Sports gear made in Md. is on display

JACQUES KELLY

June 18, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

A new exhibition in Baltimore carries a reassuring message about the business of sports. The person across the street might be making your bowling ball, aerobics leotard or lacrosse stick.

"Making the Play: Sports Equipment Manufacture in Maryland" is the newest show at the Baltimore Museum of Industry at 1415 Key Highway near the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill. The show, timed for next month's All-Star Game, is designed to make visitors think about a side of the sports business that rarely gets discussed on the sports pages.

Lacrosse players recognize STX Inc., a household name. Its lacrosse sticks are assembled in Rossville, though the company's corporate headquarters is on Bush Street in Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore. The STX (pronounced sticks) origins are thoroughly Baltimore.

General manager Richard B.C. Tucker Jr. explains that in the early 1960s most lacrosse sticks were wood and came from Canada or northern New York state. They didn't last long, either. His firm came up with a modern equivalent, using aluminum and synthetic rubber.

"We came up with the modern lacrosse stick. I think it's responsible for revolutionizing the sport," Tucker says.

The looms clatter away at Lion Brothers on Reisterstown Road in Owings Mills, where millions and millions of embroidered insignia patches get stitched each year. Be it a Boy Scout's merit badge or a National Football League logo, Lion Brothers makes it.

The firm is the country's largest manufacturer of embroidered emblems. The business was situated for many years at Hollins and Poppleton streets, where its old masonry factory building stands and retains blue ceramic emblems on the exterior. In addition to the Owings Mills plant, there is another in Taneytown and one in China.

This year, Lion will sell 23 million little cotton and silk patches, including one sold by vendors at the All-Star Game.

Anyone for sports manufacturing trivia? Maryland has Amtote International (automatic odds calculators used in horse racing), Ashton Surf Design (Jon Ashton's surf boards in Ocean City), Avalon Hill sports simulation games, Clingons Activewear (aerobic wear made in Millersville), Demaree inflatable boats (kayaks made in Friendsville), Faball Enterprises (the famous Hammer bowling ball), Gym-Thing (exercise equipment), Haas Tailoring (custom-tailored clothes for the riding ring), Head Ski 00 and Sportswear (the best known of all the Maryland sports equipment makers), Micro-Prose (a Hunt Valley computer game software maker), O'Shea Lumber (select woods for skis and tennis rackets), Palmguard International (shock absorbers for baseball gloves) and Tim Scruggs Custom Cues (handmade billiard cues).

Laurel's A.M. Kroop and Sons are recognized specialists in custom-made jockeys' boots. Vordemberge of Timonium is the great name in saddles.

Baltimore Belting, on 25th Street, is the supplier of the cotton belts essential for the automatic pin setting equipment in duckpin bowling.

Anyone who's ever leafed through an L.L. Bean catalog knows about Gore-Tex-patented rainwear and hats, but how many people link the firm to its world headquarters in Elkton?

A DuPont research chemist named William Gore gave Maryland one of this country's best known outerwear fabrics used by hunters, fishers and anyone who wants to stay warm and dry. Gore came up with the Gore-Tex membrane laminated on textiles and used on rain jackets, shoes and hats. He and his wife, Vieve, started W.L. Gore & Associates in the basement of their home, and today the firm is a Fortune 500 company with 46 plants worldwide.

A far different operation is A&W Fishing Supply at Patapsco Avenue and Potee Street in Brooklyn. It is a small operation known to serious fishers and crabbers.

"I still have people who come in the front door and say, 'I never knew you were here,' " says John Haberkorn, its owner. He is the successor to the old Linen Thread Co., a firm founded some 90 years ago that specialized in commercial fishermen's nets.

From his workroom, in the heart of the Brooklyn neighborhood, he makes a lightweight (aluminum and stainless steel) crab dip net that retails for $23.75.

"It's lightweight, strong and won't rust. It'll hold five or six crabs. But don't drop it overboard. It will sink like a brick," Haberkorn says.

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