Polish Hall honors ex-Colts Michaels and Szymanski

June 10, 1994|By John Steadman

DETROIT -- It's an honor that spotlights another aspect of profound Polish pride. So extol the names and achievements of Dick Szymanski, Lou Michaels, two standout Baltimore Colts from the team's glorious past; and the all-time women's college basketball scorer Carol Blazejowski. Their formal induction into the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame was held last night amid grand fanfare and celebration.

The Polish Century Club welcomed a capacity gathering of over 500 to the dinner and enshrinement ceremonies that conferred the highest honor that can come to an American athlete of Polish descent, male or female.

"It's something that means much to me and I'm sure to the others, past and present," said Szymanski. "We could never take this for granted because of the realization of the sacrifices our parents made to give us the chance to be in sports."

Qualifying didn't result from mere arbitrary decision-making. It's

a long process, as witnessed by the fact Szymanski was a finalist seven years and four times received in excess of 100 votes.

Founders of the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame have been careful to survey the candidates and ask 292 sportswriters and athletes, nationwide, for their choices. It has created a distinction of its own and built an ongoing tradition because of its vast lineup of quality individuals, now numbering a roster of 62.

This is the 22nd year the organization has been enrolling its heroes so the recognition is coveted. The cross-section of athletes represents a roll call of some of America's premier performers.

The Baltimore connections, Szymanski and Michaels, were teammates with the Colts for five years, 1964 to 1968. They each played 13 years in the National Football League.

At Notre Dame, Szymanski, a center and linebacker, was a four-season varsity member who was claimed by the Colts on the second round of the 1955 draft. He is regarded as the best combination offensive and defensive player the Colts had during their extensive history. He was to do it all -- becoming a scout, assistant coach and general manager in a relationship that covered 27 years. Then he served as president of the NFL Players Alumni Association before retiring in 1993.

Michaels, a defensive end and place-kicker for the Colts and three other teams, was a No. 1 draft pick (1958) of the Los Angeles Rams from the University of Kentucky.

"For me, this rates right up there with going in the College Football Hall of Fame two years ago," commented an exuberant Michaels, who was presented by his brother, Walt, a former NFL player and coach of the New York Jets.

Check the Polish-American Hall of Famers preceding them. It's an illustrious array. From baseball are the likes of Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Al Simmons, Stan Coveleski, Eddie Lopat, Ted Kluszewski, Tony Kubek, Steve Gromek, Greg Luzinski, Bill Skowron, Bill Mazeroski and Joe and Phil Niekro.

Football comprises, in addition to Michaels and Szymanski, a lineup of Johnny Lujack, Jack Ham, Leon Hart, Vic Janowicz, Pete Banaszak, Frank "Gunner" Gatski, Ted Marchibroda, Alex Wojciechowicz, Bill Osmanski, Hank Stram, Steve Bartkowski and Dick Modzelewski, among others.

Also included are boxers Tony Zale and Stanley Ketchel, golfers Bob Toski and Al Watrous, bowler Eddie Lubanski, figure skater Janet Lynn, tennis player Frankie Parker, track standouts Stella Walsh and Bob Gutowski, wrestler Stan Zbyszko, hockey player and coach Len Ceglarski, softball player Ed Tyson and, from basketball, players Tom Gola and Vince Boryla and coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Still waiting for possible future election are such familiar names from the past as Stan Lopata, Cass Michaels, Myron "Moe" Drabowsky, Joe Collins, baseball; Bob Kurland, basketball; Joe Verdeur, swimming; Bob Skoronski, Joe Klecko and Frank Kush, football; Walt Zembriski, golf; and Steve Mizerak, billiards. In time, they figure to be cloaked with the same Polish-American tribute.

The induction program suggested to the audience that it "join us in singing our national anthems" and the crowd complied with the opening lines of "O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light" . . . and "Jeszcze Polska nie zginela" . . . and completed both songs of the countries that are so dear to them.

It all came together on a memorable night in Detroit when two sons and a daughter of Polish parentage basked in the glow of athletic renown that meant much to each of them in a deeply personal way.

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