Since Nov. 4, curator Justin Lenhart has led the laborious process of meticulously packing up and securing nearly 4,000 pieces of memorabilia at Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame (OSHOF) in preparation for the museum’s move to Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark downtown.
Lenhart helped move the Hall of Fame into its Lincoln Boulevard location nine years ago, and he’s excited for the future.
“I’ve done it before, and now that I’m 40, it’s getting a little old hat,” Lenhart said. “[The move] is a positive thing for us. The location speaks for itself, and financially, what we were able to gain by selling this property was nice. With a little elbow grease here and there, it’ll be alright.”
The museum closed its doors in early November, but the top floor of the building at 4040 N. Lincoln Blvd., where The Petroleum Club operates a banquet hall, will remain operational.
Mike James took over as president of OSHOF Oct. 21 when his predecessor Eddie Griffin left to become the athletic director at the University of Central Oklahoma. James is a previous chairman of the hall of fame’s board of trustees.
OSHOF is using a portion of the money it gained from selling its previous building to renovate the former Coach’s restaurant connected to the ballpark operated by the Oklahoma City Dodgers.
“It’s been wonderful being on Lincoln [Boulevard], but you don’t get the kind of foot traffic that we will get in Bricktown,” James said from his current office in the basement of the building on Lincoln Boulevard. “We didn’t feel that the state of Oklahoma, residents and visitors were getting the exposure to us that they truly deserved, especially since we’re a free museum.”
The tentative plan, depending on the construction schedule, is to coincide the opening of the new OSHOF with baseball’s opening day in April 2018. The new 10,000 square-foot facility will feature upgrades like interactive exhibits, and guests will be able to use an iPad to navigate a self-guided tour through years of Oklahoma sports history.
“We believe this partnership provides a perfect fit for the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Oklahoma City Dodgers,” OKC Dodgers President/General Manager Michael Byrnes said in a press release. “Having the museum housed at the ballpark in the heart of Bricktown will add another great destination to visit in the Bricktown District.”
OSHOF includes 160 inductees, contemporary figures and 360 items of memorabilia belonging to Jim Thorpe, the first Native American gold medalist and multi-sport professional athlete. The OSHOF and the Jim Thorpe Association combined in 2013.
A Jim Thorpe statue will stand outside the new hall of fame, which will overlook the baseball field. Thorpe, who was voted the greatest athlete of the first half of the 20th century by the Associated Press, once hit home runs into three different states while playing a minor league baseball game in a field that bordered Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Thorpe played six seasons in Major League Baseball and was also the first president of the professional football league that would become the National Football League while playing running back for the Canton Bulldogs.
The OSHOF and Jim Thorpe Association annually sponsor the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the best defensive back in college football.
“It’s been 60 years since Jim Thorpe passed, and his sons are still active in everything that we do. That’s pretty darn amazing,” James said.
The organization also sponsors the Bright Path Youth Program, taking its name from the translation of Thorpe’s Indian name, Wa-Tho-Huk. It holds a Jim Thorpe Arts Fest and a children’s challenge to promote physical fitness for fourth- and fifth-grade students.
“We do more for the school systems than we do for the sports world. We have the largest drug-free initiative in the state with a red ribbon campaign,” James said, noting that more than 15,000 children have signed up for the campaign.
OSHOF also sponsors the Warren Spahn Award, which is given annually to the top left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball. It will induct a new class of athletes in early 2018, before the opening of the new museum.
James said that he always heard from Lynne Draper, founder of the Jim Thorpe Association who died in 2016, that Oklahoma had more athletes in major sports halls of fame than any other state.
“When a lot of people think of these heroes, they don’t associate them with Oklahoma because they didn’t have pro teams back then,” James said. “When you look at the roots or where their careers started, it’s Oklahoma.”