By Ron Pesch
MUSKEGON–The fourth incarnation of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame (MASHF) is getting ready to launch.
Four 65-inch media screens, new memorabilia cases, and a centralized location in the renovated and reimagined Mercy Health Arena will all be features of the new hall. Portions of the new design were unveiled on January 22, 2022, in conjunction with a Muskegon Lumberjacks game in Downtown Muskegon.
“The Wall of Plaques and Biographies that previously occupied a long concourse wall at the L.C. Walker Arena had simply become crowded and unmanageable,” said Mike Mack, president of the Hall of Fame. “We were simply running out of space. It was time for a change – to rethink how best to tell the stories.”
Honoring Our Sports Heroes and Legends
The idea to honor the Muskegon area’s amazing array of sports heroes was the brainchild of Muskegon Chronicle editor and publisher, Gary Ostrom, and longtime sportswriter and the Hall’s first president, Dick Hedges.
With an introductory class of honorees totaling seven, some 35 years later, the hall has since grown to recognize the athletic accomplishment of over 130 inductees and 21 teams. In 1991, the Hall’s Board of Directors created a Distinguished Service Award, designed to honor community members who worked off the field of play to ensure athletic opportunities survived and thrived in the area. To date, nearly 40 individuals have been so honored. In 1996, awards honoring the top male and female prep scholar-athletes were added to the mix. Since then, another 52 of the area’s finest have been singled out among their peers.
Properly recognizing such a wide-ranging array of achievements has, and always will, present challenges. In 2006, the hall of fame launched a website to detail the successes of their inductees and highlight the happenings of the organization. The latest rendition of the hall will work to address those same matters in new and creative ways.
Initially, exhibits for the Hall went on display at the Muskegon County Museum, today known as the Lakeshore Museum Center. After 11 years and two different physical locations at that facility, the Hall of Fame had outgrown its space. Under the guidance of Hedges successor, Gene Young, plans were announced to move to the L.C. Walker Arena in 1997. New showcases and displays were designed to house the organization’s constantly growing collection of images, artifacts, and memorabilia.
Those cases served the organization well. Now it’s time to inject more technology into relaying the area’s incredible sports history.
Catchmark Technologies is partnering with the Hall to assist in the process. Andrea Reigler, Senior Project Architect at SEH Inc. and a member of the Hall of Fame board of directors is working on the physical design and layout for the hall’s displays. The City of Muskegon, owners of the arena, Dan Israel, who purchased the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2015 and today remains part-owner, and Andrea Rose, president of Business Operations, are working to provide the space. The area’s media outlets continue to spread the word about what Young always called, ‘Muskegon’s best-kept secret.’
A New Era
In previous years, an annual induction dinner was hosted downtown at the Hilton/Holiday Inn. For a single year, the event moved to the Walker Arena Annex, then in 2010, relocated to the Muskegon Country Club. In 2021, fittingly, the gathering moved back downtown. This past June, for the first time the affair was hosted in the arena itself, taking full advantage of the refreshed space and the large video boards contained within. Inductees were able to enjoy use of the arena’s party decks and expansive space.
“We had hoped that our displays would have been ready before the induction ceremony,” added Mack. “With COVID, construction of the Convention Center, and continuing modifications at the arena, it was not to be. But, things will be ready this year. Won’t it be nice for the Class of 2022 to be able to see the site of the hall?”
A Dream Realized
Spanning a region that runs south to Grand Haven, north to the Oceana/Mason County line, and east to Newaygo and Kent City, the area continues to produce incredible talent. The public still suggests names from the past for consideration. All funnel to a list of possible candidates for induction, maintained by the board of directors. Each August, the list is mined as board members assemble biographies and present candidates for a ballot. Late in the year, the latest round of honored members, and a Distinguished Service Award winner, are named. To be elected, a nominee must receive a two-thirds vote of the directors. In May, a subcommittee distills down a list of male and female nominees from the area high schools into a pair of MASHF top 5 scholar-athletes. From there, they select a winner from each of the lists of finalists.
Since the creation of the Hall, 48 men and women have served on the hall’s Board of Directors. Over the years, three individuals have served as president. Hedges served from the start until he passed away in 1994. Young joined the board in its second year of existence, and then was named president to replace Hedges. He served until his passing in 2018. Mack, added to the board of directors in 2001, subsequently stepped in to guide the organization.
“Each year, I continue to be blown away by the teams and the individuals this area produces,” added Mack. “Year in and year out, the board does an amazing job identifying an outstanding group of people to be honored.”
Photos below are courtesy of Ron Pesch