- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Great moments in sports and the local people who were part of them are featured in a display at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.

The Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame Special Exhibit is a prelude to a permanent place in the museum that will honor the athletes who came out of the Joliet area and often gained national recognition.

But even the temporary exhibit, which has been extended to June, is a sight to behold, said Billy Boy Thompson, the Joliet amateur boxing great whose gloves and shoes are among the displays.

“I thought I was in Cooperstown,” Thompson said with a bit of exaggeration. “It’s not as big as the Hall of Fame, don’t get me wrong, but for a small city, it’s very nice.”

For a small city, Joliet has made a big contribution to the world of sports, which is a message of the exhibit.

Thompson - whose many victories included a bout with future heavyweight champion contender Ron Lyle, and whose few defeats included a match with future heavyweight champion George Foreman - is one of the athletes whose prominence is noted.

Just some of the others include George Mikan, who is counted among the greatest players in the NBA; Tom Thayer, the offensive lineman on the 1985 Bears team that won the Super Bowl; and professional bowler Jim Stefanich, whose 300 game was captured on national TV.

A “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” display lists the many local players who went on to the major leagues.

“You can go on and on with examples,” said Pat Sullivan, the former University of St. Francis basketball coach, who also is in the exhibit.

“Just think about Eddie and Scott Spiezio,” he said, noting the local father and son who both played for the St. Louis Cardinals during the course of their major league careers. “When Eddie presented Scott with his World Series ring, it was the first time a father presented a son with a World Series ring in the same organization.”

Sullivan said he “was always proud of the sports background of Joliet.”

It’s that pride that the Joliet Area Historical Museum wanted to capture with the special exhibit and hopes to commemorate with a permanent display, museum Executive Director Greg Peerbolte said

“I’ve gotten positive feedback from the community that we’re attacking this subject,” Peerbolte said.

The sports exhibit is special, he said, because it depicts people of different towns, races, genders and eras.

One display of Olympians begins with Merrit Giffin, the Joliet Township High School student who would throw the discus in the 1908 Olympics in London, and includes Cathy Boswell, the Joliet West High School basketball star who was on the 1984 U.S. Olympics team.

The national and sometimes international scope of some of the stories told in the exhibit should appeal to visitors from other states and countries who come to the museum for its Route 66 Welcome Center, Peerbolte said.

“We want to share this story with the people who may not know it - for people who come to the museum for its Route 66 exhibit and may not know Joliet’s impact on sports,” he said.

Video displays include the “Super Bowl Shuffle” done by the 1985 Bears, a tribute to Thayer; the broadcast of the final frame of Stefanich’s 300 game; and a documentary on Mikan, showing his famous hook shot and underhand free throws.

The museum is in the process of raising money for the permanent exhibit, which also will become home to the Joliet Area Sports Hall of Fame, now located at the Joliet Slammers’ stadium.

Peerbolte said the goal is to include interactive elements in the exhibit that will allow museumgoers to gather statistics and biographical information - and maybe even practice free throws with Mikan.

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, https://bit.ly/2k0DMz6

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Information from: The Herald-News, https://www.theherald-news.com/

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