The Foghorn got an exclusive look at The Silk Family Hall of Fame Museum, which is currently under construction and closed to the public. Located in the War Memorial Gym, the museum features memorabilia from student athletes, preserving the history of USF’s sports programs.
The museum displays a timeline of notable sports events in USF history. Beginning with USF’s history as St. Ignatius College, when rugby and baseball were the most acclaimed sports teams, to the Men’s Basketball Team punching a ticket to the NCAA March Madness tournament.
Assistant Athletics Director Chris Fortney said, “[The museum] is somewhere that not only we hope people can go and look at during games, but it’s an event space for us. The goal is to use it as a kind of multi-purpose area. Not only to use it as a hall of fame, but to have different alumni or donor events in that space.”
The main attraction of the museum includes the two notorious basketball Bills: Bill Russell and Bill Cartwright.
Russell led the Dons to the 1955 and 1956 NCAA championships and made the Dons an elite team of college basketball in the 1950s with 55 consecutive games. Inside his individualized display is Russell’s USF jersey replica, his signed black All Star sneaker, his 1996 NBA Greatest Players Ring replica, and his own Wheaties box.
Fortney said, “The NBA just retired Bill Russell’s number six across the board because he’s pretty much their Jackie Robinson, and it’s important for us to be able to honor that.” Celebrating his contributions, Russell became the face of USF basketball while sharing the stardom with Cartwright.
Cartwright played center with great shooting ability and strength. According to USF athletics, from 1975 to ‘79, he was college basketball’s “best big man.” His display consists of the 1978 Citizens Athletics Foundations Award, his number 24 USF jersey and 1980 NBA All-Star jersey, and the original Wheaties box commemorating the 1991-1993 NBA champions Chicago Bulls.
For Women’s basketball, Mary Nile-Nepfel received an individualized display, which consists of her 1981 basketball jersey and an early game photo. In 1986, she became one of the first women to have her jersey retired at USF. She was the all-time leader in points and rebounds at USF. Nile-Nepfel was the basketball coach for the Women’s Basketball team from 1987 to 2006 and currently is the Director of USF’s Kinesiology Physical Activity Program.
Trophies and Relics
The museum showcased discontinued athletic programs, including USF’s football team, which was founded in 1917. On display are vintage football programs, a 1950s football schedule, ticket admissions, a St. Ignatius and USF pennant, and a football signed by the players.
Also featured are various awards — a tennis championship single and team bowl from 1949, a James W. St. Clair trophy in 1954-55, and 1975 and ‘76 soccer trophies. Also showcased was a photograph of the 1973-74 volleyball team and women’s volleyball uniform from 1976-1977. Volleyball was one of USF’s five female intercollegiate sports at the time, with scholarships beginning in 1976.
The exhibit included championships with trophies from Women’s Golf in 2001, Baseball in 2011, Women’s Cross Country in 2013 and 2017. The West Coast Conference Champions trophy for Women’s basketball in 2016 is stationed with Nepfel’s individual display.
The museum highlighted remarkable student athletes, past and present. Their names were embedded on the wall with a glass pane chronologically representing the sports they’ve played, in addition to their historic achievements.
Robert Kleckner — who captained track, football, and basketball from 1929 to 1932 — was known for being an all-around athlete.
While USF did not have a figure skating team, Yvonne Gomez ‘91, represented the Dons with her figure skating on the collegiate stage at the World University Games in 1985, ‘87, and ‘89. She went on to represent Spain on the international stage in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and the 1988 and 1989 World Championships, before coming back to work at USF as a mental performance coach.
Jamaree Bouyea ‘22 helped lead men’s basketball to its first NCAA tournament since 1998.
The museum is expected to be completed in the coming months. The Foghorn will continue its reporting.