State hall of fame celebrates 10 years

Published 10:55 pm Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The building off Lakeland Drive in downtown Jackson opened its doors July 4, 1996, and has since welcomed about 350,000 visitors — from every state and more than 60 countries.

The facility stands as a monument to athletics in a small, poor state which has produced stars from Walter Payton and Archie Manning to Brett Favre and Jerry Rice.

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“Everyone here has a personal stake in the sports history of Mississippi,” executive director Michael Rubenstein said. “We feel like we’ve had a ringside seat for it.”

Museum officials say they’re proud that, at a time when similar facilities have closed or reduced their hours, Mississippi’s has thrived without receiving any tax money.

Officials have kept the museum open through fund-raisers for its sponsors, and perhaps its most attention comes from the three excellence awards sponsored by Cellular South. The Conerly (football), Bailey Howell (men’s basketball) and Boo Ferriss (baseball) trophies are awarded to the top college players in their respective sports.

“Those presentations, all televised live, are critical to our operating budget. So are the golf tournaments that our Hall of Famers participate in. Corporate support has been outstanding,” said administrator Margaret Ferriss, the daughter of Boo Ferriss. “We’ve had a couple of years in the past where we really struggled, but we’ve fought through it and we’ve created enough special events to keep it going.”

Each of the four full-time staff members has a direct connection to Mississippi sports.

Rubenstein was a sportscaster for 15 years. Marketing director Lulu Maness is the goddaughter of Charlie Conerly, the Ole Miss great for whom the individual football trophy is named. Building supervisor Willie Horne, a former Mississippi high school coach in both football and basketball, still officiates high school football.

“With my dad being in the Hall of Fame it makes it a lot more special,” Margaret Ferriss says. “When I go out on the floor and I see his face and hear his voice it makes it special.”

Their efforts are supplemented by an indispensible cast of 30 volunteers who Ferriss says “we absolutely could not make it without.”

The idea for the museum was hatched more than a decade ago over a plate of red beans and rice, and now Rubenstein and other officials are looking to the second decade and beyond.