Regular readers of this publication know that here at the RSN we love to feature the glory days of Region sports. Truth be told, we simply love history, period; and when it comes to Calumet Region sports history, we’re like kids in a candy store.
The problem however, with publishing historical pieces on Region high school sports, is simply the lack of available information — be it factual or photographic. There are no Region sports libraries or comprehensive central data banks available for facts and stats like the ones so readily available for college and professional sports. And there is not yet a Region sports museum.
Unfortunately (with some notable exceptions), most high schools have no real records of their athletic past. As some schools moved locations, their records (if they kept any) and trophies were often lost in the transition. Plus, most schools have changed administrations so many times any links to the past that may once have existed are long gone.
Some of the older schools didn’t survive the changing times and most of the trophies, records and memorabilia were lost, stolen or discarded for unknown reasons as the buildings closed.
Therefore, in order to catch up on the Region’s glorious sports past, you either have to surf the Internet till your eyes are blurred or spend countless hours at the library poring over microfilmed records of old newspaper accounts.
Or better yet, you can get to know Hobart resident Dave Smith. If it’s possible to bring yesterday back to life or to at least preserve it in some material form, Smith is doing it. He’s amassed enough sports memorabilia to make the Field Museum envious.
For Northwest Indiana sports fans that appreciate the history behind the games, Smith’s collection is a delightful walk down memory lane.
A Hammond native and 1974 Hammond Tech graduate, Smith’s journey for local (and statewide) sports memorabilia began about 15 years ago, yet his collection covers nearly the entire 20th century. His treasure chest of history is vast and forever growing – and is likely the greatest assortment of local sports artifacts in existence.
Smith began his love affair with collecting Region sports memorabilia as a kid going to Hammond High football games with his father in the 1960s.
On Saturdays after the games, Smith and his friends would go to Bernie Krueger Field to play football, but Smith would invariably end up under the bleachers picking up discarded programs from the night before.
The priceless collection, on which Smith estimates he has spent $15,000 to acquire over the years, includes more than 1000 local high school football and basketball souvenir game programs dating back to the 1930s and his assortment of ticket stubs, dating back to the 1920s, stands at several hundred and counting.
Buttons, pins, cups, piggy banks, football cards, license plates and schedules are among the other treasures Smith has gathered in his years on the trail both locally and across the state.
In recent years, Smith’s collection has grown to include football and basketball jerseys from around the state and most recently he added a Hobart football lettermen’s jacket from one of the Brickies’ championship seasons to his array of sports paraphernalia.
Smith has artifacts that date back as far as 1907, including an original program from the very first IHSAA state basketball finals in 1919. His collection even boasts more obscure items like personal letters and photos that once belonged to individuals from a sports era gone by. One of his most valuable souvenirs is a basketball from the 1937 state finals, valuable not only for its age, but because the ball has laces like a football.
What makes his story even more amazing is how he finds these pieces of history. Smith says auctions, estate sales, garage sales and flea markets all serve as potential gold mines. Sometimes he comes up dry, but other times he finds the end of the rainbow.
“You can go weeks at a time without finding anything and then all of a sudden you find a bunch of stuff,” said Smith. “The stuff is never organized so there are usually a lot of boxes or piles to go through and I never know what I am going to find. But for me the thrill is never knowing what you’ll find and where.”
Smith says driving and digging are two common denominators when it comes to unearthing these tangible reminders of the area’s proud athletic past.
“I couldn’t tell you how many miles I’ve logged on the road but its well into the thousands,” said Smith of the time spent looking out his windshield. “But even if I don’t find anything, it’s still worth the trip to check it out. Sometimes you get lucky.”
After successful hunts, Smith, who works at a bookstore by day, spends countless more hours organizing and cataloging the items and then must also research some of his finds in order to correctly identify their origin and accurately date them, much like an archaeologist would. And Smith has already dedicated two overflowing rooms in his home just to house the collection.
Given the amount of time and effort Smith spends on his collection, to say it is much more than a hobby is an understatement. To Smith, it’s a labor of love if not an obsession.
Smith says he doesn’t know or care what his collection is worth because it isn’t about money. Simply put, Smith loves the story his collection tells. “It represents the passage of time,” said Smith. “It’s a link to a world that doesn’t exist anymore.”
Many people who threw away their baseball cards, comic books or Barbie Dolls as kids wish now they had them because they recognize their worth, and not just in dollars and cents. The point is that some of these things still exist. And just because one person doesn’t want something, doesn’t mean that something has no value.
We’ve all heard the old saying “one man’s garbage is another man’s gold.” Remember that before you throw out those old boxes from the attic. And remember Dave Smith, this is his kind of gold.