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Sports History in New York State

Published: Apr 24, 2013

10 Great Places to Celebrate Sports History in New York State

See where thoroughbred Secretariat became a race-horse legend, the Bronx Bombers' new home and visit halls of fame recognizing baseball, boxing and even fly-fishing greats

Albany, N.Y. (April 24, 2013) – Women in flamboyant broad brimmed hats cheer. The bugler trumpets the “Call to Post” and gleaming thoroughbreds prance past the wooden Victorian club house and grandstands with their iconic red and white awnings to take their places at the starting gate. As Saratoga Race Course prepares to kick off its sesquicentennial season this May, it looks and feels much as it did 150 years ago. The oldest sporting venue in the U.S., the “track” is just one of New York State’s contributions to sporting history. Across the state, historic venues, museums and halls of fame memorialize the greats of baseball, boxing and many other sports.

The Path Through History program, introduced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, makes it easier than ever to explore the state’s sports history sites. Sports History, an important aspect of American culture, is one of 13 themes that New York State is using to organize its 500-plus heritage sites. The program includes identifying markers on major state highways as well as additional local signage with a distinctive Path Through History logo to help point the way and a web page on www.iloveny.com/paththroughhistory with additional information. Path Through History will be celebrated with nearly 200 events throughout the state on June 1-2 and 7-8, so be sure to check regularly for more information.

Following is a sampling of the Sports History sites highlighted in the Path Through History program along with other fun places to experience the history of sports around the Empire State.

 1. Horses in First Place. While spectators no longer arrive in horse-drawn carriages, the Saratoga Race Course (in the Capital-Saratoga region), the oldest major sports venue in the United States, takes visitors back in time. Bands playing and gingham picnic blankets laid out under the pine trees on the lawn create a country fair ambience. This year, the “track” celebrates its 150th anniversary with events in Saratoga running from May through September. Racing greats such as Man o’ War, Whirlaway and Secretariat are enshried at the National Museum of Racing and Thoroughbred Hall of Fame, where new
attractions include a mechanical horse (for those four feet and taller) synchronized with jockey cam videos that simulates the experience of racing. But there’s nothing like the sense of tension buzzing through the crowd when, between July and September, the bugle sounds, the bets are placed and the fastest thoroughbreds in the world come racing around the track—as they have for a century and a half.

 2. Hitting a Homerun. Every year, the baseball world looks to Cooperstown in Central New York to see who will be the newest Hall of Famers, but year-round the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, pays homage to this American pastime. The museum opened in Cooperstown in 1939, where legend had it, the game was invented a century earlier by Abner Doubleday. This mecca for baseball fans is as powerful a draw as ever. Films and exhibits explore baseball history and aspects of the game, from the role of African Americans and women to famous stadiums and broadcasters. Tens of thousands of artifacts, such as Lou Gehrig’s uniform from his last season of play in 1939, the plaque dedicated to Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier bringing the Negro leagues' electrifying style of play to the Majors, memorabilia from Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak and photo galleries of notable native New Yorkers like Sandy Koufax, are on display. And for families who truly want to live baseball, the museum offers “Extra Innings Overnights” with activity stations throughout the museum.

3. Enshrining Their Gloves. When the townspeople of Canastota, in the Central New York region realized there was no boxing hall of fame to honor their two hometown heroes, Carmen Basilio, a former welterweight and middleweight champion in the late-1950s, and his nephew, Billy Backus, who won the world welterweight title in 1970, they worked to raise the funds and create the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which opened its doors in 1989. Since then, many New York boxing legends including Muhammad Ali, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta, and Mike Tyson, have been inducted and honored. The museum displays life-size fist castings, robes, the gloves used in world championships and videos of classic fights. There’s even a boxing ring, straight out of Madison Square Garden, where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier battled in the 1971 “Fight of the Century.

4. Rev Those Engines. Across the state Grand Prix, stock cars, midget and drag racing, have long been a favorite past time. In fact, New York has been hosting road races since the 1896 Cosmopolitan Race in the Bronx and Westchester, and the Vanderbilt Cup, road racing’s most prestigious race in the early 20th century. One of the most notable raceways is Watkins Glen International, in the Finger Lakes region. Here, Cameron Argetsinger organized the first post-World War II road race in the U.S. in 1948 on a circuit around the dirt, asphalt and cement roads of the village. The race quickly drew the to p names in American sports car racing along with crowds of spectators, and five years later, the first course was built. Watkins Glen International racetrack was home to the United States Grand Prix from
1961 to 1980. “The Glen,” as it is known, has hosted road racing of nearly every class and still hosts national car events; visitors can lap “Thunder Road” with their own cars. Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the first race in Watkins Glen, the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen opened in 1998. Racing fans will also find photographs, magazines, programs and everything imaginable related to racing, both in Watkins Glen and around the world at this is an archival library. New York has also given rise to some of the best racers including the "First Lady of Drag Racing," Shirley Muldowney, a pioneer in professional auto racing and the first woman to win a major racing championship.

