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Halls of Fame Honor Sports Heroes

There’s nothing like sports to unite a city, state or country, and no place like sports museums to stir up great shared memories among your group of travelers.

At halls of fame and sports museums throughout the country, you can relive your favorite memories of athletic heroes from the past and present. You can also see the players and the sports in a new light with insider photographs, artifacts and films on display. Along the way, you’re likely to learn something new about your favorite sports, as well as the greater culture and history surrounding them.

States all around the country have halls of fame and sports museums dedicated to professional and amateur competitors. For this story, we’ve chosen five high-profile museums that attract visitors from every part of the United States.

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum
Cooperstown, N.Y.

The past and present of one of America’s greatest icons are on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which has some 35,000 artifacts related to the game.

“The primary museum exhibit is a timeline that traces the game’s origins from its early beginnings in the 19th century all the way to today’s game,” said Brad Horn, the museum’s senior director of communications. “It features items from the sport’s greatest teams, players and moments. One gallery features a locker for each of the 30 clubs, with items from noteworthy achievements in the past 10 years.”

Some of the most-loved artifacts in the exhibit include the glove that Willie Mays used to make “the Catch” in the 1954 World Series and the bat that slugger Babe Ruth used to hit the final home run of his record-setting 60-home-run season.

The museum also has a number of interactive displays, including its World Series exhibit.
“Fans can see video highlights of every single World Series,” Horn said. “And we have touch screens with interactive biographies and videos for every member of the Hall of Fame.”

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
Kansas City, Mo.

One of the most fascinating aspects of professional baseball history is the Negro Leagues, a professional system that thrived before the sport was integrated. Visitors can learn more about the leagues and their players at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City.

“The Negro Leagues’ primary period was the 1920s until 1960,” said Raymond Doswell, the museum’s vice president of curatorial services. “Anywhere there was a large urban black community, baseball became an important part of the social and economic fabric.”

The museum’s exhibits are laid out around a replicated baseball diamond. Guests begin their visits by progressing through the exhibits set around the outside of the diamond’s fence, where they learn about some of the 2,600 people who participated in the Negro Leagues. Along the way, they find historical photographs, uniforms, artifacts and a film narrated by James Earl Jones.

“At the very end, before you go onto the field, there’s a mock locker section,” Doswell said. “[The lockers are] dedicated to all the inductees in Cooperstown who came from the Negro Leagues.”
Once they finish viewing the exhibits, visitors can walk out onto the diamond, where life-size bronze statues honor some of the Negro Leagues’ preeminent players.

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Canton, Ohio

Baseball may be our historical national pastime, but today professional football is the most popular sport in America. The Pro Football Hall of Fame honors the greatest players and coaches ever to participate in the game with a rich set of artifacts and multimedia exhibits.

The Moments, Memories and Mementos gallery has artifacts such as the football John Elway threw to pass the 50,000-yard mark. In the new Super Bowl gallery, visitors can see the Lombardi trophy that will be awarded to the winners of the next season’s championship game.

“As part of our Super Bowl gallery, we also have the Super Bowl Theater,” said Pete Fierle, the museum’s information services manager. “It’s a high-definition rotating theater that takes you through the past season, and it’s capped with the Super Bowl. This year, you get to relive the Steelers and Cardinals as only NFL Films can do it.”

Visitors can walk through the Hall of Fame enshrinement room to learn about the 253 people enshrined there or try their hand at football skills in a number of interactive areas of the museum.

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Springfield, Mass.

James Naismith invented the game of basketball in Springfield, Mass., in 1891. Today, the sport’s national hall of fame in the same city is named in his honor.

“We have international inductees and women and people from the college game as well, so it makes us a little unique from other halls of fame, which are just professional men,” said Jamie Przypeck, director of sales and marketing at the hall of fame.

The museum has three floors. Visitors begin on the third floor, where they see plaques and biographies for every hall of fame inductee. On the second floor, museum galleries display information and artifacts from famous players, coaches and teams, such as jerseys from the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James.

“The ground floor is called Center Court,” Przypeck said. “It’s a full-size basketball court, and visitors are welcome to shoot around. There’s an evolution of the baskets from different time periods that people can shoot on, as well as lower hoops so that they can slam-dunk.”

NCAA Hall of Champions

The NCAA Hall of Champions honors the student athletes who participate in 23 official college sports.

“In the Arena, visitors can learn about all of the NCAA’s sports, participate in video trivia, witness and touch NCAA equipment and uniforms and see banners of the most recent NCAA sport champions,” said Gail Dent, associate director of public and media relations. “They can also visit the Hall of Honor that celebrates the academic and athletic achievements of current and former NCAA student athletes.”

Notable exhibits include a statue of the flying wedge, a football formation from the early 1900s that caused so many injuries that schools came together and formed the NCAA to help protect players. Visitors can see numerous other artifacts, play trivia games or learn about the daily schedules of typical student athletes.

On the museum’s second floor, visitors can test their athletic skills in interactive experiences.

“You can witness a tennis ball served at nearly 100 miles per hour, try to lift a rowing scull like NCAA athletes, take a shot from the free-throw line in a gymnasium and test your balance on a beam,” Dent said.

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Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.