At last year’s NASC Symposium in Louisville, I had a unique conversation with a sports industry veteran. We discussed the history of the sports tourism industry and the major contributions that certain individuals had made over the years. The dialog was about honoring those that had given so much to our profession, including an idea to attempt to get these leaders on a panel at a future conference (or better yet, on video tape).
This conversation started after we spent some time at the conference with one of my mentors, Jack Kelly. At the time Jack was battling health issues, and while he was always a positive influence to those around him we knew that someday he would leave us for a better place. Within a few months of the Symposium, Jack was gone. Last month, we lost another industry influencer in Jack Hughes. Both Jack and Jack, like Kevin Gray before them, were gracious with their knowledge and their time. They always had advice for those of us that were trying to follow in their footsteps. Whenever they were approached, they offered an unbiased and unique perspective to any situation. These men offered us all a great example of how to build a legacy by leading others in times of need.
As this year’s Symposium approaches, I remembered last year’s conversation, and the events that followed. Unfortunately, we never got Jack and Jack on video, an opportunity missed. While they have been (and will be) honored in their passing, we owe it to our industry to celebrate those that blazed a trail ahead of us. There are many more people like Jack, Jack, and Kevin. Legacy builders that we should take time to acknowledge today, and not wait and later on think “what if.” We owe it to our industry to preserve its history, and to honor the people within it that have helped build not only their own legacies, but have laid the foundation for sports tourism to thrive in the future.
Since we don’t have a sports tourism industry hall of fame, or a similar enshrinement event, I will use this platform to get the ball rolling. The first class of the baseball hall of fame had ten members, including Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson. Building on that precedent, I offer you my list of six inaugural inductees into the (fictitious) sports tourism and events hall of fame…..
Don Schumacher – Long time industry consultant and NASC Executive Director. Don took the leadership role of the NASC when it had less than 10 members and has led the organization to unparalleled growth. He is the industry’s unofficial historian.
Mike Millay – Mike is a two-time chairman of the NASC, a former sports commission Executive Director (New Orleans), and has been part of the Disney Sports team since its inception. Mike is a visionary who has touched the industry in many ways, including serving as the Chairman of the Central Florida Sports Commission in addition to his day job at Disney.
Frank Viverito – The dean of sports in St. Louis, Frank has been a great resource to others within the industry and has always offered a unique perspective on challenging topics (see pizza as an economic impact measuring stick).
Jack Kelly – He did it all, from working with Ted Tuner in the creation of the Goodwill Games, to a little start-up called Smart Bug. Jack was always shepherding a new project along, and he did so with gusto.
Kevin Gray – As a long-time executive in the baseball ranks, Kevin brought our industry a new way of thinking at a time of tremendous growth. During his long tenure at the Kansas City Sports Commission, Kevin led the organization with an entrepreneurial spirit and a collaborative mentality. Like many others on this list, Kevin always had time to coach the younger generation through challenging situations.
Jack Hughes – A past chair of the NASC, Jack was involved in several industry roles, most notably as the leader of the Gainesville Sports Commission. Always smiling (even when his beloved Florida Gators were struggling), Jack never shied away from the tough issues within the NASC.
As with any “best of” list, there is the chance to overlook a deserving candidate (Drew Mahalic, Jon Lugbill, John Bisignano, Linda Logan, Bill Hanson, and Tim Schneider come immediately to mind). My tenure in the marketplace dates only to 1996, which leaves a significant portion of the industry’s infancy unaccounted for. That is why there should be a more engaged and inclusive effort to capture a truly representative list of sports tourism legacy builders.
I don’t want to look back next year and think “what if.” Let’s not let another year pass. Let’s build a program to honor those that changed the face of tourism through sport. Let’s recognize their legacies while we can still do it together. Let’s do it now. Who wants to join me?
Author/blogger John Richardson wrote an article about his ten favorite quotes about leaving a legacy.