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Hall should mean something to current Islanders
Mercer Island High School athletes have a good sense of their team’s history. Most of the girls tennis players who compete on the varsity squad know that their program is one of the most successful in the state. All the swimmers understand that there have been some great teams in the past and that Mercer Island has a reputation for aquatic dynasties. And everyone knows about Mercer Island boys basketball. But the Hall of Fame is not what it could be. I guarantee that if you ask any current athletes about who was inducted into the Mercer Island High School Hall of Fame this year, they might be able to name one or two of the seven.
I know that scoring well on your math test is a lot more important for kids than knowing who is in their school’s Hall of Fame. But some of the athletes who went into the Hall this year were all-time greats. Sean Sussex is the greatest boys swimmer in the 50-year history of Mercer Island High School, and Beth Richards was one of the most dominating girls basketball players.
But the sad fact is that the Hall of Fame has become an event for the players being inducted and their families at halftime of a football game — with kids screaming in the stands, people already at the concessions and most clapping politely but not really listening to the ceremony. The event could be bigger with the current student body with just a little more visibility.
Some people may not even know where the actual plaques are located at the high school. I have to admit that I had to ask someone awhile back. They hang above the door to the gymnasium in the lunch room. Look up the next time you buy a ticket. I had to squint to read some of them. Most people who see these plaques are going to gym-based sporting events — that is all. You never see them when you go to a football game or swim meet. The current athletes, for whom this honor could inspire great things, never see them prior to the game. Most don’t look up while paying their money or turning over their ASB card.
There are some great athletes in the Hall that could inspire kids if they were more visible. That leads me to my suggestion. There is an actual hall at the high school that nearly every athlete walks through, going to practice, to play a game, to change after a game or just to prepare for gym class. The long hallway between the gymnasium and the locker rooms is the perfect place to inspire today’s athletes with yesterday’s heros. It doesn’t cost any money. It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours. But moving the plaques to line this hallway could inspire and build bigger traditions among current athletes. Prior to big games, many Mercer Island teams walk this hallway to prepare to take on KingCo rivals and perennial state contenders. Seeing the plaques of the athletes, knowing that if they give a little more in that game or try a little harder at each practice, could inspire them to try and get their name in that hall. It could be inspiring to a football player, prior to taking the field against Bellevue High School, to see David Kurtman’s plaque on that wall — man who grew up on Mercer Island, won NCAA titles with USC and now plays for the Seahawks. A boys basketball player heading out to take on O’Dea could pass by Quinn Snyder’s plaque, who brought a state title to Mercer Island, played at Duke and went on to become a big-time coach. With a little money, the Hall could be bigger. Name it the Hall of Fame with it painted on the walls and framed records of the athletes next to their plaques. Booster Clubs could make it happen and help to inspire their athletes.
Speaking of coaches, there aren’t enough in the Hall. I realize that Dick Nicholl has been retired for less than two years, but this is a man who was extremely successful in giving three decades of his life to Mercer Island youth. Paul Jackson has been retired longer and is not in the Hall either. He gave nearly three decades to MIHS sports on the football field, but mainly on the wrestling mats.
Knowing how many state or KingCo titles your high school has won and hanging the banner in the gym is inspiring. But knowing something about the athletes who put up those titles is just as important. Making those athletes more visible to the kids who they can inspire would be a great way to motivate. Making the Hall more visible to the kids might get more to pay attention at halftime when the greats are honored for all of their hard work.