The preservation and promotion of a high school’s athletics history and tradition is of the utmost importance for any athletic administrator. That dual mission may seem obvious enough, but utilizing school resources for hall of fame nights and special recognition for championship teams of yesteryear takes a great deal of preparation.
Each high school is unique, but sometimes athletics hall of fame members can often be the best financial donors. That means aiming to put the school’s best foot forward on an induction evening.
“The entire night is set around making people feel welcome and appreciated,” says West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West High School athletic director Scott Kaufman. “You need to have someone who greets them immediately and to roll out the red carpet for them.”
Preparation for a hall of fame night often begins several months in advance of the actual induction ceremony. That begins with organization and details.
“I have always felt a hall of fame committee is critical,” says Cincinnati (Ohio) Sycamore High School athletic director Phil Poggi. “There are a lot of moving parts to this and the more assistance an AD has the better the night will be, especially considering our daily workload.”
Athletic departments need to have a thorough process in place for selecting new members. There also needs to be communication to inductees and their family members and interested parties, according
to Cincinnati (Ohio) Oak Hills High School athletic director Tony Hemmelgarn.
“Hall of Fame inductions are important because they connect the past with the present,” says Hemmelgarn. “They serve to recognize the best of the best and give current kids and families a blueprint for success.”
The selection committee may consist of a variety of individuals but can include current hall of fame members, retired athletic directors, sports information directors, retired booster presidents, coaches, community members and even media members.
Recognizing a variety of athletic eras should be a focus too. Making a checklist of items for the induction night should be a priority, according to Mason (Ohio) High School athletic director Scott Stemple.
The school administration staff, the Board of Education and superintendents need to be invited and recognized during an induction evening. There should be an opportunity for public recognition and a chance for inductees to recognize and thank those who are important to them.
“I think hall of fame nights are the absolute best tie-in with alumni,” said Jerry Snodgrass, assistant commissioner of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. “I have always been a big believer in alumni giving back. Though most people view that in the form of financial give back – I have always believed the give back comes in the form of support for players and coaches. That support creates a mindset in a community.”
Inductees should have a proper memento for their induction and a proper acknowledgement on campus after the ceremony.
“I have had success using our (business) partners for our athletic programs to get them involved in the event as well,” says Kings Mills (Ohio) Kings High School athletic director Tyler Miller. “I’ve had our partners participate in providing food and programs to the night. We’ve also leaned on resources here at the school. At last year’s event, we had our art department sketch portraits of each hall of fame inductee. This was a special gift to each inductee as it was something they could take personally and was created from the student-athletes.”
Making hall of fame members feel connected to today’s student-athletes and coaches and vice-versa is an important ingredient for success.
“The event must be first class at all costs,” Miller says. “There must be a detailed agenda and program, music and food. We set up ‘exhibit-like’ stations for each inductee at the event.”
A time for recognition at halftime of football or basketball games is convenient, but it’s also about making hall of fame members feel personally appreciated with direct support from current student-athletes.
That type of feeling arrives when all feel welcome – the current staff and student-athletes and inductees.
“A great PA announcer is a critical element too,” Poggi says. “Sometimes you will get folks who don’t know these athletes and they are just reading words on paper. You need someone who knows them, who is comfortable on the microphone and can add some flare to the introduction.”
Inductees may be traveling a significant distance to the event so an athletic department wants to leave the best impression because the word will spread. Fair or not, sometimes just one induction night is the inductee’s lasting memory of the school.
“If you are looking to do (a hall fame induction) at an off-site facility, I’d suggest a year in advance to lock down the date and time for the facility,” Miller says. “For our event, we selected our inductees about a month and a half prior to induction night. This allowed our inductees to make plans to get to the high school. One inductee actually lived in Puerto Rico and was able to come back and enjoy some time at ‘home.’
Once the night is set and attendees confirmed, constant communication has to be provided to them so they know where they are to be and what to do. Once they are there at the event, they are the most important priority for that evening.”
The proliferation of social media offers a simple opportunity to recognize hall of fame inductees. It is imperative to send a news release to media outlets for promotion of the event and to properly document the accomplishments of an inductee.
Some schools will have physical reminders of the hall of fame inside the building. Depending on the size of the school and athletic department, space may be a premium for hall of fame plaques inside the school or gymnasium.
“Plaques and banners are nice but in places with rich tradition you will eventually run out of space,” says Cincinnati (Ohio) Wyoming High School athletic director Jan Wilking. “There are some new products out that do all of these digitally that are very sharp. That is certainly going to be the way of the future. One company has a product that is a touchscreen hall of fame and can allow you to put so much information about the person out that you could never put on just a plaque.”
Although typically not at the same level as hall of fame nights, high school athletic departments also have the opportunity to recognize members of a state championship team for a 10-year or 20-year team reunion.
Some schools decide to recognize certain teams during a specific anniversary year or when there are off years for hall of fame events.
“Not all are Hall of Famers but they have had a significant impact on our athletic program,” Poggi said. “It is great to engage them and bring them back. Not only is it an opportunity to thank them but to show our current athletes where they are now and to illustrate how they have become successful. We always incorporate those back in giving them a chance to talk to our athletes to tell their story. If one person in the room is impacted then it was worth it.”
Mike Dyer is the WCPO.com high school sports reporter in Cincinnati, Ohio. He highlights coverage for up to 150 Cincinnati-high schools on a digital platform and for WCPO-TV. He has been covering high school sports in Ohio since 2000 and has been in Cincinnati since 2004. He previously worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Akron Beacon Journal. Some of his articles have also appeared in the Washington
Post, MaxPreps.com, Orlando Sentinel, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.