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Wednesday, June 18,2014

Ripped, soiled and battered

Summer events highlight for revitalized Lansing Sports Hall of Fame

by Lawrence Cosentino

Bob Every doesnīt let anything bug him for long. He picks up the phone and calls the bullpen, deploys the spread option offense, goes for the fast break, pulls the goalie, bowls the extra frame.

He can do that — play all the sports at once — because he’s the director of the Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame.

Like a good coach, Every has anticipated your next thought: “Boring row of plaques in a hallway.” He’s a few plays ahead of you there.

In the past few years, Every’s team has assembled a huge collection of cool sports stuff, from Olympicsoiled shoes to wrestling-ripped singlets and battered spheroids of all types, and wants more people to come to the Lansing Center and smell the glory and perspiration.

“I donīt know of any town our size that has produced more great athletes than we have,” Every said. “Itīs not just a hall of fame, but a sports museum for all the great athletes that came through the city of Lansing.”

To beat the drums for the Hall of Fame, Every and his team have planned a summer triple play, beginning with Monday’s High School All-Star Softball Tournament at Lansing’s Ranney Park. Some 94 seniors from 44 area high schools will take part, with games beginning at 4:30, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. On deck is the Run for Fame, a 10K and 5K run-walk fundraiser July 20 starting at the Lansing Center. The summer rally climaxes at the July 31 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Monday’s softball tourney at Ranney Park will scratch a towering itch for Every, who played fast pitch there himself back in the 1970s and doubles as a Lansing history buff.

For years, it bothered him that hundreds of people use the park without realizing what a mensch its namesake, George Ranney, was.

“He was probably Lansing’s No. 1 citizen,” Every said, confident in his scorecard.

Before the softball games begin Monday, the Hall of Fame and the city will unveil a mighty plaque honoring Ranney, a Civil War hero, Lansing’s leading physician and the man who donated the park to the city in 1915. Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, parks Director Brett Kaschinske and parks board Chairman Rick Kibbee will speak.

It’s hard to know where to begin praising Ranney. By age 27, as a Civil War surgeon, he saved many lives under fire and was the first mid-Michigan soldier to get the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was captured at Chickamauga and saved more lives at the notorious Confederate prison, Libby, where he was held 44 days.

Back in Lansing, Ranney was among the first researchers to link foul water with typhoid fever. We’d now call him a pioneer in environmental health. He pressured Lansing’s City Council to require landowners to plant trees — 22,000 of them. His last public act was to block a plan to build an incinerator near the waterworks, because the runoff would foul the city’s water. He donated thousands of acres of land to the city, including Ranney Park.

Getting Ranney proper props at his own park is only the latest play Every has successfully called for the Hall of Fame, which started in 1976 at Lansing Community College.

A few years ago, the Hall of Fame moved from an obscure spot on the LCC campus to a high-profile corner of the Lansing Center, but the sterile array of plaques just didnīt yell “sports” to Every.

He huddled with his all-volunteer team and devised a game plan. They called all the athletes (or their heirs) they could think of and gathered a museum-quality collection of memorabilia.

Now you can smell the sweat, blood and Desenex through more than 75 glass cases.

They shamelessly raided Lansing City Councilwoman Judi Brown Clark’s closet for the blazer she wore at the 1984 Sum mer Olympics, where she took the Silver Medal in the 400-meter hurdles. They’ve got the shoes Fred Alderman wore when he won a Gold Medal at a record-setting 1928 Amsterdam Olympics relay, along with the shoes and singlet he wore on the 1926 MSU track team.

Needless to say, Earvin “Magic” Johnson contributed a jersey, and so did pro hockey’s Miller brothers, Kip, Kevin and Kelly. A replica jersey gives a nod to the Detroit Tigers’ Charlie Gehringer, a Fowlerville native and arguably the greatest second basemen to play the game. (A real jersey would take a decade of fundraisers.)

“We got swimming suits, bowling balls — you wonīt believe it,” Every said, going into extra innings. “And it’s done with class. It’s something everyone in Lansing has to see.”

Greater Lansing Sports Hall of Fame - George Ranney Commemoration

2 p.m. Monday, June 23 Ranney Park. Senior High School All-Star Softball Tournament to follow 

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