A History of the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame
The inaugural Big Game on March 19, 1892, which Stanford was victorious, marked the beginning of a great athletic tradition at Stanford. Despite the roster of athletic legends and number of memorable athletic moments produced over the first half century of its existence, Stanford had no formalized method to honor its great athletes, until 1954, when the Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame was organized.
The Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame was the brainchild of the late Walt Gamage, longtime sports editor of the Palo Alto Times. Gamage, who had previously worked on a number of neighborhood newspapers in the Chicago area, moved to Palo Alto in 1944 and quickly became interested in Stanford sports. His coverage of Stanford sports increased after World War II when intercollegiate sports picked up again. During the late 1940s and early '50s, Gamage had the opportunity to cover baseball stars Lloyd Merriman and Jack Shepard, track stars Mathais, Eric Krenz and Gay Bryan, and football great Bill McColl, all of whom would later be in the inaugural Hall of Fame class.
"Walt wanted to do something to enhance Stanford athletics and honor its great history," recalled his widow, Crystal. "They'd just gone through another golden era with Mathais and the 1952 Rose Bowl Team. He felt that Stanford athletes deserved more recognition, which they were getting only in a hiccup way from the department at the time. Walt was appalled that they didn't have a Hall of Fame at Stanford, because every other major university had one."
Gamage proposed the idea of a Hall of Fame to Stanford Athletic Director Al Masters on multiple occasions, but after lack of support by Masters, Gamage decided to establish the Hall on his own. With the backing of the newspaper, Palo Alto Time, where Gamage worked, the Hall of Fame became a reality. Soon, Masters was on board with the idea, as was Stanford's Sports Information Director, Don Liebendorfer.
In 1954, a committee of 30 people was formed, which included ex-Stanford athletes, sportswriters, and people with strong ties to Stanford sports. The chairman of the committee was Murray Draper '28, judge of the California District Court of Appeals. Other notables on the committee included former Stanford athletic greats like Ernie Nevers, Bobby Grayson, and Harlow Rothert, team physician Dr. Fritz Roth, team photographer Dick Keeble, Masters, Leibendorfer, and Harry Maloney, who had coached six different sports at the University.
The first class of inductees, including 34 of the greatest names in Stanford sports history, was announced in a full-page spread in the Palo Alto Times on December 21, 1954.
In the late 1960s, after Gamage was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, stewardship of the Hall of Fame was passed on to the Athletic Department. Rugby coach Pete Kmetovic, a member of the Hall as a star halfback on the 1940 "Wow Boys" Team, and Sports Information Director Bob Murphy, also a Hall of Famer as a star baseball pitcher, were given the responsibility for its administration.
From 1975 to '82, a committee headed by Associate Athletic Director Gary Cavelli and consisting of Athletic Department administrators, cashes, media, and former athletes made the selections into the Hall of Fame. New inductees were honored at halftime of a major basketball game in Maples Pavilion.
In 1982, the Hall of Fame took an 11-year hiatus. The Hall was reactivated in 1993, with the leadership of new Athletic Director Ted Leland. When plans were drawn for the Arrillaga Family Sports Center, the new home of Athletic Department offices, Leland ensured that a spacious Hall of Fame Room was included in the building design.
"The Hall of Fame symbolizes the quality of athletic excellence that is a very important part of the heritage of Stanford University," Leland said. "The entire Stanford community can be proud that our University produces athletes and coaches of this caliber."
When the Arrillaga Family Sports Center opened in January, 1994, it included a Sydney and Theodore Rosenberg Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame Room that is just over 4,000 square feet. The room was made possible through the generosity of two longtime friends of Stanford - Sydeney Rosenberg, '36, a member of the "Vow Boys" football teams, and his brother, Theodore. The room showcases trophies, uniforms, photographs, and other memorabilia from Stanford's athletic history.
On June 8, 1994, the first group of Hall of Fame inductees since '82 was honored at a gala dinner before a sold-out crowd of 750 people in Maples Pavilion. The group included football stars John Elway and Darrin Nelson, swimming greats Pablo Morales and Marybeth Linzmeier Dorst, and two of Stanford's most successful coaches, men's tennis coach Dick Gould and former football coach John Ralston.
"It's great to see the Hall of Fame back being given the stature it deserves, and these great athletes being given the recognition they deserve," said Crystal Gamage, now a docent in the Hall of Fame room. "I know that if Walt were still alive, he'd be very proud."