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