By Alex Holt
July 9, 2017 was a day to remember for nine Washington, D.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductees at Nationals Park. Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Katie Ledecky (represented by her family), retired NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and nationally renowned sports columnist and radio-television commentator Tony Kornheiser were inducted into the club.
Joining them were University of Maryland basketball icons Tom McMillen, Juan Dixon and Brenda Frese, local broadcasting luminaries Glenn Harris and Ron Weber. Retired Washington Redskins defensive back and kick returner Mike Nelms rounded out the nine-member class honored before the Washington Nationals’ game against the Atlanta Braves.
Ledecky was unable to attend the ceremony, as she was training for the FINA World Championships in Budapest later in July. Instead, her brother Michael represented the Bethesda native and accepted on behalf of the Ledecky family.
“It’s such an honor to represent Katie. The D.C. area means so much to us,” said Michael Ledecky. “We both grew up in this area our whole lives and watched and interacted with a lot of the honorees here today -- and on that big poster (wall) outside Nationals Park (with the names of previous inductees) as well.”
Weber, who called the Washington Capitals’ games from the franchise’s inception in 1974 to his retirement in 1997, was grateful but also “a little surprised” to receive the call for induction into the Hall.
“Twenty years into retirement, I thought I was sort of forgotten. I understood that; I wasn’t bitter,” said Weber. “But to be selected-- what an honor.”
Nelms said he was humbled to be recognized by the Hall -- so far out from his retirement.
“It was a surprise and an honor to receive something so late after having retired 80 years ago,” joked Nelms, who actually retired in 1984. “I say it’s not really for me, it’s for the guys (on special teams) because special teams don’t really get a lot of attention.”
It was also University of Maryland Day at Nationals Park and the Terrapins were represented in this year’s class. Dixon, who helped the Terrapins win their only national title in men’s basketball as a player in 2002, and Frese, who coached the Terrapins to a national championship in 2006, had to miss the ceremony due to prior commitments. But McMillen was on hand to represent the university.
McMillen said that basketball wasn’t nearly as popular in Washington or for that matter, in College Park, when he arrived at the University of Maryland in 1970.
“With coach (Lefty) Driesell’s leadership, it became really ascendant so it was fun kind of getting something off the ground,” McMillen said. “I think the greatness of a program is that it can continue to grow and continue to build a tradition. I think that was one of the fun reasons why I came to Maryland in the first place, to kind of get something like that started.”
Kornheiser said induction into the Hall was particularly meaningful for him because recognition wasn’t as common for him as some of the other inductees.
“Maybe there are a lot of people here who’ve been in a lot of Halls of Fame, I’m not one of those,” Kornheiser said. “It’s very pleasant to have anyone to just say, ‘look at what you’ve done and we’re just going to thank you for it.’ It’s really nice.”
Long before Tagliabue became commissioner of the NFL, he was captain of the men’s basketball team at Georgetown University, where the career rebounds record he’d set would later be broken by Patrick Ewing. So he was particularly pleased to receive a Washington, D.C.-related honor.
“Being recognized in your hometown is a unique thing and D.C. is basically my hometown,” said Tagliabue. “I came here in 1958 as a freshman at Georgetown on a basketball scholarship and I’ve been here basically ever since then. That’s 60 years -- so you get recognition not just from family but from friends and neighbors that you’ve been living with for 60 years. It’s special.”