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T Q&A

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To make a living, Matt Welch works as a travel consultant. But his passion--or one of them, at least--is the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame. Tucked into a small space at La Placita Village (at Church Avenue and Congress Street), the Hall of Fame's museum shows off photos, memorabilia and displays from the 222 members of the Hall of Fame. Welch volunteers as the executive director; the Hall of Fame, which was founded in 1989, has no paid staff members (and, it should be noted, no connection to Pima County). Each year, eight to 12 nominees are selected by an anonymous group of the Hall of Fame's members. The 2006 class will be announced at the Tucson Sidewinders game on Aug. 13, with the induction ceremony in October. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. For more information, call 296-3788.

Tell me about the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame.

It's the greatest hidden museum, recognizing people who have contributed to the sports scene in Tucson and Pima County during the past 90 years.

You've been involved with the Hall of Fame for about four years. Where do you see the Hall of Fame in another four or five years?

In five years, I'd like to see this being a free-standing museum, a major stop on the tourism path. I'd like to see it become the place in Tucson for anything having to do with sports, with a retail gift shop selling sports memorabilia and a sports bar, and (offering) opportunities to meet professional athletes and coaches. I'd like lots of memorabilia on display, with interactive games and computer kiosks. I want it to be one of Tucson's top five tourist attractions.

What have you been doing to make this come to fruition?

I've managed to get our members more politically involved and attending public hearings on the (proposed new) sports arena (near Congress Street and Interstate 10, as part of Rio Nuevo), participating in more community events and speaking to more organizations, just to get our name out there. We've found an ally in Councilperson Carol West, who feels we're a real asset to the community.

Do you feel the Hall of Fame should be a part of a new arena?

We'd love to be part of an arena. We think we'd be an asset, providing a daily opportunity for visitors to have the arena experience through our museum.

And if the arena doesn't work out?

Well, we'd love to find someone who would underwrite a building and facility. We'd even contact other city jurisdictions. We've actually already sent some letters of interest to other governmental bodies in Pima County.

What are some of the shorter-term improvements you'd like to see?

We'd like to get more 20- and 30-year-olds involved in the Hall of Fame, like players who have played for some of the coaches in the Hall of Fame. We'd love to get them involved, on our board of directors, donating money and having the passion that some our older members have.

So, the Hall of Fame's currently an older bunch. What would you say the median age is of those involved?

Well, Sherry Cervi (a world-champion barrel racer who's 30 years old) screws it up (laughs). I am going to guess the average age of inductees is, oh, around 66.

Wow. So you could use some youth!

Yes.

What is in it for younger folks to get involved?

It's a way to express pride in the sports history of Tucson and Pima County. ... (People can) preserve the past and have role models for their kids.

Why did you get involved?

I am a collector of artifacts and am interested in preserving the past. My passion's not just for sports; I am a collector of memorabilia. So, my desire is to help preserve what this community has, and I really enjoy seeing the faces on the people coming into the museum, and helping them understand that the history of our town is preserved here. (Hi) Corbett, (Roy) Drachman, (James "Pop") McKale, (Fred) Enke--they're real people.

What's the part of the museum of which you're most proud?

I think it's that, with no (substantial) budget and no staff, we have a first-class museum preserving sports heritage in Arizona, and that we are the only museum of this type in Arizona.

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