NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints and Hornets have contributed $250,000 to help fund exhibits and support promotion of the spectacular Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame currently in the final stages of construction in Natchitoches.
“Louisiana is building one of the finest sports museums in the nation honoring home-state athletes,” said Saints Owner Tom Benson. “The Saints and Hornets are proud to support such a commitment to recognizing the careers and impacts that these great athletes have had on our state’s sports history.”
“Louisiana’s sports roots run deep, and this generous gift will help us preserve these roots for future generations,” said Lt. Governor Jay Dardenne. “The Hall of Fame is an appropriate venue to showcase Louisiana’s athletes from high school through the professional ranks, as well as the officials, coaches and sportswriters who have contributed to Louisiana’s rich sports culture.”
“This is a giant leap forward in our fundraising efforts,” said Lisa Babin, President of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation. “Thanks to the Saints and Hornets stepping up, we now have major impetus in our efforts to privately raise the funds necessary to complete the wonderful exhibits that will showcase the very best of Louisiana sports to our citizens and the rest of the world. News of this major endorsement by the Saints and Hornets will encourage others to step up.”
The gleaming new $21.7 million, 27,500-square foot Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame building is being built in the National Historic District of Natchitoches on Front Street, facing the picturesque Cane River. It is scheduled for opening in the summer of 2013.
The museum will include a massive wall featuring the Hall of Famers, currently numbering 293 legendary sports competitors along with 52 sports journalists and 11 recipients of the Dave Dixon Louisiana Sports Leadership Award.
Visitors will be able to touch screens and view biographies, statistics, and photographs of every inductee on large monitors in front of the wall. Spectacular displays of balls, gloves, helmets, shoes and a variety of other memorabilia will recall lifetime memories.
On the second floor, exhibits and large video screens will commemorate major sports, significant events and outstanding achievements throughout the state. For hunting and fishing enthusiasts, the Louisiana Sports Paradise display will include the treasured Grits and Mary Gresham outdoors collection.
That unique blend of sports history and culture will segue into the fascinating Northwest Louisiana History Museum, a collection of artifacts that will move into the new building from the Old Courthouse Museum in Natchitoches.
The entire building is part of the Louisiana State Museum System under the office of Lt. Gov. Dardenne.
The Hall of Famers are selected by a panel of voters from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. That group conceived the idea in 1951 and first began inducting members in 1958. The first real home for the Hall of Fame opened in Prather Coliseum on the campus of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches in 1972 and remained there until the present. The annual induction ceremonies are staged in Natchitoches each summer.
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame includes nine members of the Basketball Hall of Fame, six of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players, six Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, 13 Pro Football Hall of Fame members, seven Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame enshrines, 18 Olympic medalists (10 gold medal winners), 32 College Football Hall of Fame members, three National High School Hall of Fame enshrines, jockeys with a combined 12 Triple Crown victories, six world boxing champions, four College Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, two NBA Finals MVPs and two Super Bowl MVPs. A complete membership list and biographical information on all 293 competitors enshrined is available at the www.LaSportsHall.com website, with a steady stream of info available at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Facebook page.
“The construction of this fabulous facility is a dream come true for scores of dedicated journalists whose dedication and perseverance have led to its realization,” said LSWA President Jim Kleinpeter. “Having the Saints and Hornets on board as one of the museum’s biggest sponsors is certainly welcome news.”
The Saints are well represented in the Hall of Fame, with16 honorees. Deuce McAllister is the most recent, inducted last June. Saints alumni who are in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame include Danny Abramowicz, Morten Anderson, Jim Finks, Bobby Hebert, Dalton Hilliard, Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, Buford Jordan, Archie Manning, Eric Martin, McAllister, Sam Mills, Jim Mora, Willie Roaf, Pat Swilling and Jimmy Taylor.
Louisiana annually has more active NFL players per capita than any other state.
While the Hornets are yet to have produced a Hall of Fame inductee, the NBA is deeply represented in the Hall, from players who took part in the NBA’s first-ever games (New Orleans native Warren Perkins, Zachary native Frank Brian), to three NBA MVPs (LSU great, New Orleans resident Bob Pettit; Summerfield native, Louisiana Tech star Karl Malone; Bernice native, Grambling All-American and former Hornets front office member Willis Reed) and a pair of NBA Finals MVPs (Reed and Natchitoches native, McNeese State great Joe Dumars). Six Hall of Fame members played or coached professionally in New Orleans, headlined by Pistol Pete Maravich and including Aaron James, Slick Watts, Jackie Moreland, Glynn Saulters and coach Scotty Robertson.
The building’s innovative design, by Trahan Architects of Baton Rouge, is already drawing attention in architectural circles internationally.
Construction is progressing, according to Doug Ireland, Hall of Fame Chairman. “You can see it changing every day. It is like a beautiful flower starting to bloom. People are really going to be fascinated when they see this building and will be enthralled with the experiences they will have walking through it.”
“We certainly appreciate this very generous contribution by Mr. Tom Benson and the Saints and Hornets organizations,” said Robert Wheat, executive director of the Louisiana State Museum system. The strong bond between Louisiana’s major professional sports team and Louisiana’s great new Sports Hall of Fame will carry well into the future.”