Years ago, I heard a negative, yet very funny comment about the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
“Everyone is born into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame,” a popular guy in town said, “and you play your way out of it.”
The funny comment was basically attacking the number of members in the Hall of Fame. There are too many, he says, and he is not alone in this assertion.
Before I became involved in the Hall of Fame, I thought the same thing.
When you look at the Hall of Fame shrine in the lobby of the Butte Civic Center, it seems like everybody and his brother is in. Currently, there are more than 100 living member, whom the late Pat Kearney called “Green Jackets” because of his completely original idea to present Hall of Famers with green jackets.
Even though he tried to play it off with a sly smile, this comment, one that I happily repeated around town, really stung Kearney, who poured his heart and soul into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
The comment was a direct attack on the Hall of Fame that Kearney helped found and that was only possible because of the countless hours he put into it. He was the chairman of the Hall until his death in 2014.
Kearney, who was never known to shy away from a good argument, responded to the comment by inviting the gentlemen who made it to serve on the Hall of Fame’s selection committee.
Kearney told me that he figured the best way to improve a great organization was to involve people who are critical of it.
The man declined Kearney’s invitation, and that is too bad.
For one thing, he would have been a great addition. He’s a sharp, fair-minded guy who knows the Butte sports scene and its history very well.
Even more, though, he would have seen just how wrong his funny assessment of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame actually is.
There certainly are a lot of monuments in the Civic Center lobby. In fact, one of the biggest problems we are facing in the near future is that we are running out of space.
But go ahead and walk around and look at those monuments. Read the accomplishments of the men and women Hall of Fame members. You will see that every one of them belong there.
More importantly, look at the people who are nominated for the Hall of Fame. You could make a hall of fame out of the people who have been left out of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
The Butte Sports Hall of Fame, which originated from a conversation involving then Butte-Silver Bow chief executive Don Peoples Sr. at a Christmas party, inducted its first class in the summer of 1987. It has inducted a class every other summer since.
In June, the Hall will enshrine its 17th class, yet the organization is still playing catch up on town with a rich sports history that goes back to the turn of the 20th Century.
The Hall of Fame will probably never get caught up, unless we induct a class of about 150 this June. Great athletes from the 1960s and 1970s seem to be particularly squeezed out.
That is because when the Hall of Fame opened its doors, they were competing against legends like Bob O’Billovich, Swede Dahlberg, Milt Popovich, Jim Sweeney, “Jumpin’” Joe Kelly, Sylvia White and Judy (Morstein) Martz, to name a few.
Nowadays, they are competing with the younger athletes, like Josh Paffhausen, Rob Johnson and, soon, Colt Anderson.
How do you vote against Johnson, who played catcher in the major leagues? How could you vote against Anderson, who will be eligible once he officially retires from the NFL?
Well, how do you vote against Barry Sullivan, the quarterback of Butte High’s undefeated state championship football team in 1977?
How do you vote against any member of that great 1977 team, for that matter?
How do you vote against any of the many Butte High state champion wrestlers?
The answer is because you cannot vote for everyone. When you examine the people in and out of the Hall of Fame, you will realize the problem is not that there are too many people in. It is that there are too many people deserving who are not.
The bigger problem is that many of them will likely never get in.
It is a classic catch 22 for the Hall of Fame. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
It reminds me of the time that Sports Illustrated wrote a story documenting the 75 biggest jerks in the history of sports. Matt Vincent and I sat at Maloney’s Bar to write our “Rat Chat” column for the daily newspaper, and we came up with at least 100 people we could not believe were not mentioned in the list of 75 biggest jerks.
As the executive director, I get accused of pushing for certain people to go in. It has happened quite a bit since I was unwillingly named to the job in June 2016.
My job is to make sure the selection committee has the correct information for which to make their decisions. My job is to make sure their decisions are as tough as possible.
I do not have a vote, and I do not lobby for nominees, yet I have been accused of doing so. That’s OK, though. Like Kearney, I have never run away from a good argument.
I am just happy there is so much passion around the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
Easily the best indicator that the Hall of Fame is great is how much it means for people to be in it. It means a great deal to the “Green Jackets,” and it means even more to the family and friends of people who want someone enshrined.
You can go to the Hall of Fame public forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Metals Sports Bar & Grill and see this passion for yourself.
Last year we had the likes of Sonny Holland, Jon McElroy and Jim Street making passionate please for nominees. We had a bunch of other former players, coaches, families and friends lining up to make a pitch for someone they feel Hall of Fame worthy.
They will be there again this week making another pitch.
My hope is that there is at least person there to speak for one of the new nominees for 2019. As fate would have it, the gentleman who made “play your way out” comment has been nominated for the Hall of Fame, and he is a strong candidate.
He is a longshot for election since the field, especially for men his age, is just packed with worthy candidates.
I will not lobby for him (or any other candidate), but I would love to see him elected to the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
Pat Kearney’s sly smile will certainly be on my mind as I watch him presented with his green jacket for not playing his way out of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.
— Bill Foley, who played his way out of the Hall of Fame years ago, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays.