The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame by Carmelo Desmone

buildingchiNot far from the chaos of downtown Chicago in the neighborhood known as “Little Italy” along a tree lined street is the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame located at 1421 South Taylor Avenue.  I had the opportunity to tour the Hall and spoke with the founder, George Randazzo.  Mr. Randazzo told me how he was trying to sell sponsorships in a book to help raise money for Mother Cabrini’s sports program and while showing the pictures of boxing greats he had collected and would be featured in the book someone suggested he start the Italian American boxing hall of fame.  With the encouragement and support of friends it has become the beautiful facility it is today.

chicagowindowThe Hall has a collection of sports memorabilia which may be one of the best overall collections in the United States.  While there are better and more extensive collections dedicated to one sport, this may be the best collection of multi-sports memorabilia.  The collection is dedicated to preserving the heritage and highlighting the contributions Italian-American athletes have made to sports in America.

The Hall of fame recognizes all the sports.  There is a saber and world championship belt from Prof. Geneoso Pavese, considered the greatest sword fighter of all time.  He taught swordsmanship at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis and gave lessons to President Theodore Roosevelt.

There are items from Chet Forte the original producer of “Monday Night Football” that debuted in 1970. The shoulder pads of Brian Piccolo the football player whose life inspired the movie “Brian’s song.”  All eleven Olympic medals won by Matt Biondi are on display.  There are Items from Mary Carillo, tennis pro and award winning broadcaster, The Championship belts of fighters Jake LaMata the “Raging Bull”, and “Boom Boom” Mancini, are on display along with the belts of Rocky Graziano, and Marciano and others along with their robes, gloves and other personal items.

There are the complete race cars of Mario and Michael Andretti, the complete AA Fuel dragster of Joe Amato.  Items from Mr. Universe, Lou Ferrigno, Football greats like Dan Marino, Vince Lombardi, Vince Farragamo and others are also on display.  “The Yankee Clipper,” Joe DiMaggio, Joe Garagiola, Yogi Berra, Tommy Lasorda and Tony LaRussa all have items enshrined here, along with hockey greats like Tony Esposito.  The golf bag used by Phil Mickelson in the 2000 Ryder Cup sits in a display on the first floor.  All type of great sports memorabilia from pool greats like Willie Mosconi to the slippers worn by Mary Lou Retton when she made her famous perfect 10 vault in 1984 are housed in the museum.  This is only a fraction of the items on display at the Hall of Fame.  You leave there with a pride in your heritage and the accomplishment and contributions made by the Italians American Athletes.

Next trip to Chicago include a stop by the Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, See the many contributions Italian Americans have made to sports, enjoy a cup of Starbuck’s coffee across the street in Piazza DiMaggio. Enjoy the Italian heritage that we are privileged to share with so many great sports personalities.

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