5. Sports History in the Making. With nearly 1,000 golf courses, New York State is home to many golf firsts. Not only is it the birthplace of both the PGA and USGA, but it is also home to Saint Andrews Golf Course in Yonkers, recognized by many as the first golf course in the US. This summer, Rochester is uniquely positioned to secure another first as ‘Golf’s Titletown’. The LPGA and PGA Championships will be played just two months apart, marking the first time that the men and women will play major tournaments in the same community, and giving golf fans in Western New York the unique opportunity to see the best in golf compete on the biggest stage. The Wegmans LPGA Championship (rising to major championship status in 2013) is returning to Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester in June, for the fourth straight year while the 95th PGA Championship will take place at nearby Oak Hill Country Club in August. Other prominent courses that have hosted major championships including the US Open are Long Island’s Bethpage State Park – Black Golf Course and Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and Hudson Valley’s Winged Foot.

6. Football First. African American athletes still faced racism when Ernest “Ernie” Davis became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy, playing for Syracuse University, in 1961. Davis, nicknamed, the “Elmira Express,” was presented the award and then asked to leave. Davis, the number-one pick in the 1962 NFL draft, was signed by the Washington Redskins only after the team was ordered to sign a black player or lose their lease on the D.C. Stadium. Davis refused to play for them and instead, signed the most lucrative contract to date for an NFL rookie. Sadly, he never played pro, as he was diagnosed with leukemia. He now rests at the historic Woodlawn National Cemetery, in Elmira, in the Finger Lakes, where guided summer trolley tours also visit the graves of Mark Twain and other notables.

7. Casting a Line. The Catskills has often been called the birthplace of American fly fishing. At the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, visitors can learn about the history, philosophy and techniques of the sport. Well-labeled displays of angling equipment, art and artifacts explain the traditions and techniques of this Catskill style of angling. Those who want to get out and try their hand can learn fishing etiquette, fly tying and fly casting from the experts. The center also offers programs by naturalists and environmentalists.

8. A New Breed. The Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, in the Hudson Valley region, presents the history of harness racing and a hall of fame for American Standardbred horse breed. The museum, built around the stable on the site of the oldest harness track still in use, is a National Historic Landmark. Interactive displays include an interactive horse auction game, a horse race and a 3-D harness racing simulator. Here, visitors can learn about Hambletonian 10, foundation sire of the Standardbred, who was born in nearby Sugar Loaf and made his debut in Goshen.

9. The Beloved Bronx Bombers. In the borough of The Bronx in New York City, the Yankees, a.k.a. the Bronx Bombers, may have a new stadium, but their history is well preserved. The New York Yankees Museum sponsored by Bank of America tells the story of baseball and the Yankees with displays of artifacts and memorabilia. Guests can enjoy the museum on game days from the time the gates open until the end of the eighth inning. Before the game, ticket holders can visit Monument Park, a kind of open-air museum with plaques and retired numbers honoring distinguished members of the historic Major League baseball team. On non-game days, the Classic Individual Tour includes a visit to the museum and Monument Park. Here, baseball greats like Babe Ruth and Yogi Berra and many of the Yankee’s greatest moments are celebrated. http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/

10. Schussing into the Winter Olympics. Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is one of only three places in the world to have hosted two Winter Olympic Games (St Moritz, Switzerland and Innsbruck, Austria are the others). It remains a prime year-round training ground for athletes thanks to facilities built for the 1980 Winter Olympics. Visitors can experience Olympic thrills, skating on the indoor Olympic Center rink where, in a surprise win, the U.S. overtook the Russians in the "Miracle on Ice" hockey game in 1980. The Lake Placid Olympic Museum explores the legacy of the winter games; visitors can view video highlights, athletes' uniforms and equipment, Olympic Games torches and medals, including the first gold medal ever awarded. Watch the next crop of Olympic hopefuls practice graceful routines on the rink and soaring jumps at the Olympic Jumping Complex; guests can even take a trip up to the top of the jumping tower themselves to catch the breathtaking view. Not to be missed is the thrill of bobsledding with a pro -- on wheels in warm-weather months -- down the Olympic track. Survivors are rewarded with a bobsled lapel pin and membership in the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation.

About Path Through History

Path Through History highlights historically and culturally significant sites and events throughout New York State. The program, introduced by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, builds on New York’s already robust heritage tourism attractions. The initiative is currently focused on 13 themes including: Arts & Culture, Natural History, U.S. Presidents, Women’s Rights, Canals & Transportation, Civil Rights, Colonial History, Immigration, Innovation & Commerce, The Revolutionary War, Native American Heritage, Sports History and the War of 1812. Important heritage sites and events across the state were selected with input from leading historians. For more information, visit www.iloveny.com/paththroughhistory.

Each week, the I LOVE NEW YORK social media channels will highlight one theme from Path Through History, featuring photos, videos, event itineraries and more to showcase the rich history of New York State. Follow I LOVE NEW YORK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or use #LoveNYHistory to join us on the journey down New York's Path Through History.

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About New York State

New York State features 11 beautiful vacation regions. New York’s attractions span from landmarks such as Niagara Falls to the wine trails of Hudson Valley and treasures like the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Whether it’s wide-ranging outdoor activities for the whole family like hiking, biking and boating, culinary wonders and farm-to-table fresh foods, or the rich history and culture of one of the 13 original colonies, New York State offers big excitement and tons activities for all travelers. For more
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