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Anne Madarasz, Pittsburgh Sports Museum

October 12, 2011

Anne Madarasz, Pittsburgh Sports Museum (July 3  2011):
First, can you give readers a short history of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum –when it first opened, how fans can visit and how it’s funded?
The Sports Museumopened in November of 2004 as part of a new five story edition that we built to expand the History Center. The Sports Museum is so big, 20,000 square feet on two floors, that we really see it as a “museum within a museum,” but there is no extra charge to visit – you get great sports history and everything else the Museum has to offer.

We built the Sports Museum because we recognized that sports is part of the identity of this region and that this was a great story that our visitors would love to learn about. It has had the added benefit of attracting visitors who might never come to the History Center – what we’ve found is, they visit the Sports Museum, then check out our other exhibits and they’re hooked!

The History Center and Sports Museum are open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We are located in the historic Strip District about two blocks from the Convention Center with parking across the street. People should visit our web-site at or call 412-454-6000 for more information. Members can visit as many times as they like for no charge, so check out a Sports Museum membership as well.

The History Center is funded by donations from public and private sources and through earned income from admissions and events. Exhibits:The Sports Museum has  lots of great features – our introductory video is a favorite with visitors. We strive to tell the stories you expect – Super Bowl championships, World Series wins, and Stanley Cup victories, but also to surprise you.

What are some of the most interesting exhibits you have to offer?

A lot of people don’t know that this is a great center for auto racing – we have Chip Ganassi’s winning Indy car from 2000- or that there are more national marbles champions from Allegheny county then anywhere else, or that four Olympic swimmers came from the Carnegie Library in Homestead team –we’ve got their suits, medals, and Olympic diplomas, or that this was a center for world champion boxers in the 1930s and 40s – we have Billy Conn’s light heavyweight belt.

So come expecting to see Franco’s shoes from the Immaculate Reception and Arnold Palmer’s British Open trophy and Mario’s sweater from the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup win, but look for the bocce court and the national champion powerboat, Satchel Paige’s glove, and Coach Pete Antimarino’s letter jacket too.

We’ve also got lots of activities  – so throw the footballs and test your vertical leap while you’re here.  

What new exhibits are planned within the year?

There is always something new at the History Center and Sports Museum. This past year we did special exhibits on the 1960 Pirates and one on Mario Lemieux for the Winter Classic. We recently added Swin Cash’s Olympic jersey and an exhibit on the roots of mixed martial arts in the region. Coming up look for an exhibit on the Pirates 125th anniversary this year and their roots as the Alleghenys, a
celebration of Pitt’s national championship in football in 1976, material collected from the Civic Arena, and the hanging of the Steel Curtain banner that used to appear at Three Rivers Stadium.

And we’re working closely with the Josh Gibson Foundation in the coming year to recognize the centennial of Josh’s birth. We will bring in a traveling exhibit called “We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball” on July 1, 2012 and unveil a Josh Gibson life like museum figure in the Sports Museum to join our Franco Harris and Bill Mazeroski figures.

We’re always adding and updating the Museum.

How do you choose what to include in the museum among the myriad of artifacts that are  available to exhibit?

There are so many great Pittsburgh sports stories – it is hard to choose. Naturally we try and tell the big stories. But we also try and show the incredible breadth of achievement in the region – from women’s football that predates the Passion, to world rowing champions in the 1860s and 70s, to great track and field Olympians. Sometimes we know about these stories, sometimes a call or email starts us on the trail.

We just brought in a wonderful collection related to the inventor of heavy hands – Leo Schwartz, who grew up and lived in Pittsburgh. It will give us the chance to add to our story of Sports and the Body and changing training methods.

I serve on the WPIAL Hall of Fame committee, so I often try and reach out to those athletes for new material for the museum. We hope to be adding Clinton Davis’ track shoes and Brandon Short’s high school jersey soon.

Do you display all the artifacts in your possession or are some artifacts held back (and if so, for  what reasons and can fans see these)?

Every Museum has more objects and collections then what you see on display. There are several reasons we don’t put everything out – one is just for the long term preservation of the objects. Light can damage paper and clothing over time and fade it – so we try and rotate those materials so they last.

Also, we want you to come back – if everything we had was on display, we’d never have new stories to tell to bring you back. Finally, we have a huge non-circulating Library and Archives, that you can use and visit, on our 6th Floor.

We’ve built up a big collection of programs, tickets, photographs, high school yearbooks etc. that are used by the  media and researchers, as well as the public. It’s a great resource on the history of sport, but most of it is not on display. Yet it’s all accessible to anyone who wants to use it. We share objects in storage with family members and researchers all the time, we just need a little notice to make them available.

How and where do you acquire  these artifacts?

We’ve built great partnerships that have helped us acquire these materials.

