Stark County is full of many attractions, some more well-known than others. Gary Brown brings our attention to the less-publicized places. This month: The Greater Canton Amateur Sports Hall of Fame.The best of Stark County’s athletes culminated their sports careers in glory not far from downtown Canton.
Names of these standout local athletes are honored, and artifacts of their exploits are preserved, in a structure—The Greater Canton Amateur Sports Hall of Fame—that is a historic yet somewhat obscure structure north of 12th Street NW on Market Avenue N.
The building is beautiful enough—a former home turned into office space at 1414 Market Avenue N. Long ago dubbed the Renkert-Belden Home, it was built in 1908 by Henry Renkert, son of Jacob J. Renkert, a pioneer in the brick-making industry. The structure has ties, as well, to the Belden family, also a noted area name in the brick industry. So, in a sense, the Renkert-Belden Home symbolizes the part the Canton area played in brick-making.
Still, the building is dedicated to the accomplishments of amateurs and it has been so focused for decades.
“You are looking at thousands of individuals who have been honored,” said R.J. Van Almen, president of the Greater Canton Amateur Sports Hall of Fame. “Through our individual associations, we’ve been able to honor these people for their athletic achievements.”
Included in the museum are spaces set aside for nearly a dozen Canton area halls of fame for basketball, baseball, swimming and diving, slow-pitch and fast-pitch softball, fumbleball, men’s and women’s bowling and billiards. Exhibit space also is devoted to Senior Olympics, Canton Negro Oldtimers Athletic Association and a multitude of local conservation clubs.
“Each association is responsible for its own display,” said Van Almen, who noted that the museum is open during business hours for Canton Parks and Recreation, which shares space in the museum building.
The collection of artifacts, photographs and yellow newspaper clippings retell an extensive story of decades of sports history in Stark County.
“We have a handful of men from Stark County who have been enshrined in the Pro Football of Fame. “Here we have the opportunity to recognize those talented athletes who didn’t go on to play professional sports. Some of them tell us that it (enshrinement in the hall) is the greatest recognition they get in their lives.”
Baseballs, softballs, basketballs and bowling balls all have found their way to display cases, as have trophies won for outstanding play in games in which the balls were used. Press clippings detail the most historic of those contests, and uniforms worn in them hang on racks or are pinned up in exhibits.
The most important exhibits in all of the halls of fame, of course, are the plaques identifying the hundreds of men who have been enshrined in the various associations in the Greater Canton Amateur Sports Hall of Fame.
Five individuals are paid the greatest respect: Frank Burnosky, Ralph Miller, John S. Johns, Loretta Duda and Don Thompson. These names of the founders of the Greater Canton Amateur Sports Hall of Fame hang in the lobby next to the offices of the Canton Parks and Recreation Department.
“Our biggest blessing has been the Parks and Recreation moving into that building,” said Van Almen. “They have hundreds of people coming into that office every month, and many of those people may not even be aware of the museum. By taking a tour, they may learn that they have family members who are enshrined here. So, we’ve really had a rebirth in the last three or four years.”
Van Almen expects the interest in the Amateur Sports Hall of Fame to increase even more in the months to come. He and other trustees making decisions for the hall are working with Parks and Recreation, including the department’s director, Derek Gordon, to find a way to update the hall’s displays.
“We want to bring this hall into the 21st century,” said Van Almen. “We’re going to bring our displays back to life. People should start seeing some difference as soon as early next year.”