History of the Hampton Roads African American Sports Hall of Fame
More often than not when a group of maturing athletes and sports fans gets together their conversations usually will turn from current sports figures and events to past remembrances. They tend to review a litany of individual performances and embellish some heroic feats of the game with an epic veneer. Then the comparisons begin. Who was the best running back? Who was the best point guard, forward, or center? Who was the best all around athlete?
“Maurice Wilson, Sam Allen, Shorty (William) Gray, and I were having a conversation one day and I commented to them that when we are dead and gone, the younger generation will know nothing about the athletes who inspired us,” recalled Horace Balmer, a Norfolk native and former National Basketball Association executive. Sam agreed, pointing out “that there were some excellent baseball players from the Hampton Roads area who were role models for me that many sports fans have never heard of.”
The Hampton Roads African American Sports Hall of Fame (HRAASHF) grew out of that conversation and a few others. The networking began. Historically, the accomplishments of African American athletes weren’t covered by the mainstream media, or at that time, their efforts weren’t considered to be important enough to merit coverage. Primarily the late Lem Graves then Cal Jacox (picture above), both pioneering sports writers and sports editors for the Norfolk Journal and Guide, chronicled the accomplishments of African American athletes in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia prior to the integration of media. Joining them later was the Virginian-Pilot newspaper’s Abe Goldblatt.
The ad hoc committee for the creation of the HRAASHF met on August 26, 1995 at the home of Maurice Wilson in Virginia Beach, VA. Presiding as temporary chairs were Horace Balmer and Shorty Gray. Others in attendance included Jimmy Lee Gordon, Lee Sawyer, Quint Gordon, John Milbourne, Glen Mason, Dr. Robert Crawford, Sam Allen, Grady Williams, Crosby Williams, Michael Shaw, James Bolden, Sr. and Andy Bolden.
The HRAASHF was established as a nonprofit organization in 1996 with Horace Balmer as Chairman of the Board and William Shorty Gray as President. The organization’s central mission is to identify and recognize African Americans who have excelled in athletics and were born, spent formative years, or participated in athletics in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. By recognizing and celebrating athletic excellence, the HRAASHF hopes to inspire a new generation of student- athletes to pursue personal and collective excellence that is not limited to, but mirrors or exceeds, their accomplishments in sports.
On April 3, 1997, a press conference was held to announce the HRAASHF’s first group of inductees: William “Dick” Price, Steve Riddick (picture left), Robert “Bob’ Dandridge, Roger Brown, Julius “Dr. J” Irving and the community contributor George Crawley.
Proceeds from the HRAASHF’s annual induction banquet helps subsidize its scholarship fund, sports clinics, and archival functions. Further, the HRAASHF encourages its members and inductees to serve as role models and mentors to the youth of Hampton Roads and beyond.