Franklin tabbed as Blair banquet speaker

The Blair County Sports Hall of Fame planned on having Penn State’s football coach as the featured speaker at this year’s banquet, and that hasn’t changed.

But the name has.

Bill O’Brien had been slated to speak at the April 26 event, but his departure for the NFL left the Hall of Fame in a bit of a pickle.

The issue was quickly resolved, however, as the Hall of Fame has secured new PSU coach James Franklin to continue its long line of impressive featured guests.

“We’re very appreciative that James Franklin has agreed to join us,” Blair County Sports Hall of Fame President Neil Rudel said. “Just based off his first press conference, he seems to enjoy speaking engagements, and I’m sure the people here will be eager to hear him.”

Franklin mentioned he never turns down a chance to speak to people and joked he even accepts invitations to birthday parties. He said last week he already has received about 4,500 birthday party invitations.

The Hall of Fame event traditionally draws more than 1,000 people every other year, in large part because of the drawing power of the featured guests. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger served that role at the last banquet in 2012, while former Penn State coach Joe Paterno was the first speaker at the inaugural event in 1987.

Other prominent speakers over the years include: Terry Bradshaw, Bob Knight, Dick Vitale, Joe Theismann, Bobby Bowden, Jim Boeheim and Hines Ward.

“The Hall of Fame has always had a level of electricity to it, and the timeliness of James Franklin’s appearance will definitely add to that this year,” Rudel said. “We’d also like to thank the Pry family – Jim and Brent – for their role in helping us arrange it.”

Jim Pry, an Altoona native, is a longtime college football coach who mentored Franklin at East Stroudsburg University. His son, Brent, is one of Franklin’s assistant coaches who’s coming with him from Vanderbilt to Penn State.

O’Brien spent two years as PSU’s coach and seemed a natural fit for the Hall of Fame banquet. Tickets were already being sold promoting him as the featured speaker, but the plans changed with him becoming coach of the Houston Texans.

“Bill O’Brien reached out to us after he took the Houston job,” Rudel said. “I don’t know that his schedule would have allowed him to fulfill the date, but he didn’t want to leave us hanging. We discussed it, and there was more enthusiasm among our board members for his successor.”

The Hall of Fame event is Saturday, April 26 at the Blair County Convention Center.

Set for induction into the Hall of Fame include national tennis champion Karen (Brumbaugh) Gallagher, former Lehigh wrestler Jason Kutz, marathon runner Dave Patterson, Golden Gloves champion Tom Wilt and former Fordham basketball and baseball standout Len Zandy, who will be honored posthumously.

The team inductee will be the 1966-67 Bishop Guilfoyle High School boys basketball team, which captured the Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association championship.

Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran returns as the master of ceremonies, and the Hall of Fame will also recognize Dave Andrews, its outgoing president.

Tickets cost $85 or $850 for a table of 10. Checks can be made payable to the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, P.O. Box 162, Altoona, Pa. 16603. For more ticket information, call 515-3527.

What: Blair County Sports Hall of Fame 16th induction banquet

When: Saturday, April 26

Where: Blair County Convention Center

Guest speaker: James Franklin

Inductees: Karen (Brumbaugh) Gallagher, Jason Kutz, Dave Patterson, Tom Wilt, Len Zandy, 1966-67 Bishop Guilfoyle High School boys basketball team

For ticket information: Call 515-3527