Croatian American Sports Hall of Fame Inaugural Induction Ceremony American Croatian Lodge - Eastlake Ohio October 16, 2022
The National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCACF) presented the inaugural induction ceremony of the Croatian American Sports Hall of Fame on October 16, 2022 at the American Croatian Lodge in Eastlake, Ohio just east of Cleveland. The NFCACF is a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization dedicated to promoting the interests of the Croatian American community in the United States and especially in Washington, DC.
The Croatian American Sports Hall of Fame (CAS-HOF) is run by the Hall of Fame Sports Committee of the National Federation of Croatian Americans Cultural Foundation (NFCACF) who strongly believe that it is time to recognize those athletes and coaches of Croatian descent for their exemplary sports achievements. The first ten honorees to the CAS-HOF are Fred Couples, Helen Crlenkovich, John Havlicek, Mickey Lolich, Roger Maris, Kevin McHale, George Mikan, Mark Pavelich, Joe Sakic, and Joe Stydahar.
After cocktails, networking and music the ceremony began with Vedran Joseph Nazor welcoming the crowd and speaking about Croatians in sports.
Vedran Joseph Nazor
He introduced NFCACF president Steve Rukavina who explained the mission of the group, thanked other supporting groups like the Croatian Fraternal Union and recognized sponsors and volunteers.
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Steve Rukavina introduced Jerome Jurenovich who served as MC for the evening. 8 time Emmy winner Jerome Jurenovich is a well-known sports reporter/journalist known for his work on CNN Headline Sports and as voice of the Atlanta Hawks and Braves among other positions. Jerome shared stories of his career and sports and Croatian heritage. He also asked for a moment of silence for their colleague sports journalist Al Saracevic who passed away at the age of 53.
Then the inductions began. Helen Crlenkovich was the best national diver on the 3 meter springboard and 10 meter platform in her era.
She was the first woman to perform many skills such as the full twisting one and a half somersault. She won national championships but the 1940 and 1944 Olympics were cancelled because of the war. She traveled with Buster Crabbe's Aqua Parade and was the double for many films for Ester Williams and Jane Russell.
Her daughter told her story (Helen died of cancer in 1955) and how she was proud of her Croatian heritage. She accepted the award on behalf of her mother.
Helen Crlenkovich daughter
Helen Crlenkovich award
Mark Pavelich was a member of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team that won the gold medal in the Miracle on Ice. He had 2 assists in the semi-final game against the Soviet Union.
He played 355 regular season games in the national Hockey league (NHL) for the New York Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks. In 1983 he became the first American to score 5 goals in a single game against the Hartford Whalers at Madison Square Garden. He died in 2021 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
His sister Jean told his story and accepted the award on behalf of her brother. Then MC Jerome Jurenovich told a story about the Miracle of Ice team and Mark Pavelich.
Mark Pavelich sister
Mark Pavelich award
Golf legend Fred Couples was inducted next. He couldn't be at the event because he was golfing (and won!) a senior tour golf event that same day.
Fred Couples induction
MC Jerome Jurenovich told how Fred won the Masters in 1992 (with some Croatian mojo!) and won 15 PGA tour events and 15 Senior events in his career. He also was a team player always competing for the US in the Ryder Cup and international competitions.
Joe Stydahar was a Hall of Fame football player for the West Virginia Mountaineers and Chicago Bears. He was the first pick of the Chicago Bears in 1936 and was a multiple All-Pro and NFL champion.
After his playing years, he was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams and led them to the NFL championship in 1951. In 1967 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and in 1972 in the College Football Hall of Fame. He died in 1977.
His granddaughter Shannon Stydahar Schultz told his story and accepted the award on behalf of her grandfather. She told a story of meeting his teammate Mike Ditka. MC Jerome Jurenovich added that the small town of Aliquippa Pennsylvania boasted numerous NFL players and 3 hall of famers.
Joe Stydahar granddaughter
Joe Stydahar award
George Mikan was the first dominant player in pro basketball. At 6'10" he was the original big man. He was a 3 time All-American in college at DePaul.
He starred for the Minneapolis Lakers and won 7 championships in 9 seasons. He was a member of the first four NBA All-Star games. He was named to the NBA's 25th, 50th, and 75th all-NBA time and is in the NBA Hall of Fame. He was also named the best basketball player of the first half of the century. They changed rules of the game because of him such as goaltending, the widening of the foul lane, known as the Mikan Rule, and the shot clock. After his playing career, Mikan became one of the founders of the American Basketball Association (ABA), serving as commissioner of the league. He was instrumental in forming the Minnesota Timberwolves. He died in 2005 and Shaquille O'Neal paid for his funeral remarking, "Without George Mikan there would be no me."
MC Jerome Jurenovich did the honors and shared some George Mikan stories.
