The idea for the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame began when Luke LaPorta, former Liverpool High athletic director, Little League national executive and Syracuse University fundraiser, was asked to speak in Rome, NY. While there, he visited their local Sports Hall of Fame and thought, 'why don't we have something like this in Syracuse?' He was determined to find a way to recognize and pay tribute to Central New Yorkers who have made significant contributions to the world of sports.
In November 1980, Luke gathered a group of business leaders with a shared passion for sports, to discuss his idea to honor our community's sports heroes and role models of the past and present. Those business/sports leaders were: Bill Dutch, Hal McGrath, and the late Tex Simone and the late John Cowmeadow. They all jumped enthusiastically on board and began developing the by-laws, eligibility requirements, and build the board of directors. They recruited and have maintained a 35-member all-volunteer board ever since. Among those initially solicited were researcher/historian Ron Gersbacher, who ultimately provided board members with data on each nominee. Also recruited to the original board was advertising executive Bill LeMon who used his skills, talent and marketing expertise to bring awareness and support for the non-profit organization, and who was instrumental in helping it grow into what it is today.
With so many outstanding athletes to choose from in Central New York, the original board finally selected the first class in 1987 and on September 28, 1987, the first Hall of Fame induction dinner was held at the Drumlins Country Club. The initial class was selected from a list of 94 submitted nominees. They included: Marty Piriano, Dolph Schayes, Ben Schwartzwalder, Paul Seymour, Roy Simmons, Sr., Ginnie Allen, Carmen Basilio, Danny Biasone, Arthur “Babe” Cranfield, Vic Hanson.
Over 700 people attended the first dinner proving that LaPorta's hunch was right on target--Syracuse, New York is indeed a major sports hub and a mecca for generations of sports greats and fans.
Today the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame has over 240 members and has a temporary museum at Driver's Village in Cicero where memorabilia that has been donated over the past 30 years by family members of the inductees to the Hall of Fame is exhibited. The displays were first located at the Onondaga Historical Association, but as the years passed and the donations continued, the displays had to be moved into larger spaces, which included the airport, the old Hotel Syracuse, the downtown library and M&T Bank.
Locating a permanent headquarters for the Hall of Fame museum has and will always be a major agenda item for the Hall of Fame Committee. Money for the operation and expansion of the shrine is raised through corporate sponsorship of the inductees, from proceeds of the annual induction dinner and from personal and corporate gifts.
In 2000, Bill Dutch, the organization's first president, arranged for a local architect to draw up plans for a museum to be located just outside what is now known as NBT Stadium. Then Onondaga County Executive Nick Pirro agreed to donate the land, however, the Board couldn't raise enough money to make the building a reality, therefore plans were put on hold.
The dream, however, lives on.
First Annual Greater Syracuse Hall of Fame Dinner, 1987
Architectural drawing by Omega Design Architecture, P.C.
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