Penn State football offensive coordinator Galen Hall will be inducted into the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame for the second time in his illustrious life on Saturday.
This time, it’s not for being an outstanding athletic individual but as a member of an outstanding team.
As an 18-year old from Williamsburg, Hall played outfield for the Kelly Stars, the Altoona-based all-star squad that won the National Amateur Baseball Federation (NABF) championship at the Cricket Field in the summer of 1957.
Hall went on to play quarterback at Penn State, guiding the Nittany Lions to Liberty and Gator Bowl wins. He became a highly successful coach on the collegiate and professional levels, earning the Associated Press Coach of the Year award at Florida, winning NFL Europe championships and mentoring Dallas Cowboy legend Emmitt Smith as he broke the NFL rushing record.
But for all of his success on the football field, the baseball championship earned as a teenager ranks in Hall’s own heart among his greatest athletic achievements.
“[It ranks] very, very high,’’ Hall said in his office at the Lasch Building. “It was probably the first time that I, coming from a small town, had the chance to be a part of something really big. In high school, we won the basketball thing, and we were pretty good in football, but still, this was a national stage, and [we had] people from all over, against very good competition. It has to rank up with everything else.’’
Hall batted in the cleanup spot for the Altoona squad, but the soft-spoken consummate gentleman downplays his role on the 1957 championship team, just as he humbly discounts most of his career accomplishments. Still, he can’t deny the significance of being part of that very special squad and special time, the heyday of Altoona baseball history.
“You probably [appreciate it] now maybe more so than then,” he said. “But just the excitement of every game you won ... you’d win a close game, and all of a sudden you felt like you could win a national championship.’’
Hall recalls the thousands of fans packed into historic Cricket Field to watch the hometown boys do battle against the best in the country.
It must have been an amazing time. Before cable TV and Internet access, sports provided communities with their most exciting form of entertainment in an age where ladies wore skirts to the ballgames, and men turned out in button-down shirts and suspenders.
The time-yellowed newspaper clippings illustrate not only the era, but the classic Cinderella story, where the hometown underdogs went on an amazing tournament run, capped by a thrilling, 1-0, 10-inning victory over Louisville in the national championship game. It’s the kind of story from which movies are made.
Induction into the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame allows another generation to know and appreciate the timeless victory woven forever into the rich tapestry of local lore.
But, Hall said, characteristically, “back then it was just a group of young guys getting together to play baseball.’’
Kellie Goodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column runs on Tuesdays.