Jerome Jurenovich telling George Mikan stories
Joe Sakic played his entire 21-year National Hockey League (NHL) career with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche franchise. Named captain of the team in 1992, Sakic was named to play in 13 NHL All-Star Games and selected to the NHL First All-Star Team at center three times.
Sakic led the Avalanche to Stanley Cup titles in 1996 and 2001, being named the most valuable player of the 1996 playoffs, and honored as the MVP of the NHL in 2001 by the hockey writers and his fellow players. He is one of six players to participate in the first two of the team's Stanley Cup victories, and won a third Stanley Cup with the Avalanche in 2022 while serving as the team's general manager. Over his career, Sakic was one of the most productive forwards in the game, scored 50 goals twice and earning at least 100 points in six different seasons. His wrist shot, considered one of the best in the NHL, was the source of much of his production as goalies around the league feared his rapid snap-shot release. Sakic was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and was named one of the '100 Greatest NHL Players' in history. As GM of the Colorado Avalanche he oversaw the franchise's third Stanley Cup victory in 2022.
Ken Krsolovic, currently Athletic Director at Harford Community College, is a past president of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association had the honor of inducting Joe Sakic.
John Havlicek was a professional basketball player who spent his entire career with the Boston Celtics, winning eight NBA championships. Nicknamed Hondo, Havlicek is widely considered to have been one of the greatest players in the history of the game and was inducted as a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984.
Havlicek played college basketball at Ohio State University with future seven-time NBA All-Star Jerry Lucas, who was his roommate, future first-round NBA draft pick Larry Siegfried, future coaching legend Bobby Knight, and Mel Nowell, among many others. The 1960 Ohio State Buckeyes, coached by head coach Fred Taylor won the 1960 NCAA title. Havlicek was drafted by both the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League in 1962. After competing briefly as a wide receiver in the Browns' training camp that year, he focused his energies on playing for the Celtics, with head coach Red Auerbach later describing him as the "guts of the team."
Announcer Johnny Most's call of "Havlicek stole the ball!" in the 1965 NBA finals against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers was dubbed by the NBA as "the most famous radio call in basketball history." Havlicek is the Celtics' all-time leader in points. He became the first player to score 1,000 points in 16 consecutive seasons, with his best scoring season coming during the 1970-71 season when he averaged 28.9 points per game. He was named to the 35th, 50th and 75th best NBA players teams. Ken Krsolovic introduced John Havlicek's first cousin Carol Turkal Banal who told stories of John Havlicek and their family.
John Havlicek's first cousin Carol Turkal Banal
John Havlicek award
Mickey Lolich played his Major League Baseball career as a left-handed pitcher from 1963 until 1979, almost entirely for the Detroit Tigers.
A three-time All-Star, Lolich is most notable for his performance in the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals when he earned three complete-game victories, including a win over Bob Gibson in the climactic Game 7. (Note - Croatian American Roger Maris played for the St. Louis Cardinals in that series as well.) He was the last pitcher with three victories in the same World Series until Randy Johnson won 3 games in the 2001 World Series. He is the only left-handed pitcher with three complete-game wins in the same World Series in baseball history. No other pitcher has thrown three complete game World Series victories in the same series since. Lolich's performance earned him the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. At the time of his retirement in 1979, Lolich held the Major League Baseball record for career strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher.
First cousin Richard Lolich told the Lolich family story and the American immigrant story.
Mickey Lolich first cousin Richard Lolich (in Tigers cap)
Mickey Lolich award
Kevin McHale played his entire professional career for the Boston Celtics. He is a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and is regarded as one of the greatest power forwards of all time.
McHale alongside Larry Bird and center Robert Parish are often considered the best front-court trio in NBA history. He won three NBA championships with the Celtics in 1981, 1984 and 1986. He was named to both the NBA's 50th and 75th anniversary teams. He was selected as the top player in the history of University of Minnesota men's basketball. He was twice selected as NBA's Sixth Man of the Year and was chosen for the NBA All Defensive team 6 times.
Croatian Sports Hall of Fame board member Derek Hohn inducted Kevin McHale.
Derek Hohn inducting Kevin McHale
As MC Jerome Jurenovich said, "Baseball is a numbers sport." Everyone knows the number 61 and Roger Maris hitting 61 home runs for the New York Yankees in 1961 to break Babe Ruth's single season home run record. The record remained unbroken in the American League until Aaron Judge broke it in 2022.
Maris was an AL All-Star from 1959 through 1962, an AL Most Valuable Player in 1960 and 1961, and an AL Gold Glove Award winner in 1960. Maris appeared in seven World Series; he played for Yankees teams that won the World Series in 1961 and 1962 and for a Cardinals team that won the World Series in 1967.
Kevin Maris, the son of Roger Maris, accepted the award for his father.
Roger Maris's son Kevin Maris
Roger Maris award
NFCACF president Steve Rukavina asked MC Jerome Jurenovich to wrap up the ceremony and Jerome told about his Croatian family and pride before saying good night.
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