Kick It Up a Notch
By John Lee
With the departure of Ryland Hoskins, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Museum looks to the future and the next chapter in its 45-year history
In the same spirit of inspiration a coach might use to push an athlete to reach for a higher goal, Ryland Hoskins, who served as longtime executive director, has a similar message for his successor: kick it up a notch, and take it to the next level.
Hoskins is no stranger to starting from scratch with only a vision and a blank slate. Over the past 10 years Hoskins has helped to develop, market, and manage the site of the state’s only hall of fame and museum dedicated to “honoring and preserving outstanding sports achievements in Tennessee.” “If it hadn’t been for his labor of love, I don’t know that the hall would exist,” said current TSHF board president Bill Emendorfer.
Most Tennesseans and even sports fans don’t realize that the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame unofficially began back in 1966, created by the Middle Tennessee Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association in Winchester, Tennessee. That same year, the very first TSHF inductee banquet was held and was personally financed by the writers and broadcasters for $300.
Regardless of the fact that there was not yet a building to house the TSHF, for the next 28 years the officers would come together once a year and hold its annual banquet and recognize and record the inductees, while working to preserve and chronicle the state’s rich sports history as far back as the 1800s. Early supporters such as the late Bernie Moore, retired commissioner of the SEC, and the late Bishop Frank Julian kept the young, often struggling hall of fame together and moving forward through tough times.
“The organization has had its peaks and valleys over the years,” said Hoskins.
A major milestone took place in 1994 when the state legislature unanimously passed the “Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame Act” allocating $1.5 million to build a hall if a place was found, and officially creating the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. A 25-member board was also formed with the east, middle, and west regions of the state equally represented, and for the next few years, set about searching for a permanent space for the TSHF to call home.
The TSHF continued to exist mainly only on paper, until the deal to build the new arena in Nashville was finalized. Thanks to the efforts of Doug Dickey, then Athletic Director at UT and TSHF president in 2000, working with then Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen and MDHA Commissioner Gerald Nicely and others, the arena deal also allocated a space for a hall and museum, a 7,500 square-foot permanent home on the main level.
“I give so much credit to Doug Dickey,” said Hoskins. “There are board members and there are board members, but you have to have someone who is passionate about it and who cares about it.”
The challenges for the new TSHF executive director were many.
“When we came down here in 2000, there was an empty space and nothing on a computer,” said Hoskins. “They had officers at that time and would keep the names and info in boxes.”
The TSHF also had never had a staff, with the exception of the P.R. firm representing the organization before the move.
“Ryland has been pretty amazing because for the most part he has been a one-man band along with a part time assistant,” said Emendorfer. “He has done what most halls would do with three to five staff members.”
The state funds were used to design and build out the space and also to purchase artifacts. The hall and museum receives no state funding for operational costs.
“Like all non-profits, we rely heavily on corporate sponsors,” said Hoskins. “In the last three or four years with the economy the way it is, that has been a challenge to say the least.”
The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and Museum belongs to the people of Tennessee – housing the plaques of inductees, written history and testimonials, photographs, interactive displays, and over 500 artifacts of Tennessee Sports History. Yet, one of the greatest challenges the TSHF faces is public awareness and support.
“It is an excellent location and a wonderful building,” said Hoskins. “Being in a building like this, there are a lot of issues we don’t have to deal with as a free standing structure.”
Yet, being comfortably inside the arena with no visibility on the exterior has been one of the biggest challenges for public awareness and recognition for the TSHF.
“Awareness and visibility for the hall is limited because there is no advertising budget,” said Hoskins. “We desperately need some street front signage on this building, and even a green city sign would go far to help visibility.”
Current board president Bill Emendorfer sees the TSHF and its board not only facing the challenge of replacing Ryland Hoskins, but also making the decisions to plot the direction of the hall, and what the hall should be in order to reach its potential.
“We need to build a more symbiotic relationship with the Bridgestone Arena, so that the museum and the arena kind of become synonymous,” Emendorfer said. “We need to be an asset to Nashville and have a presence at any sporting event in the city. It’s time to crank it up a notch with technology and we need to be a little different and get out of the box. We want to embrace more exhibits that might rotate, be it from Memphis or Knoxville to create new energy and new reasons to come down to the museum. It’s got to be a form of entertainment.”
The TSHF reaching out and striving for more visibility is certainly not a goal limited to Middle Tennessee.
“We need to go out and reach all regions and all different aspects of the state,” said Emendorfer. “We’ve got a rich sports heritage in this state and we need that to be a part of the process where people feel good about being involved.”
More growth of course means the need for more funding. “We are looking at creating a new budget,” said Emendorfer.
“I think it will involve a significant capital campaign and fundraising project for a few years. There are a lot of good things to come, but it will take some time, effort and some money to do it.”
The TSHF is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is adults $3 and children $2. For memberships or sponsor information call 615-242-4750 or firstname.lastname@example.org