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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Making Suffolk's Sports Hall of Fame more visible

The former site of the Suffolk Sports Hall

The former site of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on South Ocean Avenue in Patchogue on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Pieces of the property were sold even before the Hall opened there. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

It makes no sense to funnel at least $1.38 million in public money into a nonprofit sports museum honoring Suffolk athletes -- and then make it accessible only to airport passengers who've cleared security.

Yet that's the situation with the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, located at gates A3 and A4 at Long Island MacArthur Airport, which puts it out of reach of prospective visitors without airline tickets.

A Newsday investigation raised questions about the Hall of Fame, its executive director, Edward Morris Sr., and his ties to some Suffolk elected officials. But one overarching issue is that the Hall, established in 1990, has received little public financial support and, with that, dwindling interest.

A donor once gave the Hall a building -- in Patchogue, whose popular downtown is now booming -- but Morris told Newsday that he had to sell it, for $1.8 million, to keep the Hall going.

And while Morris said that the Hall still has almost $800,000 in assets, its visibility continues to shrink.

That's not Suffolk County's problem.

It's Morris' job, not the government's, to build the Hall's donor base, attract supporters and increase visibility.

But since more than a million bucks of public funding -- through assistance from County Executive Steve Bellone, District Attorney Thomas Spota and other elected officials -- already has been invested in the Hall, there's got to be a way for residents to see what their money bought.

At the town-owned airport, Newsday reported, Morris has arranged oversized photographs of local sports figures, including retired NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason of West Islip; former pro wrestler Mick Foley, who grew up in East Setauket; boxing champion Buddy McGirt of Brentwood; and wrestler and coach Jumper Leggio of Bay Shore.

Let's pause here for a confession: I had to look up all but one of the above, and ended up being impressed by the quantity and caliber of athletes Suffolk turned out -- just like a colleague and former local high school football player from our sports department was saying last week as we scoured through yellowed Newsday sports pages from the 1940s: "Dude, you were so right about Brentwood, Bay Shore and West Islip being powerhouses."

All of which means that maybe, just maybe, there's something to having a curated collection of Suffolk sports greats. Is Morris' Hall of Fame the way to go? Given its problems generating financial help and support, can -- and should -- it survive?

Financially challenged Suffolk would do well to hold back on precious public funding until the not-for-profit does the work it needs. Besides, with the amount Morris said the Hall still has in the bank, the group has plentiful seed money of its own.

Some of which ought to go toward making the displays more accessible to the public.

Wednesday, a spokesman for Bellone said the county has had discussions with Morris about moving some exhibits from the airport to county-owned land, such as Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip.

"If we can come to an arrangement with the group, as we would for other not-for-profits, we may be able to do something," a Bellone spokesman said. The combination of funding from the Hall, along with nonfinancial help from the county, ought to help make that possible.

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