The Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame has had an auspicious but truly troubled past in recent years. It has been, for all practical purposes, dormant. There hasn’t been an induction since 2007. There were ownership changes, sponsorship issues and fits and starts as others tried in vain to revive it. If it had been admitted to the ER, doctors would’ve called for the paddles.
But that will all change on Saturday, April 30, at the UWM Panther Arena starting at 7 p.m., when the refurbished hall takes center stage and the Class of 2016 gets inducted. Tickets for this event, which is open to the public, run from $15 to $80 and are available through Ticketmaster. More information is available on the hall’s website.
The event highlights include opening remarks by Governor Scott Walker. Following the induction, Sen. Herb Kohl will receive the Community Leadership Award and the Legendary Team Award will be presented to noted author and pulling guard on the famous quarterback sneak in the Ice Bowl, Jerry Kramer. This award marks the 50th Anniversary of the Super Bowl I Team. The High School Athlete of the Year (male and female) will be honored. The wildly popular “5th Quarter” performed by the UW Marching Band will close out the ceremony.
This year’s selections are Donald Driver, the all-time leading receiver in Green Bay Packer history. Driver will be installed along with Bo Ryan, the former Wisconsin head basketball coach whose history stretches back more than four decades and includes four national championships (UW-Platteville), four Big Ten titles and, most recently, consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances.
Brian Lammi, owner of Lammi Sports Management, bought the hall a little more than a year ago with the mission of restoring its luster and bringing it up to date with the technology and interactivity that fans of other halls have come to expect. One can imagine that this is not an inexpensive proposition. Lammi and his team set about reaching the goal by bringing in like-minded corporate citizens who see the value in chronicling the rich history of Wisconsin’s sports teams and the athletes who either grew up here or played the bulk of their careers here.
The cement barely had a chance to cure on the then-Milwaukee Arena when the first induction ceremony was held in 1951, 65 years ago this month. Many prominent dignitaries and athletes from around the country were at the celebration, chief among them Jesse Owens, the hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Owens was there to see his track teammate Ralph Metcalfe, of Marquette University, enter the hall. He was enshrined along with baseball legend Al Simmons, Packer icon Don Hutson and about a dozen others representing college wrestling, football, baseball and coaching.
Milwaukeeans of a certain age will remember the bronze plaques mounted high on the walls of the foyer of the main entrance of the building. It was a real vision test to read about these legends of sport in the state. The hall was moved outdoors to the east wall where plaques and columns were erected.
It has largely gone unnoticed by people making their way into the arena for a game and by those who walk past to go to the BMO Harris Bradley Center. But, that was the past. As for the hall’s future, the possibilities are endless.