If any of you readers have ever been to the Rabobank Arena for an event, I'm sure you noticed the huge display for the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame in one of the hallways.
This organization was founded to honor the leading local sportscaster of that era, Bob Elias. This newly-formed entity was an offshoot of the Bakersfield Jockey Club, a group which met weekly to honor standout area athletes, primarily those in high school and college.
Elias had always voiced an opinion that these individuals should be honored in perpetuity, so after his death in 1965 an annual dinner was started in 1967 to enshrine these local sports figures. Bob will always be remembered for his line, "You don't have to take part in a sport to be a good one."
The first dinner ceremony was well promoted and had nine great local athletes inducted, including pro footballer Frank Gifford, tennis great Dennis Ralston, and major league baseball player John Callison. I remember attending this event and how much I enjoyed seeing all these athletes. I hoped, beyond hope, that I might someday be honored to join this group based on my skeet shooting records. Maybe one day when I am old and gray.
Well, little did I know that after that initial dinner, the board kept secret the names of the inductees for the future affairs. In 1973, I came home from work one day and my wife, Loretta, mentioned that Larry Press had called and said he had a couple of extra tickets for the upcoming Bob Elias dinner, and asked if we would like to attend.
Larry was the sports editor for the Bakersfield Californian at the time, and had been writing columns for many years about my shooting records. I returned his call and told him how much I appreciated his offer and that I would see him there.
The dinner was held that year at the Elk's Lodge on 30th Street, near the Garces Circle. The guest speaker was Olympic pole vaulter Bob Seagren. I was sitting, drinking a cup of coffee, right after local coach Gil Bishop was inducted, and the master of ceremonies said, "Our next inductee was born in Bakersfield, and then moved to Lompoc, California with his parents."
My head jerked up, and I began to look around the room to see who could possibly be from Lompoc besides me! The MC then continued with, "He then moved back to Bakersfield and attended Beardsley Grammar School and North High School."
At that moment I felt like someone hit me in the head with a mallet, or something, because I realized he was speaking of me. I turned to Loretta and began whispering, "It's me...It's me...He's talking about me."
She replied, "I know..I know..just be quite and listen."
I almost fainted as the speaker continued telling about my life and shooting history. I was not 'old and gray' and I was going into the Bob Elias Hall of Fame. I was never more proud after giving a very short acceptance speech, and to this day it has been the most surprising thing that ever happened to me.
Over the years I have told a great many people that, in my mind, there could not be anywhere in the United States, a city, or county, that could come close to producing the diverse number of great athletes that Kern County has had over the years.
Prepare yourself for three very, very long sentences because I am going to list all of the categories included in the Hall of Fame. Let's start with pro football...pro baseball...pro basketball...harness racing...Olympic track and field...men & women's NCAA track and field, football, basketball, and baseball....rodeo...skeet shooting...and, baseball umpire. Then there is men and women's softball...Indy 500 winner...NASCAR winner...speedboat racing....pro tennis....Olympic swimming...roller skating....handball...snow skiing...wrestling...drag racing....and pro bowling. And don't forget boxing....men and women's golf...rugby....off road racing....air racing....cycling....kung fu, kick boxing, and karate....Olympic rowing....and volleyball.
Then we throw in a number of great coaches at high school, college, and professional level at many of these named sports. With this year's inductees in February, this elite group now numbers 217.
We should all be so proud of what these individuals have accomplished. You should try to put a dinner on your 'must do' list for next February. No surprises now, but really great presentations of each inductee, with video and other media used for a great show. I'll see you there.
Basic Firearms & Hunter Education Course
Next course offered...May 19th & 20th Two Day Course..May 21st Internet Follow Up Course....Sponsor: Kern Shooting Sports / Jay Busby For more Information contact....(661) 871-9025.