As it officially began its second decade Monday, the San Pedro Sportswalk of Fame held its induction ceremonies with a typical San Pedro mixture of small town and big city.
With the likes of Don Drysdale and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the Sportswalk long ago overstepped its original intent of honoring home-grown athletes from the harbor area.
In recent years inductees have included Los Angeles professional and collegiate athletes--home-grown or adopted--who have made an impact on the sports world, from Olympic heroes like Rafer Johnson and Mark Spitz to pro stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Jamaal Wilkes to such coaching standouts as John Wooden and Tom Lasorda.
Introductory speakers, including Councilwoman Joan Flores, one of the Sportswalk’s major boosters, annually talk about the Sportswalk matching the tourist attraction of its model, the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The stars, notably Dodger Hall of Fame pitcher Drysdale and Olympic gold medalist Joyner-Kersee, were on hand Monday as the latest inductees, along with former pro football player Bob Petrich and former basketball star and coach Bill Sharman. But with jackhammers and Harbor Boulevard traffic drowning out the speakers half of the time, and the San Pedro High band, drill team and cheerleaders providing the entertainment, the ceremonies maintained a homey feeling.
And the ceremonies had an additional hometown aspect thanks to the presence of inductee Petrich, a former San Pedro High football star, and Bob Kersee, Jackie’s husband/coach and a San Pedro High alumnus.
With all that going for it, not even the Dodger parade simultaneously in downtown Los Angeles could keep an appreciative crowd from gathering to see the four latest inductees join the 34 previous athletes whose names are immortalized in triangular plaques along Sixth Street and adjoining sidewalks.
Once the program got past the welcomes and introductions and eventually involved the athletes, it hit stride. Later, their plaques were unveiled along Beacon Street--once reputed to be one of the fiercest sailors’ dens of sin on the West Coast.
This is a new era and, ironically, this was as wholesome a group of athletes as could be imagined.
Joyner-Kersee, who recently won Olympic gold medals in the heptathlon and long jump--and holds world records in both--was introduced by Flores as “a role model for women everywhere who fight odds and win.”
She was proudly introduced by her husband, who was busily shooting pictures, showing off her gold medals and meeting friends and family, as “my wife, my athlete, my best friend and the best woman athlete in the world.” He drew laughs when he said, “There’s a Bible verse that says, ‘Humble yourself and you shall be exalted.’ Well, I’m introducing my wife to my family, friends and alumni of San Pedro High School. I’m introducing a woman who jumps higher than I did at San Pedro and long jumps farther than I ever dreamed of.”
Joyner-Kersee, resplendent in a bright red suit and constantly surrounded by autograph seekers, was equally humble, saying: “I always told myself I wanted to touch people’s lives . . . being able to use those gold medals (is one way) to reach out to young people. This (induction) is one thing that will be with me for a lifetime. I’m honored to be in the midst of other great athletes.”
The husky Drysdale, spiffy in a pink suede sport coat and white loafers, returned to the Dodgers this year as a broadcaster. “I grew up in the (San Fernando) valley,” he noted, “and I played against teams in this area quite a bit. It’s quite different now.” He said of the Dodgers’ season, “If you followed ‘em day-in and day-out you got the feeling they were a team of destiny. Something good was going to happen.” And Monday, it was time for something good to happen to Drysdale. His wife, former UCLA basketball star Ann Meyers, was on hand, perhaps anticipating joining him as the first married couple in the Sportswalk.
Sharman, who blew out his vocal cords while leading the Lakers to a 69-13 record and the NBA title in 1972, was a man of few words for obvious reasons. His forced silence seems to match his understated style. It was noted that Sharman, a baseball and basketball star at USC, was considered the top shooter of his day as a guard for the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and as a coach won championships in three leagues. In a prepared statement, Sharman said: “I feel right at home in San Pedro, as I grew up in Lomita.”
But the real hometown touch was supplied by Petrich, a defensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers in their mid-'60s heyday. Petrich was admittedly not the natural talent the other three inductees were. His sponsor said in introduction, “Bob was a great (local) athlete but we all felt--a pro? No. But we all underestimated his desire.”
Petrich agreed: “I wasn’t a gifted athlete. When I made the Chargers I’m sure my old teammates’ responses ranged from disbelief to ‘the one from San Pedro?’ That’s my message: If you’re not the fastest, not the strongest, not the biggest, it’s not necessary today. If you’ve got the desire you can do what you want to do.”
Petrich was so unused to giving autographs he signed one program “Bill.” Surrounded by family and old friends, he appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. He seemed to know virtually everyone in the crowd.
It was a small-town feeling that was welcome as the Sportswalk tries to go big time.