By Dave Hanneman

Courier Sportswriter

The hour was late.
The door was locked.
The lights were low.
But in the wee hours on that cold February night in 1984, the conversation across the
Oiler Pub bar was animated and lively.
Tom Jeffire, still a relative newcomer to Findlay and Hancock County, was telling
Findlay Courier sportswriters Dave Egbert and Dave Hanneman about his days as
operations manager of Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Mementos of his past decorated the
walls of his pizza establishment, autographed posters of Detroit Red Wings’ greats, athletes
like Joe Louis and rock stars who had played concerts at the arena as well -- Elvis, the
Beetles, Three Dog Night, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder.
The conversation, as it often does over a few cold ones between good friends, turned to
past experiences. More specifically, it centered around famous people our home towns had
produced or star status individuals we had encountered or covered along the way.
With his past connections, Tom had a definite edge in big-name acquaintances, and he
seemed to enjoy pressing that advantage.
But Egbert, a Findlay boy born and raised and a walking encyclopedia of Hancock
County athletic history, held his own. As A-list as Tom’s collection was, the bar owner
was more than a little impressed by the names Eggy came up with:
-- Ray Harroun, winner of the first Indianapolis 500.
-- Peg Kirk Bell, one of the founding charter members of the Ladies Professional Golf
Association.
-- Olympic hockey gold medalist Weldy Olson.
-- William Ellsworth “Dummy” Hoy, a deaf baseball player whose handicap led to the
hand signals umpires use to this day.
-- Heisman Trophy candidates Gene Fekete (Ohio State) and Harry Gonso (Indiana).
-- Professional basketball players Dave Sorenson (NBA) and Warren “Bullet” Bell
(NBL).
--Professional baseball players Forest “Tot” Pressnell (Dodgers, Cubs), Del Drake
(Tigers, St. Louis Terriers), Hoy (Nationals, Senators, Reds, White Sox), and John Poff
(Phillies, Brewers).
- Pro football players John Kidd (Dolphins, Chargers, Bills, Lions, Jets); Gene Fekete
(Browns) and John Fekete (Buffalo Bisons).
Over the years, all had been featured in The Courier, during their careers and in “Look
Back,” “Remember When” and “Top Athletes of the Century” type articles.
“Why,” Tom wondered aloud, wasn’t there some permanent, visible, accessible-to-the-
public exhibit or showcase recognizing Findlay and Hancock County’s most illustrious
athletes?
The question hung tantalizingly in the air.
Then, all three men came to the obvious conclusion.
“Why?” wasn’t the issue.
“Why not!” was the solution.
So in the wee hours on a cold February night in 1983, they huddled and started making
plans.
The Hancock Sports Hall of Fame was a natural title for the organization. Then they put
together a board to help bring it together, successful, motivated people, many of them Hall
of Fame candidates, whose knowledge, organizational skills and business savvy would
prove invaluable.
A lot of long hours went into the planning of that first induction ceremony in the spring
of 1985.
There were no guarantees it would be a success, but the committee was able to land a
dynamic guest speaker in Johnny Bench and the first class of inductees — Peg Kirk Bell,
Forest “Tot” Pressnell, Carl Bachman, Harold “Doc” Castor, Dave Sorenson and Bob
Wortman — was Hall of Fame caliber by any standards.
The evening was a huge success. But at the end of the night, when the hand pumping
and back slapping was done, the committee came to a stark reality — a year from now they
would have to do it all over again.
But they did pull it off again, and again and again and again through one decade, then
another and another.
Year after year the Hall of Fame ranks swelled, often by individuals known as much by
their nickname as their given title:
“Spike” (Berry), “Tot” (Pressnell), “Herk” (Wolfe), “Bullet” (Bell), and “Diz”
(Kirkendall).
The Hall includes Gonso (Harry), Woody (Curlis) “Hobe” ( Wagner) and “Bo” (Hurley)
and a ward full of “Docs” (Castor, Schoonover and Slough, as well as trainer Dr. Harry
Miller).
Some individuals rode the need for speed into the Hall of Fame, whether they were
driving cars (Harroun), boats (Bernie Little), motorcycles (Steve Morehead) or sprint cars
(Rick Ferkel). Some, like harness drivers Joe Marsh and Doc Schoonover, took the term
horse power literally.
There are Barons and Dukes in the Hall of Fame, fathers and sons (Dean & Andy Butler;
Lynn & Doug Martin; Byron Sr., Byron Jr. & Bob Morgan; George & Chad Keller); sets
of brothers (Bill & Joe Faine, Jim & Jerry Carder; Gene & John Fekete, Jim & Bob Inniger,
Steve & Ken Brooks), husbands & wives (Peg & Warren Bell).
The Hall of Fame includes marksmen, linksters and keglers, as well as men who have
coached the game, played the game, called the game (officials, announcers), scheduled the
game (administrators) and chronicled the game (sportswriters).
The Hall also recognizes outstanding teams that have represented Findlay High School,
the University of Findlay and Hancock County schools over the years.
There was a concern, when the Hancock Sports Hall of Fame was started, whether there
would be enough qualified candidates to keep the organization going. Over 30 years later,
it has become evident that is not a problem.
That is one of the great things about the Hancock Sports Hall of Fame. Not only has it
made it a priority to recognize great athletes and teams, it has also created a platform, a
goal, an incentive for those athletes building Hall of Fame-type careers.