Before we opened the Sports Museum we put together our Champions Committee, chaired by Franco Harris and co-chaired by Bill Mazeroski, Arnold Palmer, Suzie McConnell Serio, and Chip Ganassi. With more than 70 athletes, media members, and team representatives, the Committee became a key ingredient in getting the word out about the Sports Museum and bringing in materials.

They continue to meet with us and give us leads and ideas. In addition, we have great relationships with the professional sports teams and the athletic departments at the universities, as well as the WPIAL – they are all advocates for and supporters of what we do.

The curators and archivists here work with me to follow the news, reach out to people and generate new ideas and leads on materials. And the public continues to call and email us and offer objects and ideas. Unfortunately, we rarely have a budget to buy collections and a lot of this sports material has become very valuable and collectible.

We’ve been lucky that some of the athletes, teams, major collectors, and families have been so generous in providing the treasures we have.

Any interesting stories on how some of these artifacts have been discovered?

Sometimes it’s asking the right question at the right time, sometimes it’s a chance meeting that leads to great material.

I knew that one of the stories we’d want to tell in the Museum was the story of the great winning tradition of Westinghouse football under Coach Pete Dimperio. I called his daughter Peg, who used to volunteer for us, and she invited me out to meet with her and her brother Pete, Jr. They had all kinds of wonderful stuff to share. We got to talking about my vision for the Museum and I started telling them how I wanted to do a wall of high school letter jackets as part of the display. Peg got up and opened the hall closet door, there was her dad’s letter jacket in a dry cleaning bag – it had probably been there for 40 years. Now it’s in the Museum.

I started asking other people for their jackets – including Jim Kelly. I knew his high school jersey was at the Hall of Fame in Canton, but hoped to get his jacket. Turns out, it was stolen years ago and he didn’t have it. But while I was on the phone talking to him about it, I remembered a great photo of Kelly as a kid, shaking Bradshaw’s hand after he won the national punt, pass, and kick competition. I asked if he still had the trophy from that. He laughed and said no way. A few weeks later my phone rings, its Jim Kelly’s assistant telling me he went looking for the trophy and found it.

Also, now in the Museum. As for chance meetings – I was working a Saturday the year after the Museum opened and bumped into a guy in the Museum who was interested in a picture we had of an early pro football team. Turns out his grandfather was in the picture. I offered to get him a copy and we got to talking. The gentleman, Gregg Ficery, turned out to be a huge baseball card collector. I introduced him to our baseball curator Craig Britcher and they really hit it off. Gregg has become one of our most dedicated and generous donors, constantly looking for rare pieces to add to our collection.   

Have any Pittsburgh athletes come through the exhibit –what are their reactions when they see the collections?

Because of the Champions Committee we have a lot of athletes in the exhibits at events, doing programs for us, bringing their family and friends.

A couple of my favorite stories – on opening night Ernie Holmes came to the event. He had given us his helmet for the exhibit, I took him to see it that night. He was clearly touched to see it in the case with objects from his Steel Curtain teammates – Joe Greene, Dwight White, and L.C. Greenwood. Ernie was working then as an assistant pastor at a church in Texas. He told me his next sermon would include thanks for the “lady who keeps memories alive.”

One of the most touching things anyone has ever said to me. One Friday we were very busy – one of the news channels was taping an interview in the gallery with Franco Harris and the public was watching. I was downstairs looking to greet Coach Johnny Majors who had brought some friends in to see the exhibit. A woman visitor came around the corner from seeing the Franco filming and almost walked into Coach Majors and his group. She turned to me and asked, “Is it always like this?” I could only laugh! You never know who you’ll see on the elevator or using our SmartSteps (a new health and history exhibit in the stair well that we just opened), Charlie Batch came to cut the ribbon!

How are you using technology to add to the experience of the exhibits/museum?

We have some great touch screen exhibits in the Museum – you can search out events that happened at Three Rivers, check out Hall of Famers, take a virtual tour of Greenlee Field, used by the Pittsburgh Crawfords in the 1930s. These are fun ways to share lots of information and add to the experience.

Can people volunteer to work at the museum – if so, how and in what capacities?

We have hundreds of volunteers who work as docents, help in the Library, work with collections, help at events – do all kinds of things. Visit the Volunteer link on our web-site to find out more.

Any Last Thoughts for Readers?

The Sports Museum is really designed with the family in mind. We have more than 70 hands on activities integrated into the space with the exhibits. Plus we often feature special programs or events – like the Stanley Cup last year.

If someone in your family isn’t a huge sports fan (I’ve heard those people exist in Pittsburgh) the History Center has so much more to offer – from Heinz 57 to the Story of Innovation to ethnic history and more. Plus a café, a great Museum Shop, and we’re right here in the Strip District.

We look forward to seeing you!

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