In the fall of 2008, former Bloomington South baseball coach Grier Werner was helping me add a rear deck to my house. Actually, he was doing most of the work, and I was doing most of the talking.
Most of the conversation centered on sports, especially local sports. And, the more we talked, the more apparent it became that our county has a rich and diverse sports history – not just in football, baseball and basketball, but also in track, wrestling, swimming, golf, auto racing and less common Olympic sports such as rowing and ice skating.
For a county our size, we have seen more than our share of Olympians, representing five sports – Dave Volz (pole vault), Missy Schwen (rowing), Jennifer Hooker (swimming), Jill Watson (figure skating), (Richard Voliva (wrestling), Charlie McDaniel (wrestling) and Tommy Deckard (distance running).
And then it occurred to us: Why isn’t there a Monroe County Hall of Fame? A number of counties around the state have them, and their athletic traditions are nowhere near as rich as ours.
Out of that conversation, the wheels started turning. I put out feelers to prominent sports figures around the county and received enthusiastic responses almost every time. Some even volunteered their services, beginning with Werner.
So, early in 2009 we started assembling a board to launch a county hall of fame. We were looking for people with sports backgrounds who had a knack for getting things done – movers and shakers, if you will.
One of the first to accept was Bob Hammel, the former Herald-Times sports editor who has a deep appreciation for this county’s sports history. Right behind Hammel was veteran sports announcer Joe Smith, who can quote you names and scores from county sporting events 40 years ago.
Another volunteer who went back a long way was Rex Kirts, the retired H-T writer whose coverage of county sports began in the 1960s. Although Kirts left the board after a year’s service, his vast knowledge of county sports steered us in the right direction.
We wanted the board to have representatives from North, South and Edgewood, so to go along with Werner’s South perspective we added former Edgewood football coach John Chance and former North and Edgewood assistant Brent Slinkard, a business leader and more recently of the Cutters semi-pro football team.
But the board also needed a woman’s perspective and a minority perspective. Women who were quick to accept were Sandy Searcy, an officer in the IHSAA; Jeannine Butler, president of the Monroe County school board; and Vi Taliaferro, a lawyer and long-time judge. We also imposed on our wives, Pat Houser, a paralegal, and Nancy Werner, who worked in fund-raising for the IU Foundation.
For a minority perspective we drafted George Taliaferro, a college and professional football Hall of Famer, and Marcus Debro, the former North athlete who is now an assistant principal at North. And, even though their busy schedules ultimately forced the Taliaferros to leave the board, they made their stamp early in the process.
As for movers and shakers, how about Jim Murphy, CEO of CFC, and Mick Renneisen, director of Bloomington Parks and Recreation? Murphy already has promised us wall space at Fountain Square to hang our plaques and the use of the Fountain Square ball room for our first awards banquet.
On May 11, 2009, we met as a group for the first time. Every one was in agreement that this Hall of Fame would be all about Monroe County, not Indiana University, which has a Hall of Fame of its own. However, we decided that making a name at Indiana University certainly was an asset for anyone who established roots in Monroe County, just as success at any college or professional level was.
One of our main goals was to recognize, also, the behind-the-scenes contributors who pioneered local sports, especially youth sports. So we established a special branch for them alongside the many great coaches who have blazed a trail through Monroe County.
On that first night we settled on the name, Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame.
In front of us lay a mountain of groundwork. For example, in order for us to seek tax-free donations, we had to incorporate. We thus began the lengthy process of obtaining tax-exempt status as a charitable organization. Not only was it time consuming, it was expensive – $850 just to file. Since we had no funds to start with, we dug into our own pockets. That in itself should tell you the level of commitment of these board members.
With so much work ahead we decided to meet once a month. Over the next 16 months we elected officers, formed committees, visited possible sites and figured out a budget. We also established by-laws, scholarships and induction criteria.
In September, 2010, almost a year and a half from that inaugural meeting, we settled on a 15-member charter class consisting of 10 athletes and five coaches/contributors. You can read all about that group elsewhere on this website.
Now comes the hard part, funding our organization. As a non-profit entity, we are going to need your financial support to pull this off. There will be plenty of opportunities to donate, both corporate and private. In the future we also hope to include the public in the selection process and seek more volunteers to serve on the board.
On January 28, 2014, the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame Inc. Wall of Fame was unveiled at Fountain Square Mall, south side of the Square, Bloomington, Indiana. Three classes are represented on the wall with space for more. This is only the beginning, but it's good.