Sports museums are scoring major points by featuring interactive and high-tech exhibits in addition to standard memorabilia, so visitors don’t have to be super fans to have a ball. Here are some of the best sports Halls of Fame.
1. Baseball Hall of Fame: Cooperstown, N.Y.
Nestled into the quaint village of Cooperstown, in upstate New York, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is a history of America, as well as its favorite past time. The large modern building houses thousands of artifacts that cover 150 years of the history and cultural significance of the sport.
The museum is modern and user-friendly, with several interactive exhibits, including a clubhouse with games and experiences for kids. Visitors start their tour with an inspiring short film on the history of baseball and then walk through a timeline exhibit that follows baseball from the 1860’s to today.
Carefully curated collections follow the evolution of the game from equipment and uniforms to more than 500,000 photos and 12,000 hours of video. Exhibits appeal to a diverse audience, especially sections on the history of women and Latin Americans in the game. The gallery on the African-American baseball experience from the 19th century through integration is a moving tribute to not only the talent, but the perseverance and courage black players showed every time they set foot on the diamond.
The museum is nirvana for memorabilia collectors—from the 130,000 baseball cards to old tickets and stadium giveaways from the last century. There are enclosed cases set up like individual lockers for all 30 Major League teams and a long hall filled with plaques for inductees who have made outstanding contributions on the field and off.
The Baseball Hall has made lovely, rural Cooperstown a tourist destination, with many restaurants and shops. If you travel with a die-hard fan who needs a second day to peruse the extensive museum collections, you can stay busy antiquing, visiting art galleries, wine tasting, or taking in the countryside, especially when the leaves turn in the fall.
2. Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield, Mass.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a state-of-the-art facility that engages fans of all ages. Located in Springfield, Mass., where Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891, the striking building’s architecture features a metallic silver basketball-shaped exterior. Inside, the open floor plan allows visitors to tour three floors of exhibits on winding circular ramps, which overlook a full-sized basketball court on the ground floor.
Three-dimensional plaques honoring the nearly 300 inductees cover the high walls of the museum and historical artifacts-- including a retrospective of equipment and uniforms-- are encased in glass. The hall goes beyond the NBA to celebrate a variety of basketball contributors, from college and WNBA stars to Nike founder Phil Knight.
You don’t have to be a sports enthusiast to appreciate the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s giant sneakers or the bling on recent NBA championship rings, but real fans will love reading about how the rules have evolved, and coach interviews on plays and strategies from memorable games.
The museum is a slam-dunk for kids, with many interactive opportunities including skill challenges, jumping tests, and a media booth where you can record your own play-by-play video of game highlights. There are also clinics, shooting contests, and games on the full-court, which has baskets to accommodate every player’s size.
3. Hockey Hall of Fame: Toronto, Canada
Inspired by the popularity of Cooperstown, hockey fans decided to establish a shrine to their beloved sport back in the 1940’s in Kingston, Canada, believed to be hockey’s birthplace. The collection of artifacts and memorabilia in the first hall opened in 1961, but now reside in downtown Toronto. Its central location, extensive interactive exhibits, and international appeal have made it a popular tourist spot, even for those not devoted to the ice.
The museum entrance draws visitors in with a display of 30 goalie masks and nearly 1,300 hockey pucks, collected from various arenas and tournaments around the world. The Montreal Canadiens Dressing Room exhibit is a replica of the famous hockey team’s personal space at the Montreal Forum where fans can actually try on uniforms and equipment.
Kids and true hockeyheads will love the interactive games on the facility’s 2,400-square foot simulated rink. One virtual experience allows you to take slap shots with real pucks and a stick against a life-sized computer-generated goalie, while another lets you suit up and defend the net against video images of stars Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, who fire sponge pucks at you at speeds of up to 70 mph.
Some hockey fans come to see the famous Stanley Cup up close. It resides most of the year in a gallery with other NHL trophies and portraits of the 370 Hall of Fame members. All museum information is provided in French and English and there are several exhibits that showcase hockey’s reach around the world, as the game has grown well beyond Canada and the U.S.
4. Football Hall of Fame, Canton, Ohio
True football fans sojourn to Canton, Ohio to hail those who grace the gridiron at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The museum tracks the history of the sport since its founding in 1920 and features a gallery of bronze busts for every inductee, supplemented by biography information, photos and video.
Football uniforms have come a long way from long-sleeved cotton sweaters to the brightly-colored synthetic jerseys of today, and several exhibits display artifacts illustrating how helmets and gear have changed.
There are areas dedicated to achievements in the sport, including famous plays and history-making performances. One gallery features recaps of every Super Bowl played, and a theater continuously shows highlights from NFL Films. While grown ups soak in the historical information, kids can enjoy interactive exhibits like trivia contests, “call the play” challenges, and NFL video games on a big screen.
Step across the street to Fawcett Stadium, home of the Pro Hall of Fame Field, where the annual enshrinement ceremony takes place and nationally televised NFL and Hall of Fame games are played every year. The stadium seats more than 22,000 and visitors can walk right onto the Astroturf field and toss a ball around.
The Hall is in Canton because the first professional football organization was founded there, and the local Canton Bulldogs were champions in the 1920’s. The town is hardly a tourist destination so you have to know your tackles and touchdowns to make it worth the trip. The museum is dark and dated compared to the other Halls, but it’s undergoing a $27 million renovation and expansion which will be completed this summer.