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Claims to fame: Halls of Fame get hero’s welcome

Courtesy International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame

It’s mid-January, three weeks before the 2011 Super Bowl. Derrick Rippatoe’s phone is ringing like mad as he sits in his office less than a mile from the Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, where the football game will be played.

Rippatoe is not a ticket broker, hawking much-sought-after seats for the big game. He’s the director of corporate events and sales for a Hall of Fame and museum that spotlights bowling, an entirely different but equally popular sport, and he’s receiving lots of inquiries from meeting planners who want to have parties at his facility during Super Bowl week.

A year ago, the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame moved to Arlington, the busy Dallas suburb that’s a good neighborhood for sports-connected attractions, home to the Cowboy’s new stadium and the Texas Rangers baseball park.

The bowling Hall of Fame is just one of several sports Halls of Fame that recognize outstanding athletes and also serve as keepers of their sport’s history.

Focused on many of America’s favorite pastimes, Halls of Fame are logical event venues. Thanks to interactive exhibits, they have become more than rooms of trophy cases and plaques.
At today’s sports Halls of Fame, visitors can shoot three-point shots, make tough putts or bowl strikes as they become sports heroes for a moment.

Halls of Fame for the big three professional team sports — football, baseball and basketball — are in second- and third-tier cities and are credited with bringing thousands of sports fans to Canton, Ohio; Cooperstown, N.Y.; and Springfield, Mass., each year.

Halls of Fame are a reminder of the role sports play in America’s past.

“There is so much history here,” said Gail McLaughlin of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. “The first time I came here for an interview, I was totally shocked by how extensive the history of football was. It is more than just a Sunday-night game.”

It’s no surprise that meetings at the Pro Football Hall of Fame often employ sports-related themes like “Go for the Goal” or “Teamwork,” or that groups honor their own leaders by creating corporate Halls of Fame.

The stories Halls of Fame tell, of victory and defeat, trial and triumph, ring familiar to those grappling with the ups and downs of work and family life.

International Bowling Museum 
and Hall of Fame
Arlington, Texas
Comedian Steve Martin walked like an Egyptian. The funnyman might have gotten even more laughs if he had bowled like an Egyptian.

That Egyptians were bowlers is among the facts revealed at the International Bowling Museum and Hall of Fame, which follows the sport through its 5,000-year history.

Bowling’s path is not nearly as straight and narrow as the alley upon which it is played. The world’s largest participatory sport has had such unexpected advocates as King Henry VIII and such inspiring role models as Hall of Famer Don Carter, who moved from boy pinsetter to bowling legend.

The museum and Hall of Fame also look into the future of the game, showing fans the time and effort expended to test bowling balls, pins and lane construction.

A great deal of research is done a short distance from the Hall of Fame in a research center that is part of an Arlington campus that includes the museum and Hall of Fame, and administrative offices for major bowling associations. Groups can troop to the research center and have their own bowling tournament on its 14-lane alley, which is used by a number of national and international teams for training. A conference room at the training center is outfitted with top-notch technology, according to Rippatoe. “We went all out with the conference room.”

The museum and Hall of Fame also makes for fun-filled evening events. Rippatoe’s favorite is a miniature bowling alley called Highway 66, where players use balls that are a bit heavier than skeet balls to topple miniature pins. During receptions and dinners, a crowd inevitably gathers there, and competitions ensue. A bar is often set up in the area.

“It is toward the end of the tour, and we definitely put it in the right spot, because if we had put it somewhere else, people would have never finished the tour,” said Rippatoe.

Another interesting venue is a 1950s-style diner; the museum also has a 2,300-square-foot conference room that overlooks the ballpark and Six Flags amusement park.

The museum complex is expected to help attract bowling-related conferences and bowling competitions to the area. Bowl Expo, formerly held in Las Vegas, will be held in Arlington this July; the museum and Hall of Fame will be used for a gala reception.

Considering the following enjoyed by bowling, the Hall of Fame’s popularity makes sense.
“It is the mecca for bowling,” said Rippatoe.


Pro Football Hall of Fame
Canton, Ohio
In places that are so hallowed for the sports history they hold, it is nice to know that the human element can be part of an event.

For example, when association executives from around Ohio gathered for a reception at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, they had the opportunity to have their picture taken with football Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure. When an association of law librarians met there, they heard another Hall of Fame member, former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann, talk about how football changed his life.

Having a Hall of Fame member appear at an event at the Pro Football Hall of Fame is easier than you might think, said McLaughlin, event marketing specialist there.

“You’d be surprised at how inexpensive it can be,” she said. “It really is a highlight for most people to get to meet these guys.”

Opened in 1963, the football Hall of Fame has expanded over the years to meet the demands of the sport and its history and of the many events and meetings that are held there. Of the almost 400 events a year, half are booked by groups with no ties to the Hall of Fame.

In August, the facility plans to break ground for its largest expansion to date. Future 50, as the project is called, will be completed in phases, concluding in 2013 to coincide with the Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary. The $23.6 million project will expand the 83,000-square-foot facility by 40,000 square feet.

Among the spaces added will be a 4,200-square-foot divisible ballroom. That addition will allow the Hall of Fame to book larger meetings and events and to accommodate more than one event at a time, according to McLaughlin. Changes will also be made to the grounds so there will be more sites for outdoor events.

The Hall of Fame will remain open while work is being done, but work will stop completely during the peak summer months.


Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Springfield, Mass
It’s easy to make an event the center of attention at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., the city where roundball was born.

At the heart of the three-story, spherical building on the Connecticut River is Center Court, a full-size basketball court with a domed ceiling. Center Court often becomes a ballroom for black-tie dinners or an auditorium for important addresses.

The current Hall of Fame, opened in 2002, has as many options as a coach’s playbook.

For example, Center Court can be used for work or play, or sometimes for both. “It can be set up a number of ways,” said Josh Belliveau, the corporate sales manager. “You can have a presentation at one end and a social event at the other. Or you can have an event on one half of the court and use the other half to have a shoot-around or a layup, free-throw or three-point-shot contest.

“You look up at the third floor and see pictures of all the players and coaches who were inducted,” said Belliveau. “It brings out a different feeling being in this room where you have all of this history around you.”

The museum’s three levels provide plenty of challenges for scavenger hunts; the second floor is packed with interactive exhibits that allow visitors to measure their vertical jump, be a sports broadcaster or coach a team. Museum partner OIC Group will also work with meeting planners to develop sports-related team building.

Several smaller venues are also available. They include a 200-seat amphitheater; a special-event gallery, where decor includes part of the floor from the Delta Center on which Michael Jordan made a last-minute game-winning shot to push the Chicago Bulls over the Utah Jazz in 1998; and a boardroom that overlooks the Connecticut River.


National Baseball Hall of Fame 
and Museum
Cooperstown, N.Y.
The oldest among the major sports Halls of Fame is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Opened in 1939 in Cooperstown, N.Y., it is the home of the sport that’s known as America’s favorite pastime.

Although the Hall of Fame has no meeting rooms, it is a popular venue for after-hours events for up to 120 guests.

During receptions or dinners there, guests can admire some of the 38,000 artifacts in the Hall of Fame’s collection, including those in popular exhibits like Viva Baseball, which details the love affair between Latin America and baseball, and Diamond Dreams, which examines women’s roles in the game.

Hall of Famers can be hired as speakers. For example, 2008 inductee Goose Gossage, who pitched for the New York Yankees, the San Diego Padres and other major league teams, addressed a group last fall.

Hosts can also help support the hall and its mission by buying Hall of Fame memberships for their guests. Membership benefits vary depending on the level of membership. A $40 individual membership includes a membership card and a lapel pin, a subscription to Memories and Dreams magazine, a Hall of Fame Yearbook, free admission to the museum for a year and a 10 percent discount on purchases from the museum store or catalog.


More on sports meeting venues

Hall of Fame gets hero’s welcome
Sports complexes score big for small towns