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Creating a Hall of Fame Provides Opportunity to Treasure School’s History

By Tim Leighton on January 14, 2020 hst Print

Step into any high school gathering space and you are sure to be enveloped in history. Banners, plaques, trophies, and in recent years, jumbo video screens are tributes to athletic, coaching and administrative excellence.

Who hasn’t stopped along hallways near an athletic entrance, craning their necks, and shaking in amazement at the accomplishments and contributions of that school’s past heroes?

These tributes come in various forms and are referred to in different ways, however, most are commonly known as halls of fame. Most will agree that inductees in these recognitions are a select group, and schools and organizations take pride in that treasured heritage.

“When we start on our journey in education, coaching and administration, does an individual look to get into a hall of fame? No, not at all,” said Harry Kitts of St. Paul, Minnesota, a 2017 inductee into the Minnesota State High School League’s Hall of Fame. “To even be considered for that kind of recognition is humbling. Am I appreciative of that recognition? Absolutely. It is a powerful, tremendous honor.”

For schools pondering the creation of a hall of fame or some other kind of recognition, what is the process? How do schools and organizations fill those halls of fame? What are the steps to creating a hall of fame that are long-lasting, honor individuals for excellence and create a connection that makes history come to life?

Creating a Vision

Envisioning what a hall of fame represents and what it would look like is a common starting point for groups that are interested in creating a recognition program. Who are those groups? The concept of a hall of fame or other recognition program can be a concept presented by a school administrator, alumni group or a booster club.

In 1982, the National High School Hall of Fame was founded by the National Federation of State High School Associations “to honor high school athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and others.”

When two Minnesota pioneers – boys ice hockey sensation John Mayasich and girls basketball standout Janet Karvonen – were selected for induction into the national hall of fame in 1986, the Minnesota State High School League formed the vision of creating its own hall of fame.

“Given the nature of Minnesota’s prominent role as a leader in education-based athletic and fine arts activities, we talked about how we could honor those longtime leaders in our Minnesota schools and school communities,” former MSHSL Executive Director Dave Stead said. “The development of the MSHSL Hall of Fame was a natural way to do so.”

Today, about 30 of the 51 state high school associations have a hall of fame.

Ownership and Selection

When the concept of a hall of fame or recognition program is identified, two key questions immediately arise:

  • Who will take ownership of the program? Is it an athletics or activities administrator? Is it an alumni group or a booster club? Most will agree that an athletics or activities administrator must play a pivotal role in the school taking ownership of this program and how the hall of fame will function.
  • How will individuals be selected? The natural first reaction is often to form a selection-committee system to identify, nominate and review candidates. The national hall of fame uses a multi-level process to select individuals for induction into its hallowed halls. That model is followed by some state associations as well. In recent years, the Minnesota State High School League expanded its nomination and selection process to include input from Minnesota sportswriters and broadcasters that assisted League staff in identifying potential hall of fame candidates that may not have been nominated through traditional means.

Through discussions with the selection committee, especially with the initial group, it is important do identify what groups will be represented in your hall of fame or recognition program.

One key clarifying factor will be to determine if the selections are based on what the individual accomplished at the high school level or beyond. In many instances across the nation, student-athletes that didn’t have standout careers in high school, have blossomed into stars at the college, international and professional levels.

Create a Bench

It is important to develop a pool of nominees so that you can have annual recognition. Limiting the number of inductees annually will ensure you have individuals for years to come.

Creating a balance of athletes, coaches, administrators, fine arts participants and community contributors will ensure that your hall of fame or recognition program is well received by all facets of the school community.

It’s Showtime!

During your visioning process, you no doubt will have an image of how your school wants to recognize the individuals.

Here are questions to ponder:

  • Will it be at the halftime of a football game or basketball game?
  • Will the recognition be part of a bigger all-school event?
  • Will the recognition be held in the school’s cafeteria?
  • What will you present to the inductees? A plaque, a medal?
  • Will you permit your recipients to address the crowd with thank yous?
  • Will past honorees be invited to participate?

Lisa Lissimore, a longtime Minnesota State High School League associate director, oversees the MSHSL’s Hall of Fame programming and also serves on the NFHS Hall of Fame Screening Committee.

“Recognition has been, and always will be, the centerpiece of everything we do at the Minnesota State High School League,” she said. “The Hall of Fame program provides state associations the opportunity to continue this tradition, and at the same time, to preserve its history, and tell its story.”