City scores big with the opening of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame
BY RACHEL INSWASTY
When its lease was up in Davenport, the Florida Sports Hall of Fame scrambled to find a new home for its memorabilia. The goal was to find somewhere that was easily accessible to Floridians while also being able to house its 269 members and its mementos and sports artifacts.
“I knew right away that the MIDFLORIDA Event Center would be a perfect spot to house our hall,” said Rick Hatcher, vice president and president-elect. “Not only is Port St. Lucie a great city, but we now have a great opportunity to use the wonderful space at the MIDFLORIDA Event Center.”
Between notification of the lease ending, venue research and finalizing contracts, the entire move was done in about 90 days. The hall of fame’s leadership team worked diligently to make sure there was minimal closure time. While there are still many items in storage, the team was able to set up a fairly robust display. They will continue to sort through memorabilia and add displays throughout the year.
“Right now, we have this new opportunity to look at Florida’s rich sports history,” Hatcher said. “Our state has a lot of homegrown athletes that end up playing professional sports all over the U.S. and world.”
The Florida Sports Hall of Fame was founded in 1961 by the Florida Sports Writers Association and the Florida Sportscasters Association before there was an actual building to call home.
It first opened in 1977 at Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. In 1990, it moved north to Lake City and then after a few years, it moved because board members decided that Central Florida would be more easily accessible for Florida residents. The Lake Myrtle Sports Complex in Auburndale housed the hall beginning in 2010 and in 2015 it was moved to the Central Florida’s Visitor Information Center in Davenport.
And now it has landed in Port St. Lucie.
“In a state where the climate lets us play sports year round and where so many of the all-time great sports figures call home, the City of Port St. Lucie is especially proud to welcome the Florida Sports Hall of Fame to our Event Center; and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to partner on the Hall of Fame’s dual mission of recognizing and honoring Florida’s greatest sports figures and promoting fitness awareness, education and sports among our state’s youth and adults,” Mayor Greg Oravec stated in a news release.
Over the years, the hall’s memorabilia and displays have grown due to many donations.
“We have photos, video, signed jerseys, balls, trophies, plaques,” Hatcher said. “It is a real treasure trove of sports-related memorabilia that you can’t see anywhere else. We are lucky to have had so many members donate items over our 60 years.”
For someone to be eligible for placement in the hall, they must meet one of the following criteria: they must have been born in the state of Florida, have significant state ties or spent a substantial part of their amateur or professional careers in Florida.
Its first classes contain the likes of Willie Galimore, Bill Hartack, Shirley Fry and Jack Nicklaus. Between 2013 and 2019, there were quite a few big names inducted – Roy Jones Jr., Tim Hardaway, Tony Dungy, Zach Thomas, Jeff Conine, Tim Tebow and Pat Williams, to name a few. The hall of fame members includes coaches, players, broadcasters and administration.
Nominations are accepted from the public, the board of directors and hall of fame members. Those who are eligible for enshrinement go through a rigorous vetting and voting process that includes board members and selected hall members.
“Every year the hall of fame holds an enshrinement ceremony for its new members,” Hatcher said. “We move it to a different part of the state every year and it’s a fun celebration and a great way to honor some of our state’s sports stars.”
For years, the state of Florida has produced star athletes, coaches and other sports-related personnel. With such excellent athletic programs in many schools and colleges, young kids have the opportunity to thrive in many different sports. It comes as no surprise that the hall of fame is able to induct such a high number of members each year.
Normally, the hall adds between 10 and 12 new members annually, but for this year’s ceremony there will be several more.
“Due to COVID in 2020, we will be holding the enshrinement ceremonies jointly, for both 2020 and 2021 inductees,” Hatcher said. “The last five years of enshrinement have had incredible inductees and this year will be no different.”
The class of 2020 includes former New York Yankee star Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, golfer Tiger Woods, coach Pat Riley of the Miami Heat and former Miami Dolphin defensive end Jason Taylor. The Class of 2021 will be announced later this year.
“This year’s class is representative of six different sports with careers spanning from the 1970s to present day,” Hatcher said. “This is one of the strongest classes we’ve had.”
Hatcher, who is also president and CEO of Play Treasure Coast Sports Tourism, knew that having the hall of fame in Port St. Lucie would be helpful in drawing more sports fans and tourists.
“This is a wonderful area, I mean you’ve got the New York Mets spring training complex at Clover Park, PGA Golf Club, the US Sailing Center and the MIDFLORIDA Event Center,” Hatcher said. “There was no denying this would be a perfect spot for the hall of fame and we had city officials onboard from the get-go.”
Sports celebrities will join golfers to tee off at the 4th annual celebrity golf tournament at the PGA Golf Course’s Ryder Course June 18-19. Honorary tournament chairman will be Juan “Chi Chi” Rodriguez who won eight titles on the PGA Tour and was the first player on the Senior PGA Tour to win the same event in three consecutive years.
Rodriguez, who lives in Port St. Lucie, was enshrined to the Florida Sports Hall of Fame in 1991. Other hall of fame members and sports celebrities scheduled to appear include Gary Sheffield [ Class of 2018], Lou Piniella [Class of 1977], Johnny Damon [Class 2016] and Nat Moore [Class of 1998].
It doesn’t just hold enshrinements and run the hall, it is also very much involved in sports activities, education and fitness awareness for our state’s youth and adults alike. It is part of a big campaign to help end and raise awareness toward childhood obesity and diabetes.
“It’s not just about watching a player throw or hit a ball back and forth,” Hatcher said. “Sports, to many of us, plays a huge role in creating a sense of community, learning about the importance of discipline and teaching people about working with others as a team.”
The group has raised close to $1 million for its many programs and charities like Shriners Hospitals for Children, Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches and Boys and Girls Clubs across the state. All funds raised at the tournament will benefit the hall’s children’s charities
The hall of fame is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.