Sports Journey – Texas Sports Hall of Fame
In 1949, at a gathering of Texas sportswriters, the idea of creating a Hall of Fame to honor the state’s greatest athletes was first brought up. Two years, later, the idea became a reality. Baseball great – and Hubbard, Texas native – Tris Speaker was the inaugural inductee.
A physical “home” for the Hall was finally created by legendary sportsman Lamar Hunt in Grand Prairie, Texas in 1981. It would close in 1986, and ultimately reopen in its new home in Waco, Texas in 1993. Since its opening, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame has served as a permanent place of honor for over 300 of the greatest and most influential athletes and sports figures in Texas history.
Over the years the site, which is located adjacent to the campus of Baylor University, has expanded from its original mission and footprint and has become the home of the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame, the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, and – as of 2016 – the home of the collection for the Nolan Ryan Museum.
Before I get any further down the trail on this, I have to admit that as a Native Texan (a fact of which I take tremendous pride in on a daily basis) I puffed my chest out a little as I stroll through the exhibits of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, especially when starting in the main gallery.
A walk among the cabinets of artifacts and photos which highlight some of the greatest athletes in each sport (beginning with football, of course; this is Texas, after all), you begin to get a sense of the impact that the Lone Star State has had on sports – all of them.
Football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, track and field, gymnastics, auto racing, golf, tennis, bowling, swimming and diving, rodeo – Texans have been among the greatest in each and every one of them.
Highlights of these collections include the Heisman Trophy of former TCU Horned Frog and College Football Hall of Famer Davey O’Brien, footprints in which you can measure your stride against NBA greats (and enshrinees) Clyde Drexler, Hakeem Olajuwon, and David Robinson, and golf bags and clubs belonging to Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.
As you make your way toward the Tribute Rooms, you get a fuller picture of some of the most important figures in Texas’ sports history. Darrell K. Royal, Grant Teaff, George Foreman, Nolan Ryan, Doak Walker, and Harvey Penick all have large-scale exhibits telling of their careers and each case has some truly amazing artifacts to behold.
Tucked away in the main gallery is the Tom Landry Theater, an interactive multimedia exhibit that is a must visit if you’re a football fan of any kind. Telling of his days growing up in Mission, Texas, through his college years at the University of Texas and onto his nearly three-decade long career on the sidelines of the Dallas Cowboys, the exhibit has photos, artifacts as well as video and audio that you can interact with.
Through the Great Hall, you can visit my personal favorite section of the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, the Southwest Conference Gallery & Cotton Bowl Exhibit. A full-sized replica of the facade of the legendary Cotton Bowl greats visitors through a history of the gone but not forgotten Southwest Conference (SWC). For over 80 years, some of the best college football in the nation was played amongst eight major Texas colleges – along with our “cousin” Arkansas – and all of that is a highlight that cannot be missed. The exhibit is broken up by college and by sport. It highlights the achievements in each sport that the schools accomplished during the run of the SWC.
Personally, I think one of the best aspects of the entire exhibit are the full-sized cabinet pieces that discuss the history of each school’s mascot, which is complete with full regalia. There is also an interactive exhibit that has recordings of some of the best-known radio and TV announcers in the conference’s history as well as a short film covering the history of the Cotton Bowl to watch on the exhibit’s “jumbotron.”
Off of this hall is the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame and the Health & Fitness Education Center, which is the de facto children’s area. However, don’t let that keep you from visiting if you don’t have the kids in tow. Cornhole games, jump rope activities, and a really impressive video wall in which you can try your luck tossing a football or baseball or kicking a soccer ball and see how you measure up against the pros.
The Tennis Hall of Fame has dozens of artifacts and chronicles the history of the game in Texas as well as some of the most important figures in it. Make sure to visit the life-sized terracotta warrior inspired statue of Grand Slam winner and adopted Texan Andy Roddick.
Last, but definitely not least, no visit to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame would be complete without stopping by the Texas High School Hall of Fame. It’s a given at this point that people understand the passion that Texans have for high school football. This exhibit is a perfect example of it. Decade by decade, the sport is chronicled with loving care. Letterman jackets from days gone by, as well as an evolutionary glance at the equipment are some of the real highlights to be on the lookout for.
As mentioned, I am a bit biased when it comes to Texas, but I think anyone who has even a cursory interest in sports won’t be able to help but come away impressed with the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Plan for at least 2-3 hours to get a chance to take everything in.
There are enough interactive exhibits and activities to keep kids entertained and more than enough history and memories to keep adults enthralled. Make sure to check the calendar before you go; there are often special events, guest appearances, and book signings to take part in. Plan your visit soon!
Texas Sports Hall of Fame
1108 S. University Parks Drive, Waco, TX 76706
Open Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm (closed on Baylor University home football games and Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years Day
Admission: $7 for adults; $4 for seniors; $3 for students (6-18); kids 5 and under get in free