Delaware is small and other states make fun of us because of that. You’ve probably heard it before. “Dela-where?” or “What part of Pennsylvania is that in?” We even make fun of ourselves, sometimes unintentionally, including what is possibly the worst state slogan of all time (“Delaware: It’s Good To Be Small”).
But just because that slogan is stupid doesn’t mean it’s not true. If you want proof of that, just look at the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. You won’t find many household names in it, unless it happens to be the household next to yours. And in Delaware, there’s a good chance that actually happens.
The Delaware Hall of Fame is mostly filled with local heroes and it does a terrific job recognizing those home-town athletes, as evidenced by its recent class, which was inducted on Wednesday night at the Chase Center on the Riverfront. There was only one inductee who played what most people consider to be a major professional sport – Dwayne Henry, who pitched 11 years in the big leagues.
The other inductees included a couple of swimmers, a couple of high school coaches, a long-distance runner and a wrestler. They all excelled in their fields, on national and local levels, but you never saw them on ESPN.
Compare that to our next-door-neighbors.
Look at Pennsylvania and just a few of the big names from big-time sports in its Sports Hall of Fame – names so big, we don’t even have to mention which sport they played: Johnny Unitas, Wilt Chamberlain, Richie Ashburn, Red Grange, Joe Montana, Roberto Clemente, Arnold Palmer, Stan Musial, Connie Mack, Jim Thorpe.
Now look at another neighbor, New Jersey, and just a few of its Hall-of-Fame stars: Yogi Berra, Carl Lewis, Althea Gibson, Willis Reed, Lawrence Taylor, Marvin Hagler, Rick Barry, Bill Bradley, Franco Harris, Joe Theismann, Jersey Joe Walcott.
Finally, Maryland. It has Babe Ruth, so it really doesn’t need anything else, but it also has Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson and Jimmy Foxx and Cal Ripken and many others.
There are plenty of terrific athletes in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, but very few names that would be recognized by a casual sports fan outside of the First State. In fact, there’s only one – Randy White.
Maybe you could throw Dave Nelson and Tubby Raymond into that category, because they’re both members of the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame. But, again, when compared to our neighbors, well, Pennsylvania has Pop Warner and New Jersey has Amos Alonzo Stagg, not to mention Vince Lombardi.
We can’t match that star power, but that’s OK. We wouldn’t mind having it, but we don’t need it, because we have something those states – not to mention places like Texas, New York, California and Florida – don’t have. In Delaware, there’s a good chance you actually know the athletes who go into our sports hall of fame. Maybe Mary-de Mackie Hand, an All-American swimmer inducted this year, grew up down the street from you. Or perhaps you or one of your children competed for or against Karen Kohn, the long-time field hockey and basketball coach at Alexis I. du Pont High. Or maybe you had a chance to dig in at the plate against Middletown’s Dwayne Henry, a future big-leaguer.
That’s because Delaware is more like a neighborhood than a state. It’s not true that everybody knows everybody, but you probably at least know somebody who knows everybody. That’s even more true in Delaware’s not-so-wide world of sports.
And that’s why the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame banquet on Wednesday night felt like it was a bunch of old friends getting together to have a good time and retell time-worn stories that just seem to get better with age.