The Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Foundation has come a long way in 34 years.
The ESHOFF was born in 1980, an idea actually hatched in the late 1970s by former Elgin Courier-News sports editor Stan Shalett and former Elgin Country Club golf professional Terry Carlson.
Having been a Shalett protege at that time, I clearly remember Stan and Terry talking about the idea, but I doubt either of them thought 34 years ago the ESHOFF would become what it has -- an organization that has awarded over $353,000 in scholarship money to Elgin area student-athletes, as of Sunday night will have inducted 158 people into the Hall of Fame, and has awarded countless Outstanding Achievement Awards.
"Sports has always been a big part of the fabric of Elgin, just like the watch factory and milk," says ESHOFF past president Mark Sharf, a 1968 Larkin graduate who has been a member of the ESHOFF board of directors the past 10 years. "I think we are entrusted with an important part of the history of Elgin -- preserving it, recognizing it and saluting it."
Salute it the ESHOFF will do on Sunday night when it holds its 34th annual induction ceremony and recognition banquet at The Centre of Elgin. The evening, with master of ceremonies and current president Ron Lange, a 1968 Larkin graduate, leading the way, will be highlighted by the induction of five new members -- Anton Kossakowski, Alan Lettow, Jeff Myers, Dave Russell and Vince Webber -- but equally as important will be the awarding of 25 scholarships of $1,000 each -- an amount that will increase to at least $1,250 in 2014 -- and the recognition of over 50 Outstanding Achievement Award winners as well as the presentation of the Vic Masi Award to former youth baseball and football coach Mike Bailey.
So just how has the ESHOFF evolved from one $500 scholarship in 1980 to $25,000 and beyond? A lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people, first of all. And, the generosity of individuals and businesses beyond what Shalett and Carlson ever dreamed of in 1980, which was also the year former Larkin athletic director and football coach Ray Haley joined the board. He is now the only original board member still serving in that capacity.
The scholarship program wasn't always so flush. Scholarships of $500 were awarded in 1980 and 1981 but then the program had no funds for the next three years. As membership increased, the program was restored in 1986. The number of scholarships and the number of schools included in the program increased over the years to where today, the six high schools in Elgin, as well as student-athletes living in Elgin who attend South Elgin and Burlington Central, are eligible for scholarships and recognition from the ESHOFF.
"We're able to do all this with a membership that averages between 200 and 250 every year," said foundation treasurer Dave Covey, a board member since 1985, an officer since 1989 and a retired 35-year middle school administrator in Elgin Area School District U-46.
Covey is also quick to point out that over the years memorials from longtime foundation supporters -- including Pete Kovacs and Jim Biggins among several others -- have helped to significantly increase the foundation's scholarship fund, as has the organization's highly successful golf outing, chaired by Dick Fitchie and held the past six years at The Highlands of Elgin after a two-year start at Bartlett Hills (the foundation's banquets were formerly held at Villa Olivia in Bartlett and have now been moved to the city of Elgin as well).
The list of Hall of Fame inductees not only includes some of the best coaches and athletes to ever ply their trade in Elgin but it is all encompassing, ranging from basketball, baseball, football and all the traditional sports to horseshoe throwing, handball, auto racing and table tennis, among others. Basketball, the one single sport Elgin has the richest and longest tradition in, dominates the HOF inductee list with 37 names listed under that sport on the eshof.org website.
From the first class of inductees -- Earl Tanner Brittain, Frank Breen, Jack Burmaster, Gus Farwick, John A. Krafft, Douglas R. Mills, Brian Oldfield, John Paul, Flynn Robinson and Don Sunderlage -- to the 2013 class, the ESHOFF has continued to recognize the many many athletes from Elgin who have had tremendous careers.
In 1990, the ESHOFF added Outstanding Achievement Awards, completing what is now its three-prong philosophy of induction, recognition and scholarship. The OAAs each year recognize significant accomplishments by local student-athletes and teams in high school and college, youth sports and adult sports.
The OAA list has grown from five in 1990 to over 50 the past several years.
We salute the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Foundation for all the good it has done and continues to do. We also suggest you check out the website at eshof.org, which has information on membership opportunities as well as a wealth of information on the organization. Like any not-for-profit organization, the ESHOFF is always looking for willing people to join and become active in the foundation's many activities.
Editor's note: In addition to being Fox Valley Sports Editor for the Daily Herald, John Radtke is a member of the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame Foundation's board of directors.