“You can’t let tradition go away”: Sports Legends of Cleveland strives to highlight history and advance the future of city sports

CLEVELAND, Ohio — From Olympians and world record holders to collegiate athletes and decade-old high school state champions — many of the finest athletes to graduate from Cleveland’s civic schools have yet to be recognized for their local athletic achievements.

The Sports Legends of Cleveland (SLC) are on a mission to change that and inspire the city’s current and future young athletes.

The nonprofit SLC documents the history of athletics in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

The SLC is hosting a benefit gala at 5:00 p.m. Saturday at the Independence Holiday Inn, and all proceeds will go toward the organization’s efforts to write a book chronicling the history of Cleveland high school sports since 1904, with plans for a later one documentary .

“The Sports Legends of Cleveland is an opportunity for us to highlight the athletes of the past, highlight and celebrate the present, all for the future,” said Smith. “We didn’t have people in our high schools who were Hall of Famers who played in the NFL or the NBA, we didn’t have any of that. They were never invited back to meet the children and inspire us. So, to be honest, we just didn’t know.”

The SLC shared details of how the Cleveland Senate Athletic League, which has comprised 24 different schools since its inception in 1904, helped the OHSAA in its infancy by hosting state tournaments, among other things. The SLC will also highlight the 156 state championships won by Senate schools, including East High, West Tech and several other schools that are now closed, and how reflected changes over time and CMSD’s ability to maintain its athletic standards , have affected.

Jayson Williams Glenville Hurdles Champion

Glenville’s Jayson Williams on his way to a 100 meter hurdles victory in the Senate League track championships.Jonathan X. Simmons, cleveland.com

“You just don’t let tradition pass you by,” said Tyrone Owens, SLC treasurer and former teacher and track and field coach at Rhodes High School.

Owens, a relative of American track and field hero Jesse Owens, is frustrated because he’s seen firsthand how things like bus service, elective school, abolition of after-school activities and other overarching changes have affected Senate League schools.

“I think that’s the biggest mistake they made, cutting programs because they thought it wasn’t important, but it’s important. If the suburbs do it, it’s important that the city does it.”

Owens explained how something that may seem small can have a huge negative impact on an individual level.

For example, most Senate schools do not have a band. That might not seem like a big problem, but Owens spoke about how it correlates to other areas like soccer team attendance, inadequate or adequate equipment, and a drastic decline in athletic success.

Marshall Lattimore

Cornerback Marshon Lattimore of the New Orleans Saints is a former Glenville Tarblooder and Ohio State Buckeye. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)AP

The Sports Legends of Cleveland hosted the first of a planned annual gala in 2019 to an audience of more than 300 people. The COVID-19 pandemic has thwarted plans for the past two years, but they’re bringing the gala back year and hopefully for years to come.

The opening event played a key role in bringing both sides of the city together.

“I was blown away,” Smith said of the 2019 gala. “We have 17 high schools. Some of them are already closed, but the thing is, when I was in school, Cleveland’s west side was considered mostly white and the east side was considered mostly black.

“This was the first time all of the Cleveland Public Schools alumni associations have come together under one roof. We’re talking West Side and East Side, and it’s been a great affair.”

“I’ve been to a lot of banquets, a lot of sporting events, a lot of coaching clinics, and it was the best sporting event I’ve ever been to,” added Michael Bailey, President of Sports Legends. “And I’ve been a lot. I was so excited to see all the former coaches and athletes, Olympians, Hall of Famers. It was such a thrill.”

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