BETHESDA – Montgomery County was the site where several prominent athletes got their start before moving on to the professional level. However, their impact was never put on display for county residents to celebrate their accomplishments.
From legendary Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson to Olympic gold medalist swimmer Katie Ledecky, many great athletes have either grown up or lived in Montgomery County – and local officials want more people to know that.
On May 15, county officials gathered to finally announce the plans to create a new Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame (MCSHF). While the plans for the new hall of fame are still in the early stages, it was formally launched last week as the county will now honor its own athletes.
While the plans for a county sports hall of fame have been in the works for more than a year, the May 15 announcement at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda served as an official notice.
“The Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame is not just about celebrating remarkable achievement in athleticism; the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame will also be a tool and vehicle to bring our sports community together here in Montgomery County,” said County Councilmember Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).
The Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame is an independent non-profit that does not receive funding from the county. While it may not be Canton, Ohio, or Cooperstown, N.Y., the county’s sports hall of fame will likely be housed in the county’s new office facilities in Wheaton. As of yet, there no are set plans for its design.
While it will serve as a way to celebrate many of the great sports figures in the county, for many the new sports hall of fame also will serve as an organizing and political tool to promote sports issues.
Albornoz talked about the hall of fame serving as a catalyst to help advocate for improving athletic fields in the county as well as potentially getting public support for an arena – a long-talked-about project among local politicians that has yet to come to fruition.
“We have not yet been able to organize as a sports community, and we need to. We need to, to advocate for enhanced fields, better fields, for more venues,” Albornoz said. “We don’t have a sports arena here in Montgomery County that could also serve as an economic engine and serve as a host to graduations for our high school classes.”
For Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), the new sports hall of fame will be a potential answer to the county’s marketing problem, saying that sports could be a way for Montgomery County to form a stronger identity.
“Montgomery County, I think, you know, we have an issue explaining to the outside world who we are,” Riemer said. “And the fact that our county is comprised of different communities like Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, how many athletes are in professional sports today from those communities, but to the outside world, they are not known as Montgomery County athletes?”
One of those athletes, former Washington Redskins defensive back Shawn Springs, a Springbrook High School alumnus, spoke about his love for the county and how it shaped his path to a professional career in the NFL.
“I attribute a lot of the success that I had in the NFL and my career — playing career — because of the lessons (he) learned growing up here in Montgomery County,” Springs said, crediting his high school coach, Bob Molloy, for helping him grow as an athlete.
The nomination process for the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame opens June 1, and closes at the end of the month. There is no one strict set of criteria for the selection process, MCSHF board chair Heffelfinger said.
In September, the MCSHF will hold a dinner celebrating the new inductees at the Silver Spring Civic Center.