Imagine a place so rich in tradition the list of names adorning the walls and displays reads like a who’s who of amateur and professional sports. Overhead, a video continuously plays Lee Roy Selmon’s greatest hits, while a few feet down, one of the many hallowed halls one can relive dozens of memorable moments in the Henry P. Iba Legacy Court.
Heroes and legends can be found in every direction. One aisle might include the likes of Mickey Mantle, Billy Vessels, Johnny Bench and Sean O’Grady, while just across the way, exhibits featuring Wayman Tisdale, Bob Kurland, Joe Carter and Barry Switzer await further exploration.
Not that long ago, a new facility to house the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum was little more than a dream. The temporary displays and makeshift exhibits inside 4040 N. Lincoln were fine, but simply did not do justice where the state’s sports heritage is concerned.
Fortunately, Lynne Draper and his staff at the Jim Thorpe Association have helped turn that dream into reality by raising more than $5 million of a $7.5 million renovation and development project that has transformed the former office complex ” built in 1964 ” into a beautiful state-of-the-art facility.
Draper, president of the Thorpe Association and the driving force behind the museum and hall of fame idea, has worked tirelessly to help this historic venture come to fruition.
“Oklahoma has got the greatest sports heritage in the country and we feel this museum ought to reflect that,” said Draper at a fund-raising luncheon last week inside the facility’s newly christened Bud Wilkinson Events Center. “Our focus and goal from the start has been to make this the best it can possibly be. Everything about this building is brand new, except the exterior. It’s something we can all be proud of.”
Draper is not quite ready to declare the new hall and museum a done deal, especially since they still have more than $2.5 million to raise in order to complete the final phase and put the finishing touches on the project.
“There’s a definite sense of accomplishment at this point, keeping in mind that we still have a ways to go. We’re not at the end of the game, so our focus is on the future and getting everything completed,” said Draper.
The first Jim Thorpe Association Leadership Luncheon held at the new facility figured to be a major step in that finishing direction. More than 500 invited state dignitaries, local business owners, sports legends and sports fans filled the Wilkinson center to hear the legendary coach’s son speak.
Jay Wilkinson read a 1966 letter from his father and spoke eloquently about the man Oklahoma football fans came to know and revere during an 18-year stint with the Sooners from 1946-63. When he was done, Wilkinson received a standing ovation from those in attendance.
“This events center is a fine tribute to a great man and coach, and I thought Jay’s message really captivated the audience today. His communication skills are much like his father’s and he definitely made Bud proud,” said Chuck Bowman, the Thorpe Association’s associate director of development.
“We knew this day would be our victory day with this group that came. There was enough strength inside this room today to help get us to the finish line with this project. Obviously, we want to see this facility completed as soon as possible and not dragging out over time.”
Bowman said that all contributions, big and small, are critical to the overall success of the 40,000-square-foot hall and museum. As head of fund raising, he hopes to get even more corporate and individual sponsors involved in completing the display cases and exhibits.
“This place is going to be something we can all be proud of, a place where people can come and relive the past and be a part of history. The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and Jim Thorpe Museum will be here for generations of young people, and that’s one of things that makes it so important.”
While the events center is named after an OU coaching legend, Draper said the overall theme of the facility is all Oklahoma sports, and not just one or two schools or a handful of individuals.
“This project is representative of the entire state of Oklahoma and all of its rich sports tradition. There’s going to be something for everyone in here,” added Draper.
Construction on the interior of the building is complete and work on all exhibits and displays is currently underway. The facility will continue to be a work-in-progress over the next few months, but visitors can drop by to follow the continued development as it occurs. “Jay C. Upchurch