Permanent Louisiana Sports Hall opens, with Shaq

NATCHITOCHES (AP) — For more than 50 years, the Louisiana Sports Writers Association has been collecting the names of — and

memorabilia from — the state's greatest athletes.

As of this weekend, they finally have a place to put it all.

After a decades-long wait, the Louisiana

Sports Hall of Fame is opening this weekend in the heart of

Natchitoches, timed to

coincide with this year's Hall of Fame Induction Celebration

weekend and the annual meeting of Louisiana's sports writers.

It is housed in a $23 million, 27,500-square-foot building on

historic Front Street which is also home to the Northwest Louisiana

History Museum.

On Saturday night 11 of Louisiana's sports greats, headlined by former LSU and NBA star Shaquille O'Neal, will be formally

inducted into the Hall of Fame at a sold-out banquet to be held at the nearby Natchitoches Event Center. The event will be

televised at a later date.

This year's class includes fellow former NBA

players Ervin Johnson and James Jones; tennis players Chanda Rubin and

Anna Koll;

former LSU players Tommy Hodson and Kevin Mawae; jockey Ronald

Ardoin and longtime Newman School basketball coach Ed "Skeets"

Tuohy. In addition, longtime outdoors writer Bob Marshall will

receive the LSWA's Distinguished Service Award and athlete,

coach and businessman Milton Retif will receive the Dave Dixon

Leadership Award.

The state's sports writers chose their first group of Hall of Fame inductees in 1958 - a class of three that included LSU

All-American Gaynell Tinsley, boxer Tony Canzoneri and baseball player Mel Ott.

"This is a landmark event for the Hall of Fame and the LSWA," said LSWA president Jim Kleinpeter. "It's the fruition of a

dream that goes beyond 50 years. It literally marks the spot on the map for Louisiana sports."

The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame existed in

name only until 1971, when it found a home in the hallways of Prather

Coliseum

on the campus of Northwestern State University. For many years,

glass display cases housed memorabilia, including baseballs

signed by Ott and the No. 8 jersey worn by Saints legend Archie

Manning, as well as the hand-painted portraits of the more

than 350 inductees.

The path to a new home began when the

project was accepted into the state museum system in 2003, but was

nearly derailed after

Hurricane Katrina. After years of political maneuvering,

fundraising and land acquisitions, ground was broken in January of

2008.

The new museum, designed by Trahan

Architects of New Orleans, features an extensive collection of jerseys,

gloves and shoes

donated by the inductees themselves. It also employs modern

technology allowing visitors to enjoy interactive, touch-screen

exhibits.

The museum will be open to the public beginning July 2 and will be generally be open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m.

to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Online: www.lasportshall.com