Sports HOF Celebrates Area’s Rich History
By Ken Datzman, Brevard Business News // April 14, 2012
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Florida is a talent–rich, sports–crazed state, perhaps like no other. Bigtime college recruiters, especially those in football, have long fed their families off the talent they signed in the Sunshine State.
And Brevard County has been at the center of the activity, producing a fertile crop year after year, pretty much like Florida’s citrus industry.
“I have lived here since 1981. During the span of three decades, I have seen an incredible amount of sports talent come through this county,” said businessman Giles Malone, vice president of area publishing company Maverick Multimedia, who himself is a member of the United Soccer League Hall of Fame.
Communities across America are proud of their hometown athletes, particularly those who have gained stature and have risen to national and international prominence in their respective sports.
They often tout them and enlist their support when promoting their hometown. Some communities have turned out a star or two on the professional level.
Brevard County, just in recent decades, has honed a hall–of–fame–like roster that includes athletes who have reached the pinnacle in their sports.
Brevard Has Produced Its Share of Sports Superstars
Daily newspaper journalist Peter Kerasotis has covered and written columns about many of the athletes in the county for years.
Kerasotis grew up on the Space Coast after his family moved here in 1966 from New York. His father worked for Grumman during the Apollo era.
Kerasotis, who was selected the nation’s top sports columnist, is now doing freelance work for The New York Times.
On this day, he was at the New York Mets’ spring camp in Port St. Lucie. He said Brevard County certainly has produced its share of sports superstars.
“I lived and worked in Los Angeles from 1985 to 1989, and I always bragged about the great athletes that Brevard County turned out,” said Kerasotis, in a telephone conversation, while he awaited the start of a press conference.
It didn’t take long for him to start cranking out the names of the local athletes who have made it to the top of their profession.
“Kelly Slater has gone on to become the greatest surfer in the world — the ‘Babe Ruth of surfing,’ the ‘Michael Jordan of surfing.’ Clint Hurdle (Merritt Island) was a phenomenal baseball player. Until Prince Fielder (who attended Florida Air Academy and graduated from Eau Gallie High School), who was one of the best power hitters I ever saw, Clint was the highest drafted player in baseball out of Brevard County.”
Hurdle is the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“As a young player with the Kansas City Royals, Clint was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Wilber Marshall and Cris Collingsworth were phenomenal high school athletes, too. Wilber has several Super Bowl rings,” said Kerasotis.
Merritt Island High School’s football team, quarterbacked by Jimmy Black, won the state championship in 1973.
“Jimmy went on to become Bobby Bowden’s first quarterback at Florida State University,” he said.
Leon Bright was the running back on that Merritt Island team. “Leon went on to play in the NFL.”
Area Athletes Are ‘Amazing’
Entrepreneur Tom Palermo, president and chief executive officer of Maverick Multimedia, the parent company of Space Coast Medicine and Central Florida Medicine magazines, is a 27–year resident who started the county’s first independent sports publication, in 1993.
“Brevard County’s pedigree, in regard to athletes, is simply amazing. And I have watched many of them play on the local level,” he said.
He and his brother, longtime area physician James Palermo, who is now Maverick’s editor–in–chief, did the play–by–play and color commentary for the local high school football game of the week on WMEL radio station for a number of years.
“I know so many people in the area who reflect back before I arrived here 28 years ago. They have some wonderful sports stories to tell about the athletes who played in the county,” said Dr. Palermo, who was a practicing surgeon for 18 years.
The Palermos have some sports stories of their own to tell. Their uncle is former New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. “We just met with Yogi at the Yankees’ spring training camp in Tampa,” said Tom Palermo.
To recognize the outstanding athletes, coaches and administrators from this region, Maverick Multimedia, working with partners Space Coast Sports Promotions and Bright House Networks, has created the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame.
The 86–year–old Berra, a former Yankees manager, is connected to the Hall of Fame as an honorary member of the nominating committee.
“We told Yogi what we were doing and he was very enthusiastic about being an honorary member of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame,” said Tom Palermo, whose uncle was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
“We feel the awesome responsibility of managing and organizing this new entity. We are going to work extremely hard to make sure that we do this properly, fairly, and set it up for long–term success,” he added.
Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame For the Community
Rusty Buchanan, president of Space Coast Sports Promotions, says the local hall of fame idea has been discussed for years.
“It actually took Giles (Malone) and Tom (Palermo) to muster up the support, the energy, and get the right people behind the project — individuals like Larry Garrison (former executive vice president and chief operating officer of Health First Inc.) and Dr. Palermo.
They have volunteered to work on the committee to make this happen. We are proud of what we’re creating in the community,” said Buchanan.
The recently retired Garrison, a member of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame nominating committee, has been a Brevard resident for more than 40 years, and a sports fan who says he always has his car radio tuned to “ESPN.”
“I am excited about this new venture for the county. It’s a great way to recognize a lot of outstanding individuals who have been involved in various sports over the years. I have watched them from Little League on up. I have seen a lot of Brevard citizens become great professional athletes. Some of them have competed internationally,” Garrison said.
The local roster of stars includes 10–time world–champion surfer Slater, former Boston Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, Major League managers Bruce Bochy and Hurdle, and former National Football League players Doug “Hail Mary” Flutie, Collingsworth, and Marshall.
The list continues with Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour player Vicky Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals defensive back Reggie Nelson, Major League All–Star Prince Fielder now with the Detroit Tigers, and former PGA Tour professional Paul Azinger.
Tom Palermo said the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame is for the community.
“We really don’t have a pro franchise, per se, that we can put our arms around. But I think the Sports Hall of Fame is going to be something the community can really wrap their arms around.”
The organization is currently seeking a physical site for the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame. “It will be a virtual hall initially,” said Malone, adding that he hopes to announce the location of a permanent site soon.
Giles Malone’s brother, Keith, recently visited the Space Coast, traveling here from Great Britain, where he is a TV broadcaster. The Malone family has deep roots in British journalism as their father, Roger, was a noted TV sports journalist and soccer play-by-play announcer for more than 30 years.
Induction Gala Set For May 11
The inaugural class of inductees will be unveiled on Friday, May 11, at the Cocoa Beach Country Club. The Induction Banquet and Annual Sports Awards ceremony is open to the community. Brighthouse Networks, the Cocoa Beach Pier, the Space Coast Office of Tourism, and Maverick Multimedia are sponsoring the event.
The program begins at 6 p.m. with a social hour. There is seating for 400 people. Tickets are $49. To make a reservation, e–mail MaverickMultiMedia@gmail.com or call 615–8111 or 323–4460.
Nominees will be selected across four sports levels: professional, college, high school and amateur. In addition, recognition will be bestowed upon individuals and groups who have made significant contributions to sports on the Space Coast.
“Dr. Tony Catanese (Florida Tech president) has been nominated for a special Visionary Award, for bringing college football to the Space Coast,” said Malone.
Florida Tech will open its inaugural football season in 2013.
The organizing committee will elect the Class of 2012 with input from school administrators, athletic directors, coaches, and the public.
“We have received an incredible response, an amazing amount of content from people telling us about their friends, and their relatives who competed in sports in the county,” said Malone.
“They are going back 40 to 50 years. It’s very exciting and heartwarming to see the strong community response.”
He said the committee is “receiving 10 to 15 nominations a day from people.” The committee meets on a weekly basis. “I believe we will have around 25 people inducted this year in the four categories.”
Details of the nominees will be posted at SpaceCoastDaily.com and published in Maverick Multimedia’s Space Coast Sports magazine.
The selection committee is comprised of Tom Palermo; Malone; Dr. Palermo; Ed Pierce, managing editor, Maverick Multimedia; Kerasotis, who was chosen as the nation’s best sports columnist by the Football Writers Association of America in 2011; and Buchanan.
“The people who are on this committee care about the community, care about sports, and have a solid understanding of the community–at–large. Everyone is dedicated to making this a big success, to really put a lot of thought and planning into who goes in each year,” Malone said.
Buchanan said the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame will showcase the region’s “visionaries.”
“Tom Wasdin, for example, had the vision and idea of creating a sports commission 21 years ago. We were only the third sports commission in existence in the state of Florida at the time.
The other two commissions were trying to lure professional teams. We were the first such commission in the state to actually look at sports and say there is more to it than the professional level.”
Buchanan said Brevard County’s sports commission targeted the “amateur side” of the business.
“We felt like we could create an economic impact through a series of small, yet frequent, events that bring the traveling public here. And we have done that. It’s been a success.”
Before Wasdin became a successful businessman in Brevard County, he blazed a trail in college athletics as the head basketball coach of private Jacksonville University, taking the Dolphins to the NCAA Tournament in 1971 and 1973.
Wasdin, a real–estate entrepreneur in the region, was JU’s assistant coach for four years. He recruited a pair of 7–footers — Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows — who carried JU to the NCAA national title game in 1970, before losing to John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty.
JU became the second smallest school ever to make it to the Final Four.
“Tom has made a huge contribution to sports on the Space Coast,” said Malone.
Kerasotis says the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame is a great idea and overdue.
“You kind of slap your forehead with your palm and say ‘of course — it’s been screaming for this.’ And finally someone has done it.”
This story is Courtesy of Brevard Business News