Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Utica, New York: Distance Running Hall of Fame

It's difficult not to see a Hall of Fame when visiting Central New York. Utica decided to get into the act when it opted to host the Distance Running Hall of Fame.

Why distance running? Utica hosts the Boilermaker race, a 15-kilometer event that attracts runners from all over the world. It's the biggest party weekend of the year for Utica, and so there's a good connection. As you can see on the sign in front of the Hall, the countdown to the next Boilermaker is already on. (The race has its offices on the third and fourth floor.)

Alas, like the Volleyball Hall in Holyoke, this facility obviously suffers from a lack of funds. We stopped in when driving by Utica on the New York State Thruway on a Friday afternoon. There is a little on-street parking in the area, but once we found a spot and walked to the Hall, we discovered it was closed. Oops. Guess the picture will have to do.

I've been in it before, though. There's the mandatory gift shop in the front, plus exhibits on inductees, Nike, and Bill Bowerman, the legendary Oregon coach. It's certainly of interest to runners, but doesn't take long to get through.

By the way, the same financial problems almost mark the website. Either there have been no inductees since 2006, or someone is asleep at the switch because that was the last update. (To be fair, in another section of the site a couple of more classes of inductees are mentioned in news releases.) The hours of operations aren't posted either.

This is a good idea, especially with the Boilermaker around, but it could use a nice big sponsor to help out. The Hall is reportedly looking for a new location, one with more space and a closer location to the big race itself.  Here's hoping the search succeeds.

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Holyoke, Massachusetts: Volleyball Hall of Fame

The Basketball Hall of Fame casts a big shadow in this part of the world. It's a magnificent structure, filled with all of the latest bells and whistles. That Hall has become a major tourist attraction for Springfield.

Just up the road in Holyoke, another game for winter exercise was invented around the same time. It too has grown popular throughout the world.

Alas, volleyball isn't quite the star that basketball is. It's Hall of Fame isn't as well known, either.

The facility is located in a park-like setting along a canal in downtown Holyoke. The volleyball hall has one large room, containing displays to honor those inducted, some other informational areas, half of a volleyball court, and a small souvenir stand (might have bought something had there been an XL's left in shirts).

The staff member seemed very nice, and all of the people you'd expect to be there are there -- that is, if you have followed volleyball at all. Obviously, the place doesn't have a great deal of money for promotion, marketing, new exhibits, etc. Plus, some of the biggest names in the sport are foreign and aren't well known to an American audience.

For those who like the sport and/or enjoy visiting Halls, it's certainly worth a short visit. It's just too bad the place didn't have the money to be bigger and better.

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Foxborough, Massachusetts: The Ocean Spray Bog

Care to guess how many football stadiums have a working cranberry farm within the borders of its property?

I can think of one.

A short hike from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough is this farm, right behind Bass Pro. My guess is that the facility was around the property when the Patriots started developing it all, and someone decided to keep it.

You can take a nice half-mile walk around its perimeter, and look down and see cranberries growing. If nothing else, the contrast to the football stadium a short distance away is a large one. Plus, this seems like a good place to wait out the traffic on a nice fall day.

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Foxborough, Massachusetts, The Hall at Patriot Place

Speaking as someone who attended the second game in the history of Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro in 1971 (also remembered as the day the toilets backed up), the area sure has grown up since then.

There's no better illustration of that when visiting Patriot Place.

Not only is Gillette Stadium a huge, magnificent structure, but it comes with bonuses. Adjoining the stadium is a Hall of Fame, containing three flights of memorabilia, exhibits and interactive devices.

There is a movie theater with a film about the New England Patriots, a space to honor Hall of Famers, and a tribute to fans. You can see the team's three Super Bowl trophies, and try on a championship ring (note: it will be big).Above, you can see a display about some of the team's early history. I believe that's Gino Cappelletti's uniform on the left. The bottom floor is a large souvenir stand, with every sort of possible item available. In other words, this is the place for a Patriots' pool table.

I'd still rank this a notch below the Packers' Hall of Fame, as Green Bay has a little more history on display. But it's a first-class effort, and worth a stop for football fans in the area ... even for those from Buffalo.

By the way, Patriot Place refers to the entire complex, which includes many stores, a movie theater and a health care facility. It's huge, it's upscale, and it's very well done. Somebody did some good thinking in the Patriots' organization.

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