The Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame is celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring, marking the occasion with an augmented version of its annual induction ceremony. The Hall of Fame, which resides inside the Peoria Civic Center, is closely tied to the site. “In the 1970s, there was a move to help revitalize downtown Peoria,” said Dr. B. Michael (Doc) Higgins (pictured), president and co-founder of the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame. “Mayor Richard Carver and others came up with the idea to build a civic center in downtown Peoria. At that time, I’d been researching sports halls of fame throughout the country. I was also lieutenant governor of Kiwanis. In traveling to the other Kiwanis clubs, I met a gentleman by the name of Orville Nothdurft, who was associated with the Downtown Kiwanis Club. I approached him with the idea to organize a Peoria Sports Hall of Fame. He asked me if I had met new Bradley University Athletic Director Ron Ferguson.”
Ferguson, Nothdurft, and Higgins met to discuss the prospects of the Hall of Fame and compiled a list of people to serve on the board of directors. “The first board meeting took place at the Heritage House, and we explained our idea of inducting people into the hall of fame. The first board of directors was comprised of myself as president, Ferguson as vice president, Quent Yerby as secretary-treasurer, Mort Cantor, Ed Dwyer, Robert Johnston, Paul King, Harold Lintz, Chuck McCord, Joe McDade, Ray Neumann, Orville Nothdurft, Lorene Ramsey, Ed Stonebock, Pete Vonachen, and Paul Unruh. Paul King, Quint Yerby, and I met with the Peoria Civic Center authorities; Lou Burger was president of the organization at that time. We asked for and received wall space in the sports arena, which hadn’t even been built yet,” Higgins said.
The Hall of Fame’s first banquet took place November 20, 1981. “Those inducted in the first class were the Bradley Famous Five, Jack Brickhouse, Lee Handley, Zack Monroe, Charles Orsborn, Charles ‘Pat’ Redd, Alfred James Robertson, Billy Stone, Bill Tuttle, Paul Unruh, Chet Walker, and Warren Womble. That evening it snowed approximately eight inches. We didn’t expect anyone to attend, but to our surprise, we had a full house, and it’s been full at each banquet since then,” he said.
Being inducted into the Hall of Fame begins with a submitted nomination, and the candidate’s sports resume is reviewed by the Nominating Committee, Higgins explained. “At the first meeting in September, the committee gives the board the past and present nominations, which are then discussed individually by the board. Each board member votes to compile the top 10 names for the first ballot. At the following meeting, those 10 nominees are discussed by the board members and then voted on for the five they feel are worthy of being inducted. There are five inductees voted on, plus one who’s considered an ‘old timer.’ The nominees for the induction into the hall of fame are finalized by the second Thursday in November. At the January and February meetings, our board discusses who should be considered for male and female athletes of the year, as well as coaches of the year. Details of the upcoming banquet also are discussed.”
Higgins said the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame currently boasts 175 individual inductees and 1,170 team members. “These people come from a 25-mile radius, which includes the communities of Peoria, Chillicothe, Bartonville, East Peoria, Farmington, Metamora, Morton, Pekin, and Washington.”
The Hall of Fame celebrates its 25th anniversary April 9, when 1,000 people are expected to attend the induction. “Those to be inducted are Bob Easter; Joe Girardi; Hersey Hawkins; Irv Hoerr; Bill Roehnelt; Dave Humerickhouse; the Bergan Cross Country Team of 1980-1981; and the Chillicothe football teams of 1954, 1955, and 1957. The female and male athletes of the year are Charlie Swearingen of Pekin and Giordan Pogioli of Woodruff. The coaches of the year are Sue Sinclair of Illinois Central College and John Gross of Richwoods High School,” Higgins said.
The past 20 inductions have taken place at the Peoria Civic Center, and he said this year will be no different. “We’ll use Exhibit Halls A and B, as this is the first and only year we’ll have past memorabilia available. Irv Hoerr will bring his racing cars, we’ll have the Heisman Trophy, Charlotte Lewis’ and Carla McGhee’s gold medals from the Olympics, jerseys worn by former professional athletes, the Turner Cup Champion trophy, the Richwoods High School Girls’ Basketball IHSA State trophy, and multiple other memorabilia items from past sporting events.”
Higgins said the biggest challenge faced by the Hall of Fame board is the number of people who believe they should be inducted. “Unfortunately, many don’t meet the criteria established by the Hall of Fame Board of Directors. Board members are approached by individuals suggesting themselves, their friend, a family member, etc. be inducted into the Hall of Fame. When we ask them to submit a resume and statistics on the individual they feel is worthy, they back off. They want us to do the research and put together the resume because it’s too much work for the individual to do. The board isn’t allowed to do that.”
He counts meeting and observing great athletes from the Peoria area, past and present, as one of the biggest thrills of being involved in the Hall of Fame, and he can clearly recall two of the most memorable moments from banquets past. “At the first banquet, Pat Redd got out of his wheelchair and walked up to the podium to say that being inducted into the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame was a greater honor than receiving his medal at the Olympics. The second noteworthy experience was listening to Mike Dunn tell about the conversation he had with his father, who had just passed away. When he was 12 years old, his father and he were walking past the Hall of Fame plaques at the Civic Center. His father said, ‘Son, some day I want to see your plaque up there.’ Mike pointed to heaven and said, ‘Now it is, Dad.’”
The Hall of Fame plaques have been on the interior walls of Carver Arena since the completion of the Civic Center, but they’ll soon have another home, Higgins said. “As of February 23, the Peoria Civic Center Authority, chaired by Rebecca Bourland, unanimously voted that the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame plaques now will be placed on the outside drum walls of the sports arena for better viewing by the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week—and not only when the arena is open.”
That’s good news for current and future inductees. And, despite others’ concern, Higgins said great candidates for induction will continue to pop up. “People constantly say we’ll run out of inductees, but each year more names are added.”
Tickets for the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame induction event cost $25 and can be obtained from any Hall of Fame board member, by calling 677-2668, or by visiting www.gpshof. IBI