SALT LAKE CITY — Gene Fullmer will be there. So will Jack Dempsey, Dick Romney, Herman Franks, Jack Gardner, Stan Watts, Merlin Olsen, LaVell Edwards, Helen Hofmann Bertagnole and Billy Casper.
All have moved on to where the greens are fast, the ring ropes taut, the infields smooth and soft. Despite having passed away, their names will be on display Saturday at the grand opening of the Utah Sports Hall of Fame’s new location, from 10 a.m. until the bottom of the ninth. Photos, mementos, plaques, news articles and tools of their trades will speak on their behalf.
If you’ve followed sports in Utah — any sport, in any era — this is a calendar event.
Anyone who has loved Karl Malone, John Stockton, Jim McMahon, Logan Tom, Natalie Williams or Ron Boone — to name a few — should be there. It’s never a bad time to walk back to yesteryear. If you can recall the starting lineup of the Utah Stars, or the night Missy Marlowe stuck a perfect 10 on the vault, or even if you once read a writeup on Terry Nish breaking land speed records, this should start your engine.
For a time, that history seemed destined for oblivion.
The fact all those pictures and plaques aren’t gathering dust in someone’s attic is a testament to the lasting power of Utah’s greatest athletes and coaches.
About a year ago, there was doubt as to where the displays would go. For decades, they resided in a stretch of trophy space in the original Salt Palace, then the Delta Center/EnergySolutions Arena/Vivint Arena. But the agreement with Vivint ended after the building was renovated, and the organization once known as the Utah Old Timer Athletic Association had no place to keep its history.
After some hand-wringing and maybe even arm-twisting, the state Legislature came through with money to set up a museum at 99 S. West Temple, Suite 102. It’s a good location, which is perfect, because proper location is what athletes live on, whether they’re tossing a fade pass, driving off the tee or finding the edge of the strike zone.
All of them knew how to find the sweet spot in their various sports.
In an era of endless data storage, some say there’s no need to have an actual home for a hall of fame. But having a home is the appeal. Visitors will be able to browse video of the athletes’ playing days. The title belt from Fullmer’s 1957 win over Sugar Ray Robinson will be on display Saturday, as well as Arnie Ferrin’s MVP trophy from the 1944 NCAA Tournament and Frank Layden’s NBA Coach of the Year award. At some point, Olympian Amy Palmer’s practice hammer will be featured, too.
Eventually there will be information detailing all 230 members of the hall. Visitors can don local team jerseys and have their pictures taken in an area made to look like a locker room. There will be interactive games, virtual reality bobsled rides and a display in which visitors can compare their height to stars such as Malone, Williams and Mark Eaton.
A gift shop is also planned for the site.
As if being there weren’t a gift itself.Comment on this story
Committee members say they’re not sure which living hall inductees will be on hand Saturday, but it’s a good possibility there will be someone notable, such as Layden, who brought Utah into the big leagues, or Glen Tuckett, who ushered BYU into its golden age, or trailblazing athlete, coach, referee and administrator Norma Carr.
Regardless of who is there in person, the memories will be thick. For many, a look at an old game program or a historic pair of gym shoes will send them back in time. There’s nothing wrong with that. Satchel Paige, of the Baseball Hall of Fame, advised against looking back because someone might be gaining. In this case, looking back is a fine way to enjoy the view.