EASTON, Pa. (AP) – A new national museum honoring excellence in scholastic sports is going up in eastern Pennsylvania, spotlighting the high school exploits of pro superstars like LeBron James but also cheering former top athletes who excelled away from the playing field.
The first-of-its-kind High School Sports Hall of Fame Museum will be built in Easton, a sporting hotbed known nationally for its wrestling programs and for its century-old football rivalry with neighboring Phillipsburg, N.J., Mayor Sal Panto Jr. and museum officials announced Monday.
The $20 million museum will feature inductees who, as high school seniors, both excelled in sports and displayed good character in their schools and communities. Past inductees have included NBA stars James and Dwight Howard, American League batting champ Joe Mauer, and Olympic gold medal swimmer Allyson Felix.
The museum could open by the summer of 2011 and will be operated by the Easton-based National High School Coaches Association, which selects national coaches and athletes of the year in 20 sports. Inductees get the JAIME Award – which stands for Just Athletics Isn't Meaningful Enough.
"It's not just about your athletic performance. More importantly, it's about you being a good person," said Robert Ferraro Sr., a retired college wrestling coach and chief executive of the coaches association.
The museum plans to promote itself heavily as a field trip destination for elementary, middle and high school students around the Northeast. Nearby is the Crayola Factory, which draws 300,000 visitors a year.
The 20,000-square-foot complex is still being planned but will likely include exhibit space for memorabilia, a holographic theater, a testing and training center for current athletes, an education center for coaches seeking certification, and a "Hall of Achievement" featuring standout prep athletes who went on to attain career success.
"There's going to be a real powerful, positive message at the end of the day," Ferraro said.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, an Easton native who wrestled with Ferraro in high school, said the museum will promote a positive message about sports.
"There's nothing on the street but trouble," said Holmes, who attended Monday's event. He added that sports give youths "something to do, gives them something to shoot for."
The complex, to be built on the site of an abandoned restaurant and movie theater, will also feature a 350-car parking garage and a commuter bus depot.
The city has pledged to kick in at least $12 million, of which $7.5 million has already been raised through state and federal grants. The coaches association will rely on private donors to fund the balance of the $20 million.
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