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Sports Dinners

The Post-Journal
By Scott Kindberg
April 27, 1997

I've always told my children to remember to say thank you.

I guess now it's time for me to practice what I've been preaching.

For even though it's more than 20 years overdue, I want to finally thank the members of the Temple Hesed Abraham Men's Club in Jamestown for the effort they made in turning one night each winter into a sports fan's dream come true.

For five hours every January or February, dating back to the early 1950s, the Men's Club sponsored an all-star sports night during which some of the nation's most famous athletes appeared at the Hotel Jamestown's Crystal Ballroom.

Through the efforts of such men as Ben Rosenberg, Jack Haber, Seymour Minsker and Si Goldman, among others, the city, for one night anyway, might as well have been New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

And although the cost of the cocktail hour and dinner that followed was, I believe, $25 per head by the mid-1970s — a fair amount of money in those days — the five hours spent there was worth every penny.

I only wish I could turn back the clock.

Along the way, such stars as Joe Louis, Jim Brown, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Jesse Owens, Terry Bradshaw, Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente visited Jamestown.

Ernie Banks, Johnny Unitas, Bill Veeck and Howard Cosell also appeared at various times during the 24-year history of the dinner.

But, sadly, such high-profile affairs are no longer possible. To get marquee names means charging top dollar. And while $25 a pop was rather steep for my parents in the early 1970s, it pales in comparison to what would have to be charged if you wanted to run elbows with, say, Miami Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson today.

His asking price?

$40,000.

It's a sign of the times.

So you can imagine the nostalgic wave that came over me the other day when I came across a photo album of mine that contained autographed pictures of some of my favorite athletes. Tucked inside the album were programs from three different sports dinner I attended in the 1970s.

The names in the 1973 all-star lineup of guests included Rose, Bradshaw, Gaylord Perry, Mercury Morris and Curt Gowdy. In 1974, Franco Harris, Willie Stargell and Jim Palmer were among the invitees. Two years later was even better as Mantle, Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson and Rocky Bleier were in attendance.

As I looked at the programs, I couldn't help but think how lucky I had been to see those guys in person, to get their autographs and even to speak to them. I also thought how unfortunate it is that I won't be able to take my sons to such a dinner. After all, one can only imagine what the ticket prices would be to see Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Barry Bonds and Troy Aikman all in one place.

As it is, I'm still trying to figure how I'm going to get them to Toronto to catch the Yankees this summer. Then, if the kids are lucky, somebody in pinstripes might sign an autograph, wave or tip his hat.

But even if all the above happens, I know that they're being sold short, at least as it compares to my experiences with professional athletes in my youth.

And those are experiences I'll never forget.

To the members of the Temple Hesed Abraham Mens' Club, thanks for the memories.

 

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