hall of fame founder and Warrensville Heights native Lamont Robinson says the facility should do more than celebrate sporting legends' records of accomplishment on the field or court. It would also hail African American athletes for their accomplishments in their communities and across the nation.
"The story needs to be told," said Robinson. "A lot of the young kids today need to know about these athletes. They need to find out whose jersey number they're wearing. We're standing on the shoulders of these great athletes."
Cleveland was fortunate to have a number of African American athletes who fought great odds merely to play on the same fields as white athletes. Ultimately, their successes were enjoyed by Americans of all backgrounds.
During the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Adolf Hitler's so-called master race couldn't master Clevelander Jesse Owens in track and field. He won four gold medals and proved the Nazi's racist ideology was false.
In 1946, fullback Marion Motley helped desegregate professional football by joining the Cleveland Browns. The next year, Cleveland Indian Larry Doby broke the color barrier in baseball's American League. And, Satchel Paige, often considered the greatest pitcher in the Negro Leagues, joined the Indians a year after Doby. Both men helped the team win the 1948 World Series.
"It just makes sense to have it here," Robinson said. "There's a lot of history here. I've been thinking about it (the hall of fame) for a couple years now."
Robinson, who earned the nickname "Showboat" while playing professional basketball in the United States and Europe, is chief executive officer of the Harlem Road Kings. The touring basketball team combines comedy with life lessons to young people, emphasizing how important it is for kids to choose life, education and family over drugs, alcohol and gangs.
If built, Cleveland wouldn't have the only hall of fame celebrating African American sporting legends, however. There are the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., an African American-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame in Oakland, Calif., and the International African American Sports Hall of Fame, in Detroit. But none is considered a national hall of fame for African American athletes.
Seven potential sites in downtown Cleveland and the near-east side are being evaluated by BMS Planning Consultants for the hall of fame. A 200,000-square-foot facility could include a museum, learning center, theater, gift shop, juice bar, sports bar, plus athletic facilities and possibly even a youth hostel.
Les Wolff, chief executive officer of Philadelphia-based Smart Marketing Group which is developing the hall of fame's marketing campaign, said he has received interest from another Midwestern city in landing the hall of fame. But he declined to identify the city and said Cleveland was the hall of fame's first choice.
In the spirit of full disclosure, three friends and I are responsible for the planning study and will continue working on the project until it is ready to go to bid for design, engineering and construction.
There have been a a couple of changes already since this article was published.
I can say that none of the sites mentioned in the study are likely to be in the running. A new site will be the focus of the next phase.
More on that as details develop.
A draft copy of the planning study is available here.
Here are some renderings